College is, for many of us, “the beginning of the rest of our lives”.

It is the pinnacle of everything students have worked toward since the age of five. And yet, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding applying to and selecting colleges, especially in the minority community.

Having worked in the admissions department for a top tier university, I have unique insights on the primary concerns of students and families when selecting a college or University.

I’ve compiled this list in the hope that it will demystify the selection process, and help your teen find the “best fit”.

Your College Admissions Checklist:

College Admissions
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Priority One: Determining Your Teen’s Needs

  • Geography

Consider your student’s personality and needs. Do they have good reason to stay close to home? Or would they benefit more from spreading their wings and getting outside that comfort zone?

Discussing this in depth with your teen can be the difference between a lot of homesick calls and plane tickets home. If your child is opting to stay close, make sure it’s because they want to and not because you can’t let them go.

Baby’s gotta leave the nest eventually!

  • School and class size

Population and class size can play a huge role in your child finding their place on campus.

College Admissions
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Does your teen thrive on the challenge of standing out amongst thousands? Will they take the initiative of seeking out professors during office hours, or take a chance answering questions in a 200-person lecture hall?

Or does the more personal feel of a close-knit campus fit their needs?

Everyone learns and thrives differently, so consider these things early to ensure your student gets the most from their experience.

  • Diversity

Today’s high school graduates have the option of a diverse range of campus experiences to select from. Students should speak with as many people as possible from various types of colleges to gain perspective on those different experiences.

Does your student feel they would benefit more from the sense of community at an HBCU? Or are they open to navigating a campus where they’d be making their mark as one of few people of color?

Single-sex campuses offer an alternative to the typical co-ed colleges. Both have their pros and cons, and it once again comes down to your child’s needs and preferences.

If your teen is considering a single-sex school – or if you think they should – I encourage you to explore the reasons it may be a good fit in depth together.

education, high school, university, learning and people concept - smiling african american student girl reading book sitting on stairs at library
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Check out these college admissions resources to help you find the right fit:

Helpful Books: 

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Money Matters: Making the Right Decision for Your Teen’s Budget & Future

  • Private vs. Public

Your teen may have fallen in love with that picture-perfect liberal arts school. Or maybe you have dreams of them attending your alma mater…which was surely less expensive when you attended as it is now.

But has your student considered their in-state public school options? These are usually significantly less expensive; your teen’s future self may thank them for that low student loan balance.

  • Financial Aid

Encourage your student to manage their expectations until they’ve received their financial aid packages. It’s tough to get attached to a school only to later find that the costs are simply out of reach.

Make sure the fees are doable before your teen is off buying college-logo bedsheets!

On the Financial Aid note, don’t be afraid to appeal those packages! If your student wants to attend but the costs truly over-extend your family’s budget, contact the financial aid office.

Providing proof of financial hardship, along with a letter of intent to attend once a solution has been found, has successfully secured higher aid packages for many students.

  • Loans?

Student loans should be avoided. Period.

But if they’re unavoidable, be strategic about what types of loans to pursue and the lowest amounts your child can manage with. This means not taking out the maximum allowance if your student only needs a portion of that.

Unnecessary debt is never a good idea.

  • Alternative funding sources

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Federal Work-Study is a great option allowing students to work on-campus and receive a guaranteed amount each semester to support themselves. If your child didn’t receive Work-Study in their initial financial aid package, appeal for it.

Scholarships should also be pursued. There’s college funding out there for being Baptist, writing poetry, baton-throwing, recycling… the list is endless.

Your teen just needs to do some research!

Check out these financial aid and scholarship resources to help you budget:
Helpful Books: 

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The Road Less Traveled

Going to college has become the expectation for modern youth, with good reason: “Bachelor’s degree required, Master’s preferred” is becoming increasingly common on job listings, even for entry-level positions.

But that doesn’t mean every student must follow the same path.

  • Community College

Students often have personal reasons for choosing to start at a community college: building their emotional readiness, boosting shaky grades, etc.

For many it’s just financially savvy: for a fraction of the price, students can transfer from a community college to a university and receive the same degree as those who attended for all four years.

It is also worth noting that most schools have higher acceptance rates for transfer students than for entering freshmen, so attending community college for a year or two first can be a very strategic decision.

Check out this resource: Community College FAQs
  • A Gap Year

Before you write it off as a year of “messing around”, think about the growth you have gained through life experience.

College Admissions
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If your teen feels strongly that they could benefit from the experience of travel, an internship, or an apprenticeship before college, hear them out. College will still be there in a year, and perhaps they’ll be more prepared for it.

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College: The Beginning of the Rest of Your Life

Of course, your teen can prepare endlessly for attending college and never fully know what’s in store. The best advice is to keep an open mind and embrace the unknown.

However, being fully informed before they sign that commitment letter is a great start in taking the leap with eyes wide open.

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