Launching Your College Search

By Nancy Whetstone

During the dog days of summer, many families of high school students begin their college search by planning a vacation at a destination that intersects prospective colleges and universities. While tying in a family road trip with a college visit might seem a money and time-saving tactic, it can backfire if the student has not taken the time to research career interests and properly evaluate potential college majors.

And you have a huge influence on your teen’s decisions regarding potential careers. Because you know your teen’s personality, interests, values, gifts and talents, you can help guide your son or daughter in uncovering the clues that will lead to choosing the best preparation for becoming job ready.  In fact, a Ferris State University study revealed that 78 percent of students say their parents are their biggest career influence.

Once your teen knows his or her career interests along with potential college majors that best prepare them for the workforce, you should do some homework before scheduling college tours. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What is our family budget, including 529 plans, savings, student contribution?
  • What colleges offer my teen’s desired major?
  • What is the average non-need based financial aid package?
  • Is the distance prohibitive to visits home for holidays and emergencies?
  • What is the university’s graduation rate, placement rate and average salary in your teen’s desired major?

Once you have a list of potential colleges, call ahead of time to arrange a tour, attend a class and meet with the dean of your teen’s desired major. Beware, the tour is often a window-dressing for the university; you will gain much more insight by talking with the dean and attending a class.

“We took our daughter on a fantasy college road trip a few years ago–touring Georgetown University, George Washington University and Fordham University,” said one parent. “She fell in love with Georgetown and wouldn’t even consider other viable offers. Despite being offered a full-ride at Fordham, we are now paying more than $50,000 a year in tuition, room and board, and fees at Georgetown. If I could do it over again, I would have done more homework before touring any colleges and universities.”