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Get ready! Tips to help your child with the college search

Hilary Gan is a professional SAT tutor and a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona.

Don't know where to begin when searching for potential colleges? This article will set you and your child in the right direction.

mother and daughter choosing college online

Photo credit: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

Identifying the correct college or university for your child means locating an institution that will help your child succeed and enjoy life on campus. There are many factors that go into selecting schools, and the following list provides you and your child an initial set of criteria for evaluating potential schools before you narrow it down by personal preferences and interests.

Choose an ideal location

Odds are, at college graduation, most of your child’s experiences will be either in the place where she grew up or in the place she attended post-secondary school. If your student prefers not to live at home after college, or if you currently reside in a very small town, encourage him or her to consider where he or she would like to live and work. What will life be like after school? Use his or her answer to identify an initial list of 25 to 50 colleges.

Consider large schools

Large schools, while occasionally maligned for being impersonal, often offer access to metropolitan areas, a wide variety of majors and extracurriculars, a wealth of sporting events and wonderful student diversity. Personalized attention in classes and internships can require initiative on the part of the student, but course sizes typically shrink by sophomore year, and work opportunities are more abundant and obtainable.

Look twice at small private schools

The advertised price for small private schools may seem intimidating, but they often possess endowments that enable them to offer higher financial aid than state schools, especially for minority or out-of-state students. With high academic standards, a focus on personal instruction and intimate class sizes, institutions like Haverford or Oberlin can be more than worth the cost, especially on a scholarship.

Embrace so-called “second-tier” schools

Quality, lesser-known schools do not always advertise widely, and that can work in your favor during admissions. Plus, some of these universities have established partnerships with one another, such as St. Bonaventure University in the state of New York, where students who are accepted into the combined BS/MD program are guaranteed admission into George Washington University’s medical school as well. One method for identifying these types of schools is to examine the middle third of a rankings list.

Research statistics

As wearying as numbers can be, reviewing them is essential. Admission rates, retention rates, average SAT scores, average GPAs, average financial aid packages, alumni employment rates, average alumni salaries and even job satisfaction among alumni can all assist in identifying five to 10 programs that fit your student best.

Search for scholarships

Before signing a student loan agreement, conduct scholarship research. For instance, MENSA can provide scholarships for students who aren’t MENSA members but who complete an essay. Simply sitting for the PSAT can qualify a student for a National Merit Scholarship, and first-generation college attendees are eligible for various grants. If you happen to work at a school, tuition exchange programs allow your student to attend partnered colleges and universities elsewhere. Determine what opportunities a school can offer financially before crossing it off your list.

Visit the campus

After narrowing down your child’s list, it is very important to visit campuses. Sit in on a class, take the official tour and then spend additional time unaccompanied. Speak with two or three students in the dining hall or public areas on campus about their experience thus far. Unlike admissions staff and tour guides, the average student’s opinion will not be biased toward trying to entice you to attend.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

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