My daughter is a junior this year. We spent spring break visiting a few colleges. She is a very organized and independent young lady and was a bit hesitant to let me really jump in and guide her in the college selection process. While I was very willing to assist, I too, was treading lightly because, well, it's personal.
When guiding your own child in the college process, there is always a subtext of mood and emotion that both parents and teen must navigate before discussing topics such as, "Should I be looking at schools that are in-state or out-of-state?" This is a loaded question that encompasses topics of geography, merit and need-based aid, individual maturity of the student, college majors and so much more. The answer can't be given as dad is loading the dishwasher or mom is running out the door to catch a soccer game. Having parents and teen in the right mindset for discussing these topics is tricky when lives are busy and the topics at hand are layered and complex.
Part of the complexity lies in the understanding that finding the "right fit" college means that your child will leave home and become an independent young adult. Teens can have uncertainty about their ability to live away from family and friends. Parents can doubt the independent living skills of their children and in many cases, experience guilt about not teaching them to do certain things on their own, such as laundry or manage money. Both of these factors, whether conscious thoughts or barely-there-inklings in the back of the mind, have a way of impacting the conversation. Both teens and parents should be aware of these potential biases and consider whether it warrants a conversation or even some actual life lessons before moving day.
There's also the element of finding the time to "work on" the college selection process that can stretch six months or three years. You can't very well "make an appointment" with your own child, (although I've tried!). There is so much ground to cover and research to do! Throughout the past six years as my children have been applying to and attending college, we've pretty much mastered the learning curve of the application processes, (even though it keeps changing) and obtained sound "college-knowledge" of the many great schools I have visited since becoming a college counselor. The financial aid portion of the college search is another part that I feel comfortable with, especially since we have personally been through it and guided other parents through the process as well. However, I vividly recall the ignorance and fear I felt when looking at the FAFSA forms when I saw them for the very first time and having very little comprehension of what was at stake. There are many parts to the college selection and application process. Finding the time and expertise to complete it all can be daunting, but patience, planning and willingness to reach out to reliable experts is really important.
This is the third child I've been through the college selection process with, as a parent. All three experiences have been vastly different. One child tore into every piece of college mail the day it arrived, while one let it stack up on the counter untouched. One child was disappointed when he was waitlisted from his top choice, while one only applied to one school. One graduated in four years; one has a five-or-more-year plan underway. One is in a fraternity, while one wants to play club soccer. One headed northwest, the other south; and two are in public universities and I think the third may choose a private school. The best part of the college search process is getting to see your children make important decisions. The worse part... pulling away on Move-In Day.
Good luck, and please call me if you need help.