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Parents: 10 Ways to Help Your Teen With the College Decision

Remember that the decision is ultimately up to your teen.

For high school seniors who are admitted to multiple colleges, deciding which one to attend often requires additional research and deliberation. The traditional decision day of May 1 is approaching, though some colleges have pushed that date back as campuses shut down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. As deadlines approach, here are 10 ways that parents can help, starting with their role in the decision process. "If you really want the student to have buy-in into their choice, it needs to be their choice," says Rob Durkle, associate vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

Don't pressure your student to pick a particular school.

Choosing a college is an exciting but stressful process for many teens. Parents should try to be understanding instead of adding more stress by pressuring their child to choose a particular school -- for instance, their alma mater -- experts say. "One of the best things you can do for your child is to show them that you believe in their ability to make a good decision," Amy McManus, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist, wrote in an email. "Tell them that you will be happy to assist and support them, but you are confident they will be able to make a sound decision."

Don't compare your child to others.

Getting into a good college isn't about impressing the neighbors. Although it may be easier said than done, parents shouldn't compare their teen's college acceptances or rejections with those of their friends' children, says Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education, a New York-based college admissions advising firm. Doing so just adds more stress to the college decision process, he says. "Not comparing is obviously the advice that I give," Rim says. "Every student is so different, so unique and has different passions and interests."

Compare financial aid offers.

College is a sizable investment, but families often don't have to pay an institution's full sticker price. To inform students and parents of the net cost, or amount due after subtracting scholarships and grants, schools will send accepted students a financial aid award letter, detailing loans, grants, scholarships and work-study options. Parents and teens can compare award letters from different schools to see where they can get the best deal. Award letters often show the cost for one year of enrollment, but Durkle encourages families to think about the total four-year cost for each of the schools they are considering by asking how much tuition and fees have gone up over the last four years.

Discuss affordability in detail.

After reviewing financial aid award letters, families should discuss the money-related implications of attending each school. Parents should be honest and detailed when talking with their teenager about college costs, says Jeff Schiffman, director of admission at Tulane University in New Orleans. "Treat your kid like an adult," he says. Schiffman recommends that families make a spreadsheet to compare the cost of each college. The document can also include information about how much debt a student or family would have to take on for each option. Discussing the implications of student loan debt is also important, experts say.

Evaluate academic opportunities.

Teens have probably already spent some time looking into the academic offerings of each college they applied to, but experts say it doesn't hurt for families to do some additional research before making a final college choice. Parents can help their teens research and think through the breadth and depth of academic opportunities offered at a college, Christine Chu, a premier college admissions counselor at IvyWise, a New York-based education consulting company, wrote in an email. This includes the majors and minors offered, course selections, accessibility of faculty, undergraduate research opportunities and study abroad programs, she said.

Research career outcomes.

Families can do some research to help determine whether a school will be able to help teens reach their career goals. Internship opportunities in college are one factor to consider. Looking at job placement rates and starting salary data for recent graduates can also be helpful, Durkle says. And if a teenager hopes to eventually attend graduate school, families can look into grad school outcomes for a college's recent alumni, experts say. For example, some colleges offer information about how many of their recent grads who applied to medical school got in. Career and graduate school outcomes data are often available on a school's website.

Talk about location.

Some teens may want to attend a college that's close to home, while others want to go to school far away from the town they grew up in. According to a 2016 study by the American Council on Education, most freshmen enrolling at public colleges pick a school within 50 miles of their home. With the threat of the coronavirus and the disruptions that have followed, more than 25% of high school students surveyed by ed-tech company Cirkled In say location will affect their college decision. Whether near or far, parents and students should talk about the pros and cons of the location of each college on their list before making a decision, experts say.

Focus on finding the right fit.

Fit encompasses many factors, including academics, extracurriculars and campus culture, to name a few. Students should choose a college where they believe they can succeed, Rim says. This type of fit matters more than a school's brand name or any other factor, he says. Parents can encourage their teenager to approach the decision this way. To help students determine the college that may be right for them, U.S. News offers a My Fit tool, which allows users to input high school GPA, test scores and other details in order to get started on the college search.

Visit the campus again -- or take a virtual tour.

Many colleges hold events on campus in the spring for admitted students in the incoming class. These events offer undecided teens another chance to experience a school and ask any remaining questions they have about academics, student life and other topics, which experts recommend students attend. But with many campuses closed due to the coronavirus, a college visit is highly unlikely, meaning students should consider virtual tours, which may offer features such as 360-degree video and virtual reality. While a virtual tour isn't a complete substitute for being on campus, it's as close as a student is likely to get during a public health emergency, and it can still provide a look at campus grounds and facilities.

Don't pressure your teenager about his or her college choice.

Asking teens about their college decision every other day can stress them out and add more pressure to the admissions process. However, since there is a looming deadline, parents should check in regularly to make sure their child is making progress toward a final decision. Families can pick one night a week to have a conversation about the college decision, Schiffman suggests. "But you don't necessarily need to be talking about it all the time," he says. Families can use this discussion time to weigh the pros and cons of each school.

Find the school for you.

Get more information about how to choose a college, and check out the complete rankings of the Best Colleges to find the school that's best for you. For more advice and information on selecting a college, connect with U.S. News Education on Twitter and Facebook.

How to help with your teen's college decision

-- Don't pressure your student to pick a particular school.

-- Don't compare your child to others.

-- Compare financial aid offers.

-- Discuss affordability in detail.

-- Evaluate academic opportunities.

-- Research career outcomes.

-- Talk about location.

-- Focus on finding the right fit.

-- Visit the campus again -- or take a virtual tour.

-- Don't pressure your teenager about his or her college choice.

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