Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Five W's (and an H) When Considering Colleges

Who, what, when, where, how and why--when it comes to considering colleges. The short answer: as early as possible! The long answer: let's begin with the W's and that ever-important H.

Who: Your child
What: College
When: Now!
Where: Colleges that focus on your child's intended major
Why: Because every child deserves an education
How: The financial aspect

If you are a parent, this is a question that you likely thought of well before your first born even entered the world. How will we raise our children to be intelligent human beings? How will we afford college and ensure they will be prepared? Will they stay close to home or will they run for the hills? What will they want to study and "be" when they grow up? Personally speaking, these are questions that I thought of constantly as my children grew up. These questions turned into topics of regular conversation as my girls grew older.

When should you start thinking about college? As soon as possible! Integrate the topic into conversation when they enter school. Let your children know what is expected of them, and how a higher education will benefit them in their future. As your kids get ready to leave middle school and enter high school, college admissions should begin to take the front seat. What are your child's gifts and talents and how does she or he want to apply them to college and a career? What colleges are best known for the majors they are considering? When do those colleges begin taking applications and what are their deadlines? Is there anything we can do to make our applicant stand out amongst the thousands of other great applicants? These are all important questions that we should start thinking about early because college does not begin when you drop your student off at their dorm room; it begins NOW.

A helpful hypothetical:

Let's say for example that your daughter has always had a passion for helping animals. She has brought home every stray cat for the last fifteen years and nursed it back to health. She's volunteered at the local SPCA since she was eight years old, and maybe even started a non-profit group of her own that helps raise money for animal welfare. As she enters her freshman year in high school it is evident that she hopes to study veterinary medicine. It would be helpful to know that there are twenty-eight colleges in the U.S. that offer majors in veterinary medicine, and which of those schools are in the top five. With four years of high school ahead of her, you have time to learn what these colleges are looking for in their ideal candidates. Your child's high school transcript should reflect their hard work through their GPA, extracurricular activities, and individual projects. The next step is to stay on top of deadlines! Prepare for the SAT's and ACT's so that your daughter places well in her exams, thereby exhibiting both her intelligence and desire to attend college. It may seem like four years is a long time to decide on which colleges to apply to and to finish the application prerequisites, but believe me, it will go by in a flash! Lastly, as your daughter enters her senior year, be sure you are well aware of the college and scholarship application deadlines. As with any situation, if they wait until the last minute, they put themselves in an incredibly stressful situation that could have been easily avoided. Do yourself and your child a favor and keep these deadlines in the forefront of your mind and at the top of your priority list. Not only will it prevent unnecessary anxiety, but it will set a great example about the importance of time management for your child.

Once you begin to receive letters of acceptance (and realistically some of denial) you will be faced with the question of how you'll make college happen financially. Maybe you've been able to save up over the years with college in mind, or maybe you've had to dip into that nest egg for the unexpected, (because hey, life happens)! One avenue that is definitely worth exploring is that of scholarships and grants. So many people just assume they won't qualify that they don't bother to pursue these options. Big mistake. While it does take time, effort, hard work and persistence, this is one part of the college application that you don't want to skip. This is something you can research on your own; or if you have questions and/or doubts, College Advisors are a fantastic option available to you.

Sure, it may all seem a bit daunting: keeping your child on the right track, staying ahead of deadlines, and researching colleges until your head is spinning; but this is one aspect of your child's life that deserves your full attention. Higher education is an accessible gift that every person deserves, and the rewards are invaluable. Whether you are the parent of a six year-old or a sixteen year-old, college is a topic that you should be including in your daily dialogue.

I have created a short video that covers the basics of college advisory. I am confident that it will be helpful as you think about your college-bound student!

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