Choosing a college

Choosing a college: how to help your student make the final decision

Making a final decision on a college to attend will come down to your key factors. Some are concrete like the location, size, campus life, graduation rates, etc. Some are more touchy-feely. Do you see yourself happy and comfortable on this campus? Are you excited to be there? What is its vibe? The relative weight of these factors will vary by student and family. Two important pieces of the puzzle to keep in mind when choosing a college are what the student will learn and how much will it cost.

Academic program

When you strip everything away, the fundamental thing you are paying all that tuition for is the education—the academic program. What will your child be learning? Who will be teaching it? What kinds of experiences will they receive or access to prepare them for success after graduation?

Spend some time getting deeper into the details of the major your student is pursuing. (Consider Guided Self Assessment if you are still struggling with choosing a major.)

This paragraph from our blog about college visits is a nice example of what we mean:

Let’s use the University of Delaware and their biology major as an example. On their webpage, you can discover that they have over 900 students currently majoring in biology. You can go deeper and discover so much more about the program—who teaches the courses, what graduates are doing now, and what types of facilities support the major. They have lots of details (and more links to explore) about the variety of their programs. In addition, they have a detailed page of research topics and professors. You can see what work is being done in that field. Go further and you can read about the specific majors and minors available. Go even further and get into the weeds of what specific courses a student will take.

This is the kind of research that allows a student to be informed about that academic program and the options and outcomes a student can experience!


Unless you won the lottery or can write a check for the entire cost of a 4-year degree, the cost of the college must play into the decision. Parents shouldn’t jeopardize their ability to save for retirement. Students need to be aware of how much they will pay each month in future student loans. (This student was paying close to $1,300 per month, and sadly these stories aren’t unusual.)

We know it can be hard for parents to talk about money with their children. But this decision (and the impact of it) is way too important to not be open and honest about. College grads are delaying marriage, children, and buying a house because of student loan debt. Parents taking on loans themselves are shortchanging their retirement savings. Please have some tough conversations now if you haven’t already.

Decrease the weight of the decision

Often students feel like choosing a college should be a clear choice, but usually it is not. This choice may be the biggest they have ever made, and they may be terrified to make the wrong one.

Relieve some of the stress of the weight of this decision by reminding them that the future success of any one graduate is less dependent on the college they went to and much more dependent on what they did while in college. Their success is totally within their control. It doesn’t hinge on this one choice. And, if it helps keep in mind, no one is stuck at a college for good. Once on campus, if your student realizes this is not the right place (and can really articulate why), then transferring to a better fit college is the right answer.

What else can parents do to help your child decide?

So, what else do you do? Sometimes when everything is the same between two (or three) choices, you are just looking for a feeling.

Visit again. Read the college’s social media. Read the college’s student newspaper. Visit their website. Have your student pretend they have made their final choice. Spend 24 hours thinking about what that would feel like. What feelings did that generate? Were they excited to post that decision on Snapchat or Instagram?

Sometimes, a student doesn’t “fall in love” with a college, and that is totally okay! As parents, we can reassure our children that they will be fine. They don’t need to have that feeling to make a good choice. And we’ve seen it over and over – many students fall in love after they settle in on campus. They buy the sweatshirt. Move into their dorm. Became part of the community. Suddenly, they are IN LOVE, and they can’t imagine going anywhere else!

Be sure to remind the student that whatever they decide to do is a great decision. They have done the research. They can trust their instincts. And we can begin the celebration!

If you are still stuck, please reach out to us with an email or a phone call at (614) 404-0646. We can chat about your situation.

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