7 Mistakes to Avoid During the College Search


Dan Crabtree offers advice to parents aiding their children in the search for the right college.

  1. Don't fill out paperwork for your child. I've known of cases where parents have actually written their child's application essay! While that practice is blatantly unethical, it serves to make a point about college paperwork: Let your child take ownership in the process. Yes, you may need to offer advice and assistance; you may even need to nag a bit. And you'll also have to help fill out the FAFSA and other financial aid forms. But your son or daughter is chiefly responsible for filling out and sending applications and other paperwork.
  2. Don't try to fit your child into the "mold" of an older child. If you've already conducted the search with an older child, you might be tempted to "follow the same pattern" for the next one in line. True, certain aspects will be pretty much the same. Applications don't change much. And while some financial aid requirements change, the basics are still pretty much the same. But there is one big difference: the uniqueness of each child. Seek to discover the "unique college fit" for your unique child.
  3. Don't impose a future career on your child. You may have always want-ed a doctor in the family. But don't try to steer them to a school that matches a career path you'd like them to follow. Instead, help your teen probe their interests by asking "What does God want for you?" and "What are your gifts and passions and how do they fit with the schools you're considering?" Also, don't urge your child to choose a school simply on the basis of a specific major. If their interests change, then their sole reason for attending the school is gone.
  4. Don't force them to go where you went. You may be a proud alumnus or alumna. And possibly the day your child was born, your alma mater sent you a tiny version of the college T-shirt bearing "Class of 2007." Even so, fight the urge to "continue the legacy." Swallow that school pride and let your children find the school that's just right for them.
  5. Don't lecture. But do model honesty, wisdom and good decision-making skills. Consider financial aid forms, for example. As you fill out these forms together, model honesty in reporting income and tax information. And also use the time as an opportunity to talk about wise budgeting and stewardship. But as I'm sure you know from experience, teens just tune out lectures. So keep your comments short and anecdotal. And be an "active listener." As your child talks about college, ask questions that will help them think through their decisions. Give them affirming head nods when they're moving in the right direction.
  6. Don't fall for a "designer school." It's tempting to want your son or daughter to go to the so-called "best school," as rated by a particular magazine or book, or even by reputation. But don't fall into the prestige trap. Do you remember how upset you got when your child insisted on buying those expensive designer jeans? For similar reasons, don't worry about getting them into the "best" school, but into the school that's best for them.
  7. Don't have your mind made up about much of anything. A parent's role is one of wise guide and counselor. Be supportive. Help with the decision-making process. But let your child decide what they're looking for in a school. Above all, let the final decision be theirs.

Written by Dan Crabtree

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