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You know your student well, and as you find your place in their college and career decision making, you should encourage them to understand what they want and need from their college experience. College is a critical moment in time. Taking a moment to create the right foundation will serve your student well. You can support them by being part of their self-exploration and self-reflection.  Here are five areas that should be considered before beginning the exercise of building a college list:

Know Needs

Frame this to your student by asking, “does the college have support systems in place to help you academically and emotionally?” Encouraging your student’s self-reflection will be necessary for their transition into college. Do they have an IEP or 504? A college with a robust accessibility services team may be important. Do they thrive best in personal learning environments? A college with small class sizes and/or highly accessible tutoring services may set them up for academic success. Will they be working while going to college? A college with courses offered on evenings, weekends, and online may help fit into their lifestyle. Colleges offer all kinds of student support services. Use the knowledge you hold about your student to help guide these conversations and seek the necessary support for their college experience.

Know Preferences

There are some aspects of college campuses that can give big clues to what the campus community is like. In addition to institutions tailored to serve certain demographics of students like HBCUs, HSIs, and TCUs,  schools can be segmented based on size, location, religious affiliation, and more. Encourage your student to reflect on the aspects of college that feel important to them about the campus community. With everything that makes them unique, it’s important to consider their preferences. This self-reflection will help your student craft a college application list that fulfills the experience they seek.

Know Future Hopes

When tackling this portion, your role is to help dismiss the notions of fear or uncertainty that your student may have. Sometimes our own minds can be our worst enemy, and we want your student to dream. If they have an idea of what they want to become, starting simple by researching what majors are needed to achieve those goals is a great step. Then, your student will want to be sure to research schools that offer the academic program they desire.  And if they don’t know what they want to do, which many people don’t at 17 or 18,  that’s okay, too! Picking schools that provide a broad range of majors and have programs that formalize how to take classes to explore what your majors and career can be a great way to approach this.

Know Academics

As your student embarks on their college search, be sure they know their academic record. By participating in self-reflection on their grades, your student will be able to gain more insight into their college list. Sometimes you’ll hear about “matching” academic profiles to the academic profile of the college. This is significant to consider because students that “match” the academic level of their college tend to graduate at higher rates than those that do not.

Know Financial Boundaries

College is an investment in your student’s future, but an investment we want to make sure you go about wisely. Knowing financial boundaries can help your student select a set of colleges to apply to that are affordable. Have an open conversation about their financial context and responsible student loan borrowing. This will assist in shaping a  college list that is within the affordability of the student.

Remember, the goal is a career – and a college degree supports getting there! Your student has a unique network of people supporting them through this. Be sure to know the important dates and processes from their school. Encourage your student to connect with their counselor. As a family member or mentor to your student, share your lived experience as it relates to your own journey.

Don’t forget! myOptions is here for you as you support your student’s college and career planning. Be sure to check out our student advice blogs at myoptions.org. For more advice on this topic, you can check out Friday Five Episode 1 video and the student companion blog.