• The Best Way to Choose a College—Mighty Parenting 226 with Emma B Perez

  • the best way to choose a college

    One of the major problems our kids have with education after high school is that there are so many options to choose from, and those options don’t narrow much if they decide they want to go to college—there’s everything from the degree type, to the area of study, to the scholarship and financial aid options, to the commute, and so on. Student mentor Emma B Perez is back to answer parents’ and students’ most burning question: What is the best way to choose a college? She joins Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler to give us choices and answers to narrow down our kids’ options and reduce their stress levels surrounding choosing the next step in their future.

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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    Before looking at colleges decide:

    Who are you as a person?

    How do you want to spend your time?

    What do you want to do for work?

    High Points From Our Conversation on the Best Way to Choose a College:

    Quote about the best way to choose a college

    Most young people who are going to Emma for advice ask her about college, but they don’t usually start with What’s the best way to choose a college? Instead, they jump to: I have to find a school with a campus that I love. I have to go visit the campus, and that’s how I’ll know if I want to go there.

    The campus is an important piece, but not necessarily in the way people think. It should not be the first step in choosing a college.

    Often kids go straight into college because that’s the path they hear about most at school, the most popular post-high school educational choice.

    When we say college we really mean university. University is one of seven different ways to educate yourself after high school. So when you’re looking for the best way to choose a college with your teen, figure out whether or not college is the best choice (depending on what they want to do for a living).

    Before your kid picks a school, attends it, then discovers it doesn’t have their chosen major, sit down and ask them some questions (this will save you both time, often money, and a lot of hassle):

    1. What do you actually want to do?
    2. What’s the proper educational path for that?
    University is one of seven options for learning after high school. Here are the others:
    1. Community college
      1. Can be a path to university
      2. Some community colleges offer trades programs
      3. Associate’s degrees – usually a two-year degree that doesn’t require going to university
    2. Trade schools and tech schools 
      1. Many job opportunities in these fields
      2. Pay well and often cost less than university (so you’re in less debt and start making money sooner)
      3. Trades are often stigmatized and considered lesser-skilled, but they are essential for the proper function of our everyday lives and infrastructure (e.g. plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics)
    3. Military
      1. Is its own education, as you receive training whether you serve in the reserves or choose active duty
      2. Can be a path to university – many military reserve programs offer financial benefits, so you can use VA benefits to help fund your schooling
    4. Gap year programs 
      1. Many structured programs that offer education and training
      2. A path to university for many, but they don’t have to be
    5. Working with a business coach 
      1. A good option if your teen is entrepreneurial or seriously looking to start or co-start/own a business 
      2. Sit down and calculate your return on investment between a business degree and working with a business coach, who’s actually going to work directly with an individual to help them set up their business.
    6. Apprenticeships 
      1. Least expensive option
      2. Often get paid for working as an apprentice while learning
      3. Many job fields requiring apprenticeships offer high salaries out of the gate

    Most parents feel our kids need a buffer between being in high school and supporting themselves in the world. College is often used as this buffer; however, there are other options if your kid isn’t ready for college (as listed above).

    Most likely our kids are going to have multiple career paths throughout their lives. It’s not set in stone that you have four years post-high school to get all your education, then you have to get a job and follow that path for the next thirty or forty years.

    There are other things to do—it’s not college or nothing. There are other ways to educate yourself; other ways to be amongst people your age, and to have this nice transition into life as an adult instead of just jumping into the deep end.

    For the kids who think college is the right next step for them, we’re back to the best way to choose a college. This starts with questions for your kid, then some decisions: 
      1. How do you want to spend your time?
      2. What do you want to do for work?
      3. What major(s) best fit your job choice?
      4. Do the colleges you’re considering offer your major?
      5. Calculate return on investment
        1. What does tuition/housing/class supplies/etc. cost? 
        2. What’s the cost for your chosen degree (often cost per credit hour, and some degrees require more credit hours than others)
        3. What (if any) financial aid/scholarships does this school offer?
        4. Is the average job salary for my future profession commensurate with the cost of my degree at this school? 
        5. Remember that some schools have a higher price tag just because of their name (and in some professions your university name can make a difference in quantity or quality of job offers)
      6. Once you’ve narrowed down your school choices, then you can look at the campus and see how it feels – use Emma’s worksheet for a more in-depth analysis of each campus (you can find this in the resources section)
      7. When you’re on campus, time for another discussion:
        1. Lifestyle – what features need to be available for your kid’s lifestyle (e.g. study spaces, lots of clubs/social activities, etc.)
        2. How far is your kid comfortable being from home? How often will they be coming home? Do they want a city campus, a rural campus, a suburban campus? 
        3. Does your kid like hot weather, cold weather, wind, rain, dry, wet, snow, sun? What’s their preferred climate?
        4. How are they getting around campus (bike, car, on foot)? 
        5. Are there jobs available on-campus or near campus?
        6. How big or small does the campus need to be? What are the conditions of the buildings on campus? Does your kid feel comfortable and safe here?

    There is a timeline for college selection that is important to keep in mind: Complete FAFSA and apply to chosen colleges in October of senior year —> Start getting letters/info from colleges about financial aid and scholarships in January —> Decision about attendance sent to colleges in May.

    Spring break and summer of junior year in high school are a great time to do college visits.

    Many colleges have virtual visits, and more have been implementing them since the start of COVID. If you can’t find time (or money) to travel to the campuses during your kid’s junior or senior year, these are the next best option. If your kid is torn between a few schools, then consider doing these first, and if that helps narrow it down, then see about making in-person visits to those last couple colleges.

    These virtual visits can also help if your kid gets a bit carried away and has like 8-12 schools they’re interested in. You can help them narrow down their choices because virtual visits (while not the same as in-person visits) give you a lot of information about the campus and usually the admissions rep can give you more about majors and financial aid and off-campus amenities.

    If your kid applies to multiple schools and gets accepted to multiple schools and doesn’t know which one to pick, help them make a pro-con list for comparison (lifestyle differences, financial differences, location, travel time from home, size, social options, etc.). Then work through it one piece at a time to narrow things down.


    Running The College Admissions Gauntlet | Gabrielle Glancy | Episode 101

    How Personal And Financial Self-Care Can Set Your Teenager Up For Success | Christina Gatteri | Episode 134

    Why a Gap Year Might Be Essential | Emma B Perez | Episode 194

    Choosing a Career—Mighty Parenting 217 with Emma B Perez

    Emma’s college visit worksheet

    Our Guest Emma B Perez:

    Emma B Perez discusses the best way to choose a college

    Founder of Be On Purpose, LLC, Emma is a mentor who specializes in helping teens and young adults craft who they want to be and how they will impact the world. She began this path a decade ago working in admissions at a University. Before long she was visiting hundreds of high schools all over the Metro of Atlanta to conduct college and career workshops for tens of thousands of students. Now she works directly with families. With her program Life Quest, she guides students through self-discovery, career exploration, and vision creating. This ​leads young people to a future that allows them to live thriving and fulfilling lives. 

    To learn more or connect with our guest visit emmabperez.com.

    Our Sponsor: 

    Inward Bound Mindfulness Education — Mindfulness courses and retreats for teens and adults 

    iBme offers online and in-person retreats, mindfulness courses, and weekly meditations tailored for various communities of teens and young adults (and even parents!) Visit iBme.com/mightyparenting  to learn more and register for programs, including in-person summer retreats.