If your child is a sophomore, tread lightly. It is important to remember that sophomores aren’t even halfway through high school, so it is probably unrealistic to expect to have any truly meaningful conversations with them on this topic. However, it’s a great idea to get sophomores thinking about colleges. They know about some schools and they’ve heard a lot of news about peers and siblings getting accepted or rejected. They may think they know what they are looking for, but don’t put too much stock in their take at this stage, and don’t prematurely narrow the list of choices. Suggest visiting a few schools, perhaps ones that are easy to get to, or ones that are near places you already plan to visit. Consider sitting in on a few group information sessions and taking a campus tour, or even just pulling into a campus to walk around a bit and check things out.

If your child is a junior, it’s time to have some more in-depth conversations about college. But try to stay away from getting too specific too soon. Don’t say “We think you should look at X and Y.” Instead, focus conversations around topics such as these:

Location: Where do you want to look geographically? Are you on the same page as your junior, or do your visions differ?  Is one of you thinking West Coast on the beach while you are thinking within a three-hour radius from home? As an NYC kid can your student do without the bright lights and buzz for their college years?

Size: Do they understand the difference between undergraduate education at a small school vs. undergraduate education at a large university? Are they okay with being anonymous, or do they want to get to know their professors?

Academic Level: How hard do they want to work? Do they want to be one of the brightest students in the college, one of the weakest, or just a normal student?

Areas of Interest: Do they have a good sense of their strengths and weaknesses? They shouldn’t get too hung up on majors at this stage, but if a student who absolutely hated chemistry expresses interest in pre-med, you might want to point out the possible flaw in their thinking!

Social Life: Do they understand the difference between the student life experience at a school that is dominated by Greek life vs. a school that has none?

Must-Haves: Are there variables that are “must haves” for them in a college?  Does your junior have a passion for the arts? A particular sport? A strong interest in politics and social justice?

Finances: Are there financial concerns that your junior should be made aware of as they consider colleges?

If you can have a thoughtful conversation about some of these topics, you should be able to get a good head start on developing an initial list of colleges to research. Keep in mind that when dealing with teenagers, you need to understand that their thinking may change as you go through the process. As we know, very few 16-year-olds truly know what they want to be when they grow up, so we need need to be flexible about and expect changes in their thinking. As a counselor, I am often amazed by how adults love to ask teenagers: “What do you want to major in?” I love to tell my students to turn the question around and ask the adult: “When you were sixteen, did you know what you wanted to major in, and did you stick with it – and does it have anything to do with what you are doing now?” That usually leads to some amazing confessions and great conversations!

If you need help or are feeling overwhelmed, feel free to reach out to us to help guide you through the craziness that is the college search process today!