This is the year. Your child is a rising high school senior and it's time to prepare them for college. What should they be doing this year to get ready? Here are some tips from local experts.
According to Ali Gauch, Associate Dean of Admission at the University of Mary Washington (UMW), "The first point seniors need to consider is themselves--their strengths, talents and ideas for the future. Self-analysis is critical before they start to look for colleges so that they can narrow the search. Beyond the academic major, students will be looking for a great pairing with non-academic factors, such as a place where the student can explore their passions. This could be a sport, involvement with a club, or musical talent."
Christine Porter, Director of Residence Life and Commuter Student Services at UMW, reminds parents of students who are unsure their future major, "It is absolutely fine not to know what they want to study. Even the most resolute student is subject to changing majors."
Embrace the Process.
One of the biggest deciding factors in where your child will or will not attend college is how the process is handled. Gauch shared a story about a mom who did not take her daughter on any tours prior as part of her application process because she wanted to shelter her from possible disappointment.
"This led to a lot of stress, seeing all the schools in the end and digesting so many details at once. I reminded the parent that the student has much control in this process. They make two very critical decisions--where to apply and where to enroll. I think this particular family missed some of the fun of exploration. Visits to colleges can lead to memorable family trips. Schools offer guided tours or open house events, so contact them or visit their websites for details of how to register," Gauch recalled.
Gauch said the visits can be "memorable," not necessarily wonderful. Stick mom, dad and a teenager in the car for a multi-college visit and you are sure to have a mixed bag of experiences. Despite whatever difficulties you may encounter, visiting your child's top choices is an excellent idea and will go a long way towards giving them a glimpse of what to expect when they actually arrive on campus to stay.
Rooming with Others
Once your child has found their perfect school, it's time to think about housing. Porter advises, "When filling out the housing survey be honest. Graduating high school is not going to change your student from a late night person into an early morning person. Being honest gives them the best chance of finding a roommate who is compatible. Part of the college experience is meeting new people. Some students will choose to make it less scary by choosing to live with someone they know. I strongly recommend caution in this situation. Don't make assumptions -- communication is essential no matter how many years they've been friends."
Finally, remember that there will be ups and downs to the whole process. You need let your child stumble a few times, if necessary. As Porter puts it, "We understand the desire to step in and fix things for them but that does not help them learn the skills and abilities they need to be self-sufficient, successful adults."