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    College Search Essentials

    What you need to know to help your child through the college search.

    Mark Moring


    College fairs, campus visits, applications and so many choices. From start to finish, the college search can be overwhelming and often confusing. Here's an overview of the whole process, complete with answers to the questions parents most often ask.

    What are colleges looking for?

    Many college-bound teens focus on their grade point average. While it's true that colleges are interested in your student's grades and their scores on the SAT and/or the ACT, these things are only part of what they want to know about your teen. Colleges want a much more complete picture.

    For starters, colleges want to see that your child has taken classes that challenged them. Tougher classes not only look better on a college application—they also prepare your student for college coursework.

    Colleges also are interested in school activities, community service, church involvement, spiritual development, work experience, even family life—anything that has shaped your student.

    Leadership is very important. It's good if your student has been involved in some activities, and it's even better if they've taken a leadership role in at least one of them. A leadership role shows colleges that your student is someone who is willing to commit time and energy to something they care about.

    Finally, colleges are interested in what others have to say about your child. Most colleges require two or more letters of recommendation from adults who know your student well—like a guidance counselor, a teacher, or a pastor.

    When should my student begin the college search process?

    Many experts suggest students begin their college search during their sophomore year in high school—certainly no sooner than that—or early in their junior year at the latest. Students shouldn't wait until their senior year. While they can still get in at many colleges, they may end up rushing their decision.

    The family can begin the search by praying together. Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions your student will ever make. Ask God to lead your student every step of the way.

    Your student's guidance counselor is a vital part of the search process. Encourage your teen to meet with their counselor regularly throughout the process. The counselor can offer advice on which high school classes still need to be taken; whether your student should take the SAT, ACT or both; and where to look for college and scholarship information. It also is helpful for you and your teen to meet together with the counselor—if you are informed about the timeline and the process, you'll be better equipped to support your child.

    Next, you'll save a lot of time if your student first narrows their search criteria. Have your child make a list of general qualities they want in their college.

    Certain factors may be very important, while others might not matter much. For instance, you and your child might not care about the size (number of students) of the school, but finding a school close to home may be important.

    What should my student consider when looking at colleges?

    Here are some factors you and your student should consider:

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