The college application process can be an exciting and stressful time for both the student and their parents. For your child, it may be one of the first times he or she has had to take action and make decisions that could have a lasting impact on his or her life.
As a result, you want to help guide your child and keep them accountable, but don’t want to push them too hard or do the work for them. For help on how to prepare your kids for college, here is a parent’s guide to college planning so you can support your child during the college application process without making things worse.
A Parent’s Guide to College Planning
It can be hard to know how much is too much, but things can also go south if you’re not involved at all. Here are some things to consider when preparing kids for college.
Avoiding Taking Over the Process
It can be tempting to do what you’ve likely done countless times in your child’s life: step in and solve the problem for them. While there are certainly times in their life when that’s a good thing, it’s important to allow your child to take the helm.
On the flip side, avoid being completely hands-off. You know your child, possibly better than they know themselves. If they’re prone to procrastination or might have a hard time talking about their strengths in an essay, take the opportunity to give them some guidance and gentle reminders.
Listening to Your Child
While the ultimate goal is to get all their applications in on time, it’s important to remember that the process can be overwhelming. Your child is making some big decisions about their future and may need someone with whom they can talk things through.
Take the time to listen to your child and be empathetic about their stress, fear, and anxiety. If possible, share your own experience and show that they can depend on you for ongoing support.
Knowing the Deadlines
Applying for college is serious business, and it’s unlikely colleges are going to accept late entries. While it’s important for your child to know when their applications are due, it’s also a good idea for you to have them on your calendar.
That way, you can follow up as the deadlines get closer just in case your child forgot. That said, be careful to avoid nagging or bringing it up too often.
Avoiding Focusing on Just One School
Parents want the best for their children, and that may include wanting them to attend a specific school. Maybe you like the idea of having your child attend your alma mater, or you have your sights set on an Ivy.
It may not hurt to make a suggestion about which schools your child should consider. But having your child put all their eggs in one basket can make it difficult if they don’t get accepted or they want more options later on.
If your child’s top schools are close by, take a day off of work to visit the school campuses and meet with an admissions counselor. Being there and taking it in may help your child make the right decision about which school is the best fit.
If a college is far away, consider making a vacation out of it. Before you go, check with the colleges to see if they offer campus tours or college fairs where your student can get a better idea of the full experience.
Encouraging Them to Work With a School Counselor
If your child has a designated counselor at school, encourage them to meet with their counselor and talk about the process. While you can give good advice, the counselor may be more in touch with which school might be a good fit based on what your child wants to study.
They may also be able to give your child a better idea of what college admissions officers are looking for in an application, which can give your child an advantage.
Letting Your Child Do the Talking
It can be tempting to try to set up an appointment or communicate with prospective colleges on your child’s behalf. But by encouraging your child to do those things instead, you allow them to show initiative and independence, two traits that can give them a leg up on other candidates.
It will also give your child good practice, because they’ll likely need to do a lot more on their own in the coming years, and may not have you nearby to help.
Talking About Finances
In addition to providing support during the application process, knowing how to prepare your kids for college costs is essential. If you’ve managed to save enough in a savings account or some other way, talk with your child about how far it will go and what they can use the money for.
Also, talk to them about student loans, both federal and private, and how to make good decisions about borrowing for education and living expenses.
Encourage them to apply for scholarships and/or grants first, and to work during school to help reduce how much they may need to borrow.
Putting Your Child’s Needs First
Preparing kids for college is no easy task, especially if you feel like they’re dragging their feet. As you try to find the best way to support your child, take a step back and think about their needs versus your desires, and try to focus your encouragement based on their needs.
Doing this may require some patience, but it can help turn the process into a bonding experience rather than an alienating one. And whatever you do, avoid skipping the money conversation.
Teaching your child about the cost of college, as well as discussing options to finance their education, can help set them up for success for years to come.
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