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The May 1st Deadline is Looming: How to Help Your College-Bound Teen Make His or Her Final College Decision!


It is spring break, and my son, Connor, and I are now nine hours into our spring break trip to Ohio. Why, Ohio? Well, Connor is a high school senior and two weeks away from one of the most critical and expensive decisions in his life: what college will he call home for the next four years? And, he is still uncertain. And, University of Dayton and Xavier are in the final four. (For NCAA basketball fans: pun intended.)


I will be honest. As a test prep tutor and college consultant, I never saw this coming — this paralysis: the inability to make a final college choice. When my daughter was shopping for colleges, the decision seemed clear: if she got into Elon University’s Business Fellows program, she would go there. She got into the Fellows, went to Elon, and never looked back.


But, with Connor, the whole process has been more complicated.


It began last fall when he and I first attempted to narrow down his college list. Connor wanted a large university with big school sports! He wanted tailgating, a big arena, and Greek Life. I wanted a small school with a dedicated faculty, a low student-teacher ratio, a reliable tutorial support system, and a dedicated career placement center. In an attempt to find a middle ground, our negotiations were no less worthy than that of a United Nations Peace Summit. After a few months of blood, sweat, and tears, we came up with a college list of about fifteen schools that met both of our wishes. And, we started the college process in earnest.


Over the last year, we have visited copious colleges — large and small — near and far — public and private. And, except for a few universities, Connor walked away from every campus envisioning himself going there and loving it. So, our list did not narrow very much.


And, then, one day it occurred to me that the problem was NOT with Connor BUT the system: a system that insists that a 17-year-old make these decisions — sometimes without the research tools, guidance, and in-depth campus visits necessary to make informed choices. And, sadly, due to the cost of tuition, students can’t afford to make the wrong choice. But, more often than not, they do. More than a third of all freshmen will drop out or transfer after their first year of college. That is an expensive and unsettling proposition.


So, while I feel that we did a somewhat exhaustive college search over the last year, we weren’t ready to move forward until Connor was emotionally ready to revisit colleges, ask the tough questions of himself and his schools, and make his final decision based on some mature soul-searching. We are almost there.


Parents: If you have an indecisive senior, here are my top three suggestions for helping your college-bound teen make the final choice.


  1. Go Back and Revisit Final School Choices


Connor visited University of Dayton for Accepted Student Day and took a class at Xavier in Cincinnati. Of the two schools, he felt most at home on Xavier’s campus.


  1. Review Net Cost


It is crucial to determine affordability. What school offers the best value? Many schools offer generous merit scholarships along with an excellent return on investment: schools that offer robust four-year graduation rates, high freshman to sophomore year retention rates, and substantial job placement percentages after graduation.


  1. Create a Pros and Cons List Based on Academic, Social and Financial Fit for Each School


Once Connor had his list narrowed down, we did a follow-up spreadsheet that compared the key factors relevant to Connor and me side by side. These factors included location, distance from home, school spirit, Greek Life, campus food, dorm rating, D1 athletics, student/faculty ratio, faculty engagement rating, student retention rate, four-year graduation rate, internships, study abroad, job placement, cross-curriculum opportunities for majors, and, of course, net cost after scholarship and merit aid. I used a host of resources including College Niche, the Comma Data Set, Naviance, and Big Future.


Here is a copy of the spreadsheet in case you want to create something similar. Doing this allowed Connor to reflect on what he truly wanted in a college and what he was willing to let go.


This decision can be overwhelming for all of us. Revisiting a narrowed down list of colleges and asking the tough questions, reviewing financial aid packages and scholarships, and doing a thorough inventory of pros and cons for each school will go a long way towards helping your teen make an informed choice with a positive outcome.


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