How to Help Your Child Choose a College: 4 Key Elements for Families to Consider

In the US, attending college has become nearly an entry ticket into middle class life for young people. College graduates have more career opportunities, more earning potential, and are even more likely to have health insurance. But college is not for everyone and it might not be for everyone right after high school. While college is an important goal for many, it is very common for decisions and feelings about the college application process to be focused on misguided considerations. For guidance on how to help your child choose a college that’s right for them, consider the following 4 key elements.

1. Consider whether college attendance fits with your child’s personal and career goals. 

Someone interested in working as an electrician, for example, may not really need to go to college. A technical training program may be better. If your child is hoping for a career as a chef or actor, it might take more consideration. There are culinary colleges and drama programs that are based in colleges. These programs often teach many skills that can improve chances of success in these areas and will also make it easier if your child changes their mind. There are also many people who have become successful chefs and actors who have not attended college. This is the sort of decision to discuss with a high school counselor.

2. Is college right for your child right now? 

You should think about and discuss with your child whether college is right for them now. Some young people benefit from working, joining the military, or taking some time to mature a bit before attending college. This might be a good idea if your child is less independent, has had academic challenges, or is unsure about life goals. Some young people get more out of the college experience when they are a bit older; however, delaying and then extending the time spent on education may not be an option for everyone.

3. Deciding where to apply. 

Once you’ve decided that college makes sense for your child, you, your child and the high school counselor need to put your heads together and think about where to apply. There are many things to consider–the cost, public vs private college, whether your child will live at home and commute or go away to school, academic competitiveness and selectivity, etc.

4. Finding a good fit. 

Competitiveness, reputation, and ranking of the college your child attends are not nearly as important as most people believe. It turns out that finding a school that is a good fit personally, emotionally, and socially can make a really big difference in your child’s overall success in college and beyond. Factors like distance from home, the size of the school, access and responsiveness of support services, the emotional-social climate on campus and your child’s personality and needs can make all the difference.

The good news is that there is a tremendous variety of colleges and everyone can find places that are likely to be a good fit. Try to help your child approach this process as an adventure of discovery. Looking for colleges can become an exciting part of a young person’s process of learning about their wants and needs. For more information on how to help your child decide what school is right for them, visit College in Perspective for Students.

Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.