The Women's Journal

Helping Your Child With College Planning

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pat_Smith_ond17By Dr. Patricia H. Smith 


Many parents/guardians worry about their involvement in their children’s college planning process. Your student – whether a potential biology major, engineering major, pre-law candidate, or basketball or football team hopeful – has a great deal to consider in making a college choice and paying for college. As parents, you may be confused about how to get involved.

Understandably, parents have concerns about what colleges their children will attend, as well as, what the cost will be and how to pay for it. Some parents regard college planning as complicated and are unsure how to successfully help their children navigate the process. Many parents will read college planning books and articles, and attend college planning meetings and fairs, but struggle with balancing their interest versus their children’s interest in making the final college decisions. These concerns are reasonable; however, they may cause needless worry, stress and anxiety for both parents and students.

Parents’ Engagement

Although teenagers want to assert individuality and independence, research has found that young people rely on their parents and educators for information and advice about college. Parents engaging in the college planning process can help reduce students’ worry, stress, and anxiety. Further, their involvement in the college planning process can support and help their children plan, organize and set aside time to engage in college planning (Romer and Bouffard, 2014).

Parents’ involvement supports both parents and students working together to:  

Select the best college fit for the student;

Locate scholarships and other financial resources to pay for college;

Evaluate how much student loan debt your family can afford;

Engage in the college major choice;

Use information such as the O*NET to select college majors and careers.

Parents and Students Working Together

As an experienced and informed Independent College Consultant, I have guided and helped families navigate through the college planning process. We have developed strategies that foster parents and students working together on college planning. I suggest that parents:

Create a college planning “plan” depicting the student’s and family’s goals, values, and beliefs. Creating a college plan can help parents and students have less stress, anxiety, and frustration. The purpose of the college plan is to create clarity for the parents and students and to provide school counselors, teachers, and SAT/ACT preparation providers with an understanding of how to help the students and parents with their college planning goals.

Help the students organize the overwhelming amount of college materials that they will most likely receive. Once you have created a college plan, you will be ready to do this.

Identify the members on your children’s college planning team (teachers, school counselors, independent college planning coach, and SAT/ACT tutors). This team will help them prepare and perform well on standardized tests (SAT/ACT), search for colleges, complete college applications, and apply for financial aid and scholarships.

Don’t forget to encourage the student to work and manage the college planning “plan” to ensure proper execution and that deadlines are met.

Analyze all college financial aid and scholarship information to assist you and your child with selecting a college that is family-backed and affordable.

Finally, with college being a huge family financial investment you have a good reason to want to be engaged in the college planning and selection process. These steps hopefully will engage you in the process and help your child stay focused and select a college that is family-friendly, satisfying and rewarding.