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4 Ways To Help Your Child Navigate The College Search Process

Posted by Katie Trachtenberg '06 on February 8, 2019 at 12:22 PM
Katie Trachtenberg '06

sanford_school_college_counselingFor many seniors, figuring out the college process is like aiming at a moving target. Students have to navigate a challenging dynamic that is both created by their own emotions and expectations and impacted by the results of their last three years of high school and the wishes of their families. As college counselors, we consider it our job to educate, guide, and gently remind our seniors (and their parents) about the various steps along the path to college, but ultimately we know our students will be well-prepared and successful no matter where they go.

1. Finding the Right Fit Instead of Following the Trends

This year, the trend across the board in college admissions is that applicant pools have gotten larger and acceptance rates have gotten smaller. In actuality, this trend has been going on for quite some time. As college counselors, it’s important for us to help families understand that college admissions is a totally different ball game today than it was 30 years ago. Northeastern University and the University of Delaware are perfect examples of this trend. While selectivity and criteria for admission have become more exacting, these elements should not be the benchmarks for determining its “goodness” as a school; mid-50 scores and average GPAs should be guideposts, rather, to help parents and students determine if that school will be able to meet their needs. If I could strongly encourage students and families to do two things, they would be to focus less on rankings and brand names, and more on fit, and to never use the phrase “good school” as a synonym for “exclusive school”.

2. Look Beyond Rank For The Elements Which Truly Matter

It’s really important to judge a school based on how its programs, its finances, its location, and its culture align with the needs of your student and not on the arbitrary ranks that are regularly posted by popular media outlets. There are many fabulous resources out there (including your friendly college counselors!) that aim to help students get to know a school by highlighting more than just its numbers. Edward B. Fiske’s Fiske Guide to Colleges and Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives are two thorough guidebooks that we often recommend to students. Each provides its readers with compelling, holistic, honest reviews that will help students better understand the culture, activities, and dynamics of schools on their list. The truly good schools are the ones that will allow your student to thrive in an environment that is best suited to their needs and expectations. What matters most is not necessarily where our students go, but more what they do with their time there, because that will ultimately inform and define their college experience.

3. Calculate To Check If The Cost Is WIthin Your Budget

Although discussions regarding finances can be complicated and challenging, your senior needs to have a good understanding of financial expectations regarding college. This will help your student make informed decisions about selecting schools that fit within the family budget and may also lead to positive discussions about expectations regarding work and personal finances while away at school. The U.S. government requires colleges to offer a net price calculator, which will allow you and your student to see the total cost (tuition, room, and board) of a particular college and to determine your family’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).

4. Research Financial Aid and Scholarships to Make College More Affordable

When your student is applying to colleges, tools like FAFSA and the CSS profile will help colleges determine how much you can afford and will inform their financial aid packages-- these forms should be completed and submitted around the same time that your student is submitting their applications (and, yes, they should be able to fill them out on their own with just a little help from you!). The financial element of the college process is often the most overwhelming, so encourage your student to continuously ask questions throughout. Other questions they might consider asking individual institutions: How are merit scholarships determined? What does the breakdown of this financial aid package mean to me and my family? How much of my financial aid package is work study and how much are loans? What kind of loans are included in this package, and what are the terms of the loans? Are there any other scholarships your school offers for which I am eligible to apply? Also, some schools will do a secondary review of a financial aid package if your family is not satisfied, so don’t be afraid to ask!

Benefits Of A College Counseling Program at School

At Sanford School, we help students by providing appropriate and timely guidance to prepare them to make a successful transition to college starting out in ninth grade and continuing throughout their senior year. The college counseling staff meet with parents annually to provide an overview of the college counseling program geared toward the needs of individual grade levels.

Listen To Our  Sanford Speaks Podcast About  Navigating the College Admissions Process

Katie Trachtenberg is the Assistant Director of College Counseling and English teacher at Sanford School, a preschool-Grade 12 independent day school in Hockessin, DE. She also graduated from Sanford in 2006. Katie received her bachelor's degree in English and Master of Business Administration from the University of Delaware. 


Topics: College Guidance, Parenting Tips