Finding a college that is a good fit and affordable for your teen can be overwhelming with thousands of colleges to choose from. There isn’t a magic formula for building a college list, but there are a few key steps you can take as you and your high schooler start the college search and learn about your financial aid options.
- Explore your financial aid options. The most important thing you can do is work with your teen to figure out how to pay for college. Completing the FAFSA during your their senior year of high school, searching for scholarships, including local scholarships and opportunities offered by your employer, and saving for your teen’s education are important steps that can help lessen the financial burden of college.
- Determine what your teen is looking for in a college. It’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your teen about what they’re looking for in a college.Do they want to attend a school located in a city or a more suburban or rural setting? Do they want to go to a large school or somewhere smaller? Do they have a particular major in mind?Discussing the answers to questions like these can help you and your teen narrow down their options and identify the “must haves” when it comes to building their college list.
Visit colleges and attend college fairs. Visiting a college is a great way to get a feel for a college and whether your son or daughter might want to apply there. When you’re on campus, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore and talk to lots of different people, including students, professors, and staff.
- BigFuture’s Campus Visit Checklist can help you make the most of your visit. If you can’t make it to a college campus, you can learn a lot about different colleges online or by attending a college fair.
- Get advice. You aren’t alone and neither is your son or daughter. Talk to people around you who may have gone through the experience as well—family members, other parents, teachers, school counselors, faith leaders, or other community members.Talk to them with your teen about their college goals and get their suggestions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if this is the first time you are navigating the process!
Through the entire college application process, BigFuture, the College Board’s free college planning tool, can help you and your teen. Use our College Search tool to find colleges based on the characteristics that are most important to you and save your college list with your College Board account.
One of the best things you can do as a parent during this time, is to be supportive. It can be a stressful time for both you and your teen, so focus on the destination, and enjoy the journey.
And don’t forget to celebrate the successes and milestones along the way. Putting in the hard work now will be worth it when your teen gets that college acceptance letter in the mail!
By Cassandra Larson is the Executive Director for the Access to Opportunity Program at The College Board.