Whether your teen is in their final year of high school, their first year, or somewhere in between, the prospect of their building a college list, applying for admission, and then making the transition to campus can be daunting.
To help parents navigate this rocky terrain — and, in particular, to support parents as they work with their children to establish their respective roles in the process — I had c conversation with Dr. Angel B. Pérez, a veteran dean of admission who is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
While our discussion will range as broad and deep as you wish us to take it, I wanted to prime the pump a bit by suggesting two areas where, I would argue, a role for parents — as well as for guardians, mentors, or other adults providing guidance to a young person —is not only appropriate but can also be critical.
One is helping a child to estimate the potential cost of an education at those colleges or universities that may be of interest, and then to consider, together, options for paying that expense. The other is to help them assess the academic, social-emotional, and health-and-wellness supports that are available at those institutions, should your child ever want (or need) to take advantage of those services.
As a primer for our discussion, I want to highlight a few points of advice that Eric J. Furda, the former Dean of Admission at the University of Pennsylvania, and I made in the updated, paperback edition of our book, The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education, which was published by Penguin Books last month:
The Cost of College
- Have this talk with your teen beginning as early in the college process as possible.
- Familiarize yourselves with the broad ranges in sticker price for four-year colleges and universities, which is basically the annual cost of attendance (tuition, housing, meals, mandatory fees) that colleges cite before any financial aid has been taken into account.
- Plug a few financial variables, such as your adjusted gross income, into the net price calculator that every college is required by the federal government to have on its website.
- Before discussing potential options for financial aid, whether in the form of scholarships, grants or loans, take a moment to rough out a sketch of your family’s annual income and expenses, as well as savings and investments.
- Get a firm grounding in the concepts of need-based financial aid, awarded by an institution based on an assessment of family’s finances, and of merit aid, which may be based on a student’s classroom academic achievement, test scores, outside research experiences and talents — and the degree to which colleges or universities of interest offer such aid, and, if so, the criteria they use to determine such awards.
- Seek out information on the Free Application for Federal Student AID (FAFSA), which is used to determine eligibility for federal grants (such as Pell), work-study (on-campus jobs) and subsidized or unsubsidized loans, under the government’s Stafford Loan program. The FAFSA can be submitted as early as Oct. 1 of your teen’s senior year of high school, and no later than June 30.
College Support Services
- Support services may be in the areas of tutoring, academic support and mentoring, health and wellness, and public safety.
- Whether in person (such as during a campus visit) or virtually, you as a parent or other adult in a teen’s life might take on the responsibility of asking questions related to the support services at each of the institutions they are considering attending; these can be areas of real differentiation between and among institutions.
- In particular, pay attention to mental health supports, and the degree to which an institution places a priority on them, in light of numerous national studies that have shown that college and university students’ mental health concerns have soared in recent years.
- Whether or not your teen will need to seek out counseling or other mental health services, you might ask, in advance, about protocols for making appointments and average wait times to access such services, and whether those services are offered under a standard fee as part of the cost of attendance or are covered by health insurance.
- You might also ask about services offered to support your teen’s academic success, including the availability of a resource center devoted to instilling in students good study habits and other strategies, such as for researching and writing papers.
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Adapted from The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education by Eric J. Furda and Jacques Steinberg, published in paperback in 2021 by Penguin Books, an imprint of of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Eric J. Furda and Jacques Steinberg.