A parent's guide to planning for college

Confused about your student's college planning? Use the Q&A guide to start answering your questions

A parent's guide to planning for college

Your teens aren’t the only ones with college-planning questions. We took some questions from parents of high school students and asked the experts to give you advice. 


Resistant to college search

Q: My daughter seems resistant to all of my attempts to talk about colleges, SATs and school in general. How can I be involved without being too intrusive?

A: Encourage your child to use the Internet as a search tool for colleges. Most high school students like searching on the computer, and this could be a way to get them involved. 

Offer to take your child on campus tours. You could incorporate sightseeing where the colleges are located. For example, if they wanted to see colleges in the Houston area, you could incorporate shopping, theme parks, the beach or museums into your trip.

As a parent, attend any college night/college information type programs the schools offer, and share this information with your child.

—Monique Cossich is executive director of enrollment management at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.


Not sure college is in the cards

Q: My teen is unsure if he wants to go straight to college from high school. What advice can I offer him?

A: Have discussions about what they would do if they did not go to college. Give them information on your expectations if they do not go straight to college. 

For example, will they need to find a full-time job and pay rent? Get the student to review all of the options: work full time, join the military, attend a community college, etc.

—Monique Cossich

NextStepU says: Research a “gap year” as a way to give your teen a constructive break before college. A gap year is a year taken between high school and college. Programs can include study or work abroad, working for nonprofits in the States for a small stipend, or volunteering. Check out dynamy.org and cityyear.org to start. 

Mind closed to any other option

Q: My daughter is set on a (very expensive) college. She’s totally closed-minded to any other options. What should I do?

A: Have your child share with you the features and benefits of that particular college and how they will help her achieve her career goals. If she can share these thoughts with you, then all she may need is your support in getting enrolled and accepted!

If they are unable to respond to these things, then parents should intervene. College is a huge investment, and students need to realize that for the next four to five years, the college they choose is home.

—Melissa Denton is director of admissions at Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City, Mo.


Don’t know how to pay for college

Q: I’m worried about helping my teen pay for college.

A: If a student is looking to attend college next year, the most important thing they can do is complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) when it becomes available
Jan. 1, 2007.

This form will determine what grants your teen is eligible for based off your 2006 taxes and W2s.

In addition to this form, we also require a separate financial aid form and the Stafford Loan
application that is mailed to all our accepted students in January. Once we have all the documentation that we requested, we process aid and let you know what you are eligible for.

I meet with the students and their families to go over the financial aid award letter, and at that time will also go over other financing options that are available, including Parent PLUS loans, alternative loans and payment plans.

—Kelly Fox is financial planning coordinator at Central Pennsylvania College in Summerdale, Pa.


Focus on honors or GPA?

Q: My daughter is smart, but worried about blowing her GPA by taking AP classes. Which is more important: a high GPA with easier courses or a challenging roster full of APs and honors (but possibly lower GPA)?

A: It depends on the institution or type of institutions she’s considering. There are two main variables in the consideration process. One is the admission to the college/university and the second is the scholarship requirements at the college/university.

Highly and moderately selective schools will most often give the student consideration for taking the challenging AP courses, but not if they’re earning marks below a C.

Because scholarship requirements vary, it’s best for the student to talk with an admissions counselor about the course selection if they’re unsure about which way to go.

—John Ambrose is director of admissions at Marygrove College in Detroit.


Not sure transferring will happen

Q: How smart is it for my teen to go to a community college first if he wants to transfer to a four-year school? I’m afraid that he’ll have a hard time getting into a four-year school if he goes to a two-year one first.

A: I think this depends on what your motivating factors are. If finances are an issue (and they are for more and more families as the cost of higher education continues to rise), then perhaps a community college is the correct starting point.

If your teen is looking to be admitted to a very selective four-year institution, then starting at a two-year college might be viewed as a weakness.

Remember, the vast majority of four-year colleges and universities are not extremely selective, and many welcome transfers from either four-year or two-year schools.

The key is for your student to think about his final destination in advance, if that is possible. Then find out what their requirements are and how they view transfer applicants.

—Andrew H. Hendrix is director of admissions at University of South Carolina Aiken in Aiken, S.C.


Worried sick about future


Q: My daughter is beside herself with worry: “Will I get into college? Will I pass AP English? Will I make something of my life?” She’s only 17 and already stressed out beyond belief. Suggestions?

A: This is a common set of worries for a 17-year-old.

First, she should know that if she wants to go to college, she will get in. There are more than 2,500 four-year colleges in the U.S., and that doesn’t count two-year programs or the wide variety of foreign universities. Most schools will bend over backwards to accept a decent student.

The idea that you need to go to a certain tier of college in order to make something of your life is a myth that has been debunked repeatedly. It might help to assure your daughter that where she goes to college does not matter—it’s what she’s inspired to learn, both in the classroom and outside of it, that will impact her future.

Too many students view high school as what one valedictorian called “the conveyer belt to college”: college as the conveyer belt to grad school, grad school as the conveyer belt to a long line of jobs, etc. This is an exhausting notion.

Encourage your daughter to step back and catch her breath, to schedule time to do things for enjoyment rather than resume value, to get to know what sorts of things make her happy, and to incorporate those things into her life.

It might also help to pare down extracurriculars and APs a bit; when I interviewed admissions officers, they told me that they are not necessarily impressed by a full load of AP classes.

The bottom line is that your daughter is going to be OK. Audrey, a student who was one of the biggest worriers I followed for The Overachievers, dealt with the same fears constantly. Now that she’s a college freshman, she realizes that all of the fretting she did in high school was a waste of time. Even though she didn’t get everything that she thought she wanted, her life has turned out just fine.

—Alexandra Robbins (alexandrarobbins.com) is a New York Times bestselling author and author of The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids.

How to research student loans?

Q: What are some questions to ask or features to look for as my son starts researching student loans? Should we just go with a college’s preferred lender?

A: There is a lot to consider when your son or daughter is going off to college. What will it cost? Where will I live? How will I pay? It is important to research all of you options prior to choosing the right lender for your needs.

Colleges prepare a list of preferred lenders to assist you in making your choice. The school carefully prepares a list of preferred lenders based on a variety of things. The lenders are on this list due to their customer service, front-end benefits and back-end benefits.

However, if the bank you have done business with is not listed and you prefer to use that bank, that is your choice. Often, students or parents will select their current bank due to the relationship established over the years. It is important to see if your current bank offers the kind of benefits the list of preferred lenders will offer.

Some questions you should ask a potential lender are:
• Do I qualify for the subsidized or unsubsidized student loan? For subsidized loans, the government pays the interest until six months after the student graduates or drops below six credits. With unsubsidized loans, the interest begins immediately, and it is recommended that the student pay the interest while in school. Repayment of principal on an unsubsidized loan begins six months after graduation or dropping below six credits.

• What types of benefits are offered?

• What type of customer service will I receive?

• How will I finance the remainder of my tuition?

—Leigh M. Fiorenzo is assistant vice president for educational lending at M&T Bank (mandtatcollege.com).

Student privacy laws

Q: Will I be able to see my son’s college report cards?

A: Probably not.

FERPA governs the disclosure of student records, including grades. According to the law, when a student either turns 18 or enters a postsecondary school (at any age), they alone have the right to access their records. And no, it doesn’t matter who’s paying the tuition.

There is an exception to this that hinges on, of all things, tax status. If you declare your child as a dependent, the school may disclose student records to you without giving notice or getting consent.

Of course, the critical word there is “may”. The college can show you the grades, but they don’t have to. And in my experience, most colleges will only release grades to the students themselves. Period.

—C.L. Lindsay is the founding executive director of the Coalition for Student & Academic Rights (co-star.org), a national nonprofit that educates college students about their legal rights. He is also the author of The College Student’s Guide to the Law.

Student athlete expects full ride

Q: My son thinks he can score a baseball scholarship to college. He is pretty good… What can I do to help make that happen? 

A: A good baseball scholarship would cover 30 percent of your son’s tuition, so understand that reality first. Have your son focus his search to NCAA D-I, D-II, NAIA, and Junior College programs, as most offer scholarships. He should play in showcases and for travel/exposure teams in the summer after junior year and proactively contact coaches with references, transcripts and a schedule of where he will play in the summer/fall. Attend the camps of his top schools and make it known he is interested in the school. Start early, be proactive, and be aware that most teams have little money to work with.

—Ray Lauenstein is director of athletesadvisor.com and author of The Making of a Student Athlete and College Bound: The Official Guide to Playing College Baseball. 

Not ready for four-year school

Q: Not sure my teen’s quite ready to go to a four-year college. What kinds of features would a community college offer that might be able to help him?

A: Community colleges offer a variety of benefits to students who are not quite sure that a four-year college is right for them. Community colleges are not only more affordable than four-year universities, but they often have smaller class sizes that support more one-on-one interaction with professors. Community colleges also offer a variety of student services including tutoring, academic advising, career placement and student clubs and organizations. Many community colleges also offer a variety of class options, such as day, night, weekend and online courses. Many of the courses that a student takes at a community college transfer to four-year universities, giving students a jumpstart on their bachelor’s degree. 

—Jonna Fernandez is manager of public information at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas. 

Considering the military

Q: My daughter wants to join the military. How does she start the process?

A: The first thing your daughter should do is call a local military recruiter, who will set up an appointment for a person-to-person interview. At that time, the recruiter will determine whether or not she is qualified for further enlistment processing. If qualified, she will then be scheduled for a mental aptitude test called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB) and physical exam administered at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). After qualifying mentally, morally and physically, she will meet with a military counselor and will be classified into a job occupation based on her qualifications. She will then sign a contract with a scheduled date to return to MEPS for transportation to boot camp.

—NCC (AW) Brad Hodges is a Navy Recruiting Command Waivers branch LCPO.

—Compiled by Jenni Milton and Laura Jeanne Hammond



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