Posted: Mar 17, 2014 9:00 AM
It’s go-time! Colleges have responded to applications with acceptances, wait-list invites or denials and are eagerly trying to convince your child to sign on the dotted line. Now it’s time to evaluate the schools seriously so that your teen can choose the best fit. Different than that initial college-visiting road trip, when it comes down to choosing a school, there are five things you need to know.

College applications quickly become an all-consuming part of your college-bound child's life during the fall of senior year. Once the final application is submitted and fees have been paid, you can finally take a deep breath. However, many times that deep breath doesn't last long, as many colleges and universities send out early acceptance letters to students, who are then faced with the next round of decisions. Most schools expect final decisions from candidates by May 1.

Choose wisely

Your teen has been accepted at more than one school — that's great news! With deadlines looming, how can your teen make a careful decision about the next four years of her life? Whether or not your teen had a "first choice" school or is completely undecided, it can feel like a life-altering decision to be making at the age of 17 or 18. Here are five things to consider when helping your teen choose his college.

Location, location, location

Out of state colleges appeal to many teens, but the realities of coming home only for major holidays (due to both distance and expense) may make him change his mind.

This may be one of the most critical parts of the school selection process. Is the school in the midst of a big, bustling city or away from any large towns? Is it near the beach or the mountains? How close is it to a major airport, bus or train station? The location of your teen's college determines everything from how often she can come home for a visit to the leisure activities she can participate in. A water-loving teen who lifeguards and kayaks may not be happy at a school located in a large metropolitan area with no lakes or ocean in sight. Out of state colleges appeal to many teens, but the realities of coming home only for major holidays (due to both distance and expense) may make him change his mind.

Size matters

Help your teen develop a mental image of what each college will feel like once she's a student there. If there are lots of students at the school, even if your teen is at the top of the academic ladder in high school, at a big university he will be among many others who are just as bright. A smaller school with fewer students may give your teen an edge and more of an ability to get to know professors. A teen who attended a small high school may yearn for a huge school with many different students, for example.

What's your major?

If your teen has an idea of what he wants to major in, does the school have a good program in that particular field? Is it impacted, or will he be guaranteed a spot when undergraduate classes are completed? Even for students who are 99 percent certain they know what their field of study will be, it helps to have a backup plan just in case. Aim to have two to three major fields of study that are of interest to your teen at each university he is considering.

piggy on a stack of coinsCost

Probably the overall most important question to ask yourselves is whether each particular school is affordable for your family and your budget. Whether your teen plans to work part-time and pay his own way, borrow money using student loans, has been offered a scholarship or already has a fully-funded college fund, the cost of each university has to be considered. Over four years, the cost of college can reach $100,000 and more — so cost should be a very important factor in the decision process.

Campus personality

No matter how big the university is, how coveted an acceptance is from this particular school or how gorgeous the campus is, your teen has to feel that he "fits" there. If you didn't have the chance to visit campus prior to applying for admission, now is the time to do it. Your son may have dreamed of MIT since freshman year, but touring the campus he may feel it's not a good fit. Your overly-cautious bookworm may not appreciate the party atmosphere at some schools, while your outgoing, bubbly teen may feel stifled at a small, quieter school. You have to feel that "fit" when you walk around campus, to feel that you belong there.

Ready to accept? Congratulations — your teen is well on her way to a college education that will serve her well in the coming years.

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