10 college search recommendations for parents

Vanessa Infanzon

Photo by Davidson College

Finding the right college for your son or daughter can be a daunting process. Even parents who have been through the experience on their own or with another child can still feel overwhelmed. Luckily, there are many resources available – even experts who specialize in the college search process.

Anna Davis has been guiding students and their families in the Carolinas for 11 years as a college consultant in Charlotte. Through her company, College Guidance, she helps students navigate the college search process through individual sessions and essay writing workshops.

Davis recommends 10 ways parents can make the college search process easier:

1. Discuss money early on.

Conversations about the family’s finances can be uncomfortable, but in order to make an informed decision about schools, this information needs to be made available to your student. If you have a budget in mind for college or money saved aside for an in-state school, it’s best to have that discussion early in the process.

2. Read “Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.”

Author Frank Bruni discusses how finding the right fit for your student is more important than the “name brand” of the school. It discusses how taking advantage of opportunities within the school such as internships and leadership positions are what will prepare students for a successful life and career.

3. Avoid using “we.”

When parents say, “We’re looking for a college with a biology major,” or “We have an interest in a school with a strong leadership program,” power is taken away from their student. To stop using “we” means a change in a parent’s mindset. “We” has been part of a parent’s vocabulary since their student was a small child. The college search process is the time to hand over control to the student.

4. Encourage a family meeting time.

Davis suggests that the families she works with schedule a weekly or monthly meeting with their junior and senior high school student – make it fun with dessert or over a favorite meal. Use the meeting to discuss college tours, applications and current school work instead of asking throughout the week. Parents promise to hold questions until the meeting, and students promise to bring a good attitude. “High schoolers may feel a little bit bombarded,” Davis said. “This is a good compromise.”

5. Keep an open mind about colleges.

There are more than 3,000 four-year schools in the U.S. and we hear about a small percentage of them. “There are some real hidden gems,” Davis said. “Just because you haven’t heard of a school or your student hasn’t heard of a school doesn’t mean that it couldn’t possibly be a good fit.” Davis also advises to put aside what you knew about a school from your own college experience because schools do change.

6. Let your student drive the process.

Letting go may be one of the hardest parts of being a parent. Allowing your student to take ownership of the college search process will help them make another step toward being independent. Your student should be the one to plan the campus visits, talk with admission counselors and professors and complete the applications.

7. Spend time with your student.

Use this time to have fun with your student – combine a campus tour with a vacation, plan down time away from the college search process and find ways to take stress away. “I encourage parent to not rush things and not get wrapped up in the anxiety and the flurry around the college process,” Davis said. “Remember, high school should be a time for growing and learning and shouldn’t be only focused on getting into college.”

8. Check out these resources.

  • Type “Common Data Set” into a college’s search bar to find wait list and enrollment data, a freshmen class profile and other pertinent information about the school.
  • Look at the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard for information about graduation rates and salaries.
  • View “The College Finder: Choose the right school for you” by Dr. Steven Antonoff. The book is a compilation of lists of schools best for students with certain needs or interests.
  • Read “The Fiske Guide” by Edward Fiske, the New York Times education editor. Fiske gives basic facts about some schools in the U.S. and includes information interviews with students.

9. Understand that there’s no magic formula.

There’s no best way to get your student into college. Give them the support to do well academically and encourage them to participate in extra curricular activities they enjoy. Playing the “if we do this, then they’ll get in” game may only cause frustration. Sometimes, other variables not related to your student determine a school’s freshmen class.

10. Reflect on how this college search process affects you.

“I think it’s really easy for parents to feel like their success as a parent is defined by their kid’s acceptances,” Davis said. Parents can become obsessive with school rankings and miss the opportunity to find the right fit for their student.


Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI.

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