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    The Right College Choice for Your Teen

    How you can help your child make one of the biggest decisions of his or her life.

    edited by Mark Moring

    Leer en Español

    It doesn't seem all that long ago when you were in college, and now your little girl or boy is almost ready to begin those four exciting years.

    You've always tried to help your son or daughter make wise decisions, and now it's time for one of the biggest decisions of his or her life—the college choice. What's your role in this process? With so many good colleges and universities out there, how can you help your child make the best selection?

    What are colleges looking for?

    If your child is a high school senior, she's likely already in a groove with her academics and extracurricular activities, and it won't be long before she starts applying to colleges. But if she's younger, you can help her make some college-wise decisions along the way.

    College-bound teens often focus on their grade point average and, later, their SAT and/or ACT scores. But these things are only part of what colleges want to know about your teen. They want a more complete picture.

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

    Leadership is also important, whether in extracurricular activities, at church, in the community, or at a part-time job. A leadership role shows colleges that your student is willing to commit time and energy to something they care about.

    Colleges will want to know what others say about your child. As your child gets involved in various activities, get to know the adults who work with him—because they might just end up serving as references later.

    When should the college search start?

    Many experts suggest students begin the search during their sophomore year in high school—certainly no sooner, and no later than early in their junior year.

    Before you begin the logistics of the search, kick off the process by praying together with your child. Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions your student will ever make. Ask God to lead every step of the way.

    Your student's guidance counselor is a vital part of the process. Encourage your teen to regularly meet with their counselor, who can advise 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's also good for you and your teen to meet together with the counselor; the more you know about the timeline and the process, the better equipped you'll be 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—and don't want—in their college. Certain factors may be very important, while others might not matter much. For instance, 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: