A Parent’s Guide to College Selection

As some of you may know, I also have a senior this year. I too am going through the highs and lows of the final year before I send my baby off for her first taste of independence in college (insert tears here).

This is my second and final go-around with the college selection experience. I’m going to be honest, when my oldest was going through it I was a bit behind on every step. You often could hear me saying, “Oh shoot, we need to get that done ASAP!” THANK GOODNESS my now 19 year old is an independent self-starter or she’d still be living at home.

So in round 2, with my youngest daughter Sophia, I’m feeling a little more comfortable and on top of things. FAR from expert status, I assure you, but I at least have some knowledge under my belt. I thought it might be nice to share some of my experiences with you all, in hopes that it could help… especially those of you going through it all for the first time.

Where do I start?!

Sophie, like almost any other 17-year old, really doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up. And let’s face it, I was in my 40s when I REALLY figured that out, so how can I expect her to know? She does however know her strengths and weaknesses (or likes and dislikes). She loves and excels in Spanish, so she knows she would like to incorporate that somehow into what she does. She dislikes math. Immensely. So she knows she doesn’t want to select a major or a career that would require her to use a lot of math. After going through the lists of interests and aversions she has settled on a direction. More in the social sciences and humanities areas vs. physical sciences or business. While it isn’t a slam dunk decision on a major, she at least has the emergence of a path, and can begin her college selection based on that.

Given that there are over 3,000 public and private 4-year colleges in the US, and over 1600 2-year schools, it’s vital that you narrow the search. Here are some variables to consider:

4-Year vs. 2-Year – While many career paths require a 4+ year degree, there are many wonderful professions that can be attained with a 2-year degree (from a community college, junior college, or technical school). The key is to determine what the end vocation goal is, and seek the education that will get you there.

Public vs. Private – Traditionally private schools are more expensive than public schools (especially in-state schools). In some cases private institutions have greater endowments to offer need- or merit-based scholarships. While the “sticker” prices may vary greatly from one type to another, the end value may be more in line than you would think. We are looking at mostly public, but have included a couple private schools as well (and are praying for some scholarship money).

In-State vs. Out-of-State – You will notice two prices when looking at public university in any state. The “in-state” tuition and the “out-of-state” tuition, which in some cases can be over double the cost! We were made painfully aware of this when my oldest daughter set her sights on the University of Colorado in Boulder, my alma mater. Money aside, this was Liv’s favorite school. But at over $52k per year, we just couldn’t justify spending that money on an education she could get right here in Ohio. HEARTS. BROKEN.  The price discrepancy between in-state vs. out-of-state isn’t always that substantial, and at least one of the universities we have visited mentioned that part of the out-of-state fee can be waived if you apply by a certain deadline.

Small vs. Big –  You will find pros and cons to both, and it really depends a lot on your son or daughter’s personality. While a smaller school might offer more of a “personal” experience, a larger school might offer more variety of degree options and opportunities for research, internships or co-ops, or on-campus job recruiting.

Near vs. Far – This is when you find out just how badly your child wants to get away from you. Just kidding. Sort of.

Rankings – Fortunately we live in an era where research is relatively easy to do. The internet offers so many resources that can help you in your college search. Many sites will rank the different universities based on set criteria, such as first year retention rate, graduation rates, range of academic offerings, and many others. Here are links to a few of my favorites:




Don’t forget to research for colleges that excel in your student’s area of study. Soph was able to Google search schools that had excellent Spanish programs and study abroad programs to add to her list.

Once you have narrowed the list of potential schools – VISIT! This is the best part, IMO. The one-on-one time with my girls as we have road tripped to the various possibilities – priceless. Take in all the information at each school’s presentation, and have your student try to imagine themselves at that school during the tour. The process may seem overwhelming at times, so try to stay organized and make a list of the pros and cons of each place you visit (I’m working on a spreadsheet as we speak – #typeA). You may even want to take photos at each place to visually remember what they had to offer.

Finally, just try to enjoy the process. Sure, your child’s future does pretty much rest on this decision… no pressure… but try to look at it through the lens of possibilities and not stress. The once little child that relied on you for every need is one step closer to his or her independence. This is a good thing.

But you know and I know deep inside – they’ll always be our babies.

(Soph’s favorite childhood stuffed animal enjoyed our college visits too.)






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