DO’S and DON’T’S of the College Search

college search, college admissions, college applications, senior year, junior yearJenny is a 16 year old from New Jersey. She loves books, photography and God. She is also a feminist and an animal rights advocate. Her dream is to be a journalist who travels around the world.



It’s that time of the year again, when flowers bloom, when temperatures rise, and when teens start thinking about college.  In a couple of months, they will be writing their essays, finishing up interviews, and perfecting their applications.  For many, the college application process will be one of the most stressful periods in their life.  As parents, your job is to make the process go by more smoothly and to help your teen achieve success.  Here are some dos and don’ts regarding the college application process.


DON’T:  Apply to too many schools

One of the biggest mistakes that teens make is that they apply to too many schools.  They will have a whole list of colleges that desperately needs some narrowing down.  Though it may seem tempting to make sure that your teen has many back-up options in case one school does not work out, applying to too many schools can actually backfire.  Each application requires time and attention to be the best it can be.  By focusing on so many, the ones that are finished will not be as high-quality as they could have been if the necessary attention was given to each one.  Parents need to help their teens narrow down their list of schools and try to find the ideal number of schools, which will differ depending on each individual.


DO:  Apply to schools with varying difficulties

Teen applies to all of his/her dream schools and the state university that everybody at school gets into.  The decision letters arrive and Teen is rejected from dream schools.  Teen is forced to go to state school that he/she does not like but just applied to as backup. This scenario is all too common and can be easily prevented just by having balance in one’s list of colleges.  An easy way to do this is to make sure that you have enough schools in each of three categories:  safety, match and reach.  A safety school is a school that you are confident that your teen is going to get into and would be happy in.  Match schools are the ones that are usually overlooked; these are the schools that you are likely to get into because your test scores and grades match the expectations of the school.  Finally, reach schools or dream schools are the ones that are super competitive that your teen may not necessarily get into.  But since anything can happen in the college admission process, your teen will not lose anything by applying to one of these.

DON’T:  Focus too much on prestige and ranking

Many teens and their parents factor in the school’s ranking when trying to decide which schools to apply to.  Sure, it gives you both an idea of some good schools to consider but ranking will not tell you everything.  Rather focus on which schools have a good program in the area which your teen will study.  For example, a lower ranking school may have a better medical program than a school that is ranked higher than it.  Likewise, do not only apply to schools which are prestigious or whose name you have heard before.  In the end, your goal is not to impress your friends and family, it is to find a school that your teen will succeed in.


DO:  Visit schools

Visiting schools is not mandatory but it is very helpful in deciding which schools to apply to.  There are many things that factor into the college experience besides academics like the size of the school, the campus (or lack of one), and the surrounding area.  These things cannot be experienced by reading about it; sometimes it takes a visit to really get to know a school.  Maybe after visiting a university in a metropolitan area, your teen might decide that the city-life is not for him/her.  Or maybe after visiting a smaller rural school, your teen will decide that he/she would prefer a school with more students.  Either way, a visit will really help narrow down the list of colleges.  The best time to visit a college is when the semester is not over yet because you will be able to experience student life and maybe even listen in on some classes.


DON’T:  Procrastinate

Don’t wait until senior year to start thinking about colleges; start the college-hunting process as early as possible.  This will give your teen a lot of time to make good educated decisions.  This will also give both of you time to plan out and execute college visits.  By getting the college selection and visiting out of the way, your teen will have more time and effort to expend on the actual application.


DO:  Take money into consideration

You might leave finances out of college discussions and to tell your teen that their education is worth every penny.  After all, you don’t want your teens to worry, right?  Wrong.  Money should definitely be one of the top factors to think about when deciding on schools.  With student loans interest getting higher and job outlook dim, it is important to find a school that you can afford.  Since every family is different, talk to your teen about your households finances and what you can afford.  This conversation is one of the most important ones you will have during the college searching process.


Teens might tell their parents that they do not want or need their input.  Do not listen to them.  As much as I scream at my parents to leave me alone while doing research online, I really crave their opinion.   Your advice is very valuable to your teens and they will listen to it and take it into account.  Also remember that your teen is an individual, someone with goals and dreams possibly different from those of yours.  Make sure you stay involved in the process instead of leaving everything up to your teen.

Photo Credits: Helga Weber on Flickr


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