by Stephanie Partridge
I personally think I have some of the neatest kids in the world. They are intelligent, friendly, articulate, compassionate and fun. As they swiftly approach adulthood, we are drawn into new and challenging situations that sometimes push me to my limit. I must admit, there are days that I long for a return to the toddler days. They were tough at times then, but in retrospect we had many years ahead of us, a lifetime it seemed. Now I am preparing my teens to leave the nest. Where have the years gone? I sit with my 17 year old daughter as we discuss, gasp! College.
How did we get here so quickly? Just yesterday she was an adorable little girl with bright, wide green eyes and a mop of curly honey colored hair. It seemed that she never stopped talking and she was into everything. Now as she sits with me, she is beautiful, still the same bright green eyes, her hair is darker, a little straighter and much longer. She still has that always ready smile and easy laugh, so full of joy. I watch her, her eyes dancing as she looks at her options for college. My baby girl is going to college!
"I still want to be a vet," She says adamantly. "I want a good school that will help get me ready for vet school."
So we pour over material about different colleges in the area. We are looking for schools that have strong science departments. She wants to attend a local college, but we have discussed the importance of her spending her freshman year in the dorms as opposed to living at home. It is an excellent way for her to get connected to her school, the activities and other students. It will be her first real taste of independence.
As parents, when we embark on the great college search, we approach the task with great excitement – and often great trepidation. We want to help our children find the best school possible, one that fits them and addresses their needs. But how can we be sure that what we are doing is right? How can we be certain that the chosen college is the perfect college? In truth, we don't, but we can increase our odds. The tips I share here helped my daughter and me find just the right college for her. I am sure that they will help you as well.
Community College, Four Year University or Tech School?
Depending on the career track that your teen is considering, they may go with a college or a technical school. A technical school is different from a college or university in that it is geared toward prepping students for employment. The focus is generally narrower with fewer courses that are not directly related to the program. In general, a tech school is geared more toward labor intensive careers like diesel mechanics and welding, but many also offer programs in office management, art, IT and culinary arts.
Community colleges are two year colleges that offer a wide range of course offerings, certificate programs and two-year degrees. There was once a stigma attached to community colleges, as a four year university was considered the preferred route. However, times have changed and students are flocking to community colleges to take advantage of their less expensive tuition and diverse program offerings. In fact, many students are beginning their academic careers in a less expensive community college, fulfilling their general education requirements and then going on to the four year college of their choice.
Things to Consider when Choosing a College
This is great if your teen knows what they want to study. However, many teens (and adult students) enter college with not idea the direction they want to go. If your teen falls into this latter category, a college with a large, diverse range of programs would likely be a good way to go. That way, they can sample a variety of subjects and degree areas while getting their general education requirements.
Student Body Size
The size of the student body plays a large part in the overall college experience for your teen. A smaller college will offer more one on one instruction and more personal attention as well as smaller classes as opposed to a larger college. The number of students in the school may also impact the range of majors that the college offers. Sports and extracurricular activities are another area that is often affected by the size of the student body.
If your teen wants to live at home or visit home often, then a local college or a college that is within a short drive would be a good choice. However, this time in your teen's life presents a great opportunity for him or her to experience life in other areas of the country or even the world.
Life on Campus
Take a good look at your teen's chosen college, as it extends beyond the academic. Check into student housing, dorms, extracurricular activities, clubs, religious groups and other special interest groups. Consider how the students are treated within the surrounding community. Are they welcome? What types of activities are offered within the community that would be of interest to your child?
Cost of College
Of course, cost is another big issue. There are many programs, funding and scholarships that allow students from virtually any station in life to attend college. The financial aid office of the college you choose should be able to assist you and your teen in finding funding if you find the price tag is too steep.
Graduation and Retention Rates
Good retention rates and graduation rates indicate that a school offers or is connected to strong social, personal, financial and academic support systems. It shows that the school is supportive of and committed to the success of the students. Two very telling figures: How many students return after their freshman year and how many students stay to graduate.
You can make this time in your teen's life a very special experience, something they will remember forever. As you embark on the great college search with your teen, keep it positive, be supportive and just love them. It is hard to let go, but all young birds must leave the nest sometime and learn to fly. By being there for your child, supporting them, helping them and being a key influence in their lives, you can help them to soar.
Stephanie Partridge is a freelance writer and photographer as well as a FOIA analyst for a federal agency in Washington, D.C. She is a single mom to Jeffery, 19; Micah Elizabeth, 17 and Benjamin, 15. She is also the author of the ebook, “Diet is a Dirty Word.”
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