My oldest kiddo started her senior year of high school just weeks ago. This means college decision time has final rolled around for our family. According to one website, you should start planning around your child’s freshman year of high school, though I know my high school freshman was told he should start planning in middle school. Seriously?! This seems a little much.
Honestly, though, we have been “planning” for college since the day our oldest was born, at least as far as drilling in the expectation that our kids will go to college and saving some money for that “project.” By happenstance, we actually took our senior on her first dedicated college tour during Spring Break of her sophomore year.
For your high school senior, choosing a college could be a simple as picking a school nearby or one that you, the parents, went to, or as complicated as finding the school that is best for a particular major or will give you the absolutely best financial package. For us, it is a balance between finding a school that will offer her the most opportunities to figure out exactly what to major in, fits our finances, and allows us to feel she is safe.
To that end, my daughter and I spent a week looking at colleges in the Northwest last month. It was a great week with lots of mom-and-almost-adult time and plenty of opportunities for me to take pictures of her and us together around the Northwest.
How did we choose schools to look at? Though like many teens, my dear child has changed her mind practically every month about her future college major, we looked at schools based on her interests. They did change a bit by the time we took the trip, but it worked out. We also looked up LBGTQ-friendly schools and best value schools. We have the GI bill, so we looked up Yellow Ribbon schools as well.
So far, we have toured nine colleges. We have toured private schools, public schools, in-state (Texas) schools, and out-of-state schools.
We started our search almost two years ago with a look at the University of North Texas, because at the time my daughter was interested in a music-related major and UNT happens to have a top 10 music school with the bonus of being an in-state school. We were hanging out at my sister’s house in Dallas for Spring Break, so we checked it out. She no longer is interested in pursuing a music major, but she definitely still considers North Texas an option as a back-up school.
We are originally from Chicago, so we spend a lot of vacation time visiting our family there, and the Chicago area was on my daughter’s list of places she wanted to explore, college-wise. We looked at several schools there. She ended up putting one in her top five. Each school was super different, so she got a lot of of good ideas about school options.
When planning this recent trip to the northwest, my daughter knew she wanted to look at University of Oregon. I wanted her to look at Evergreen State because it has an alternative class and grading structure, which I thought she might like because she does not love the rigid letter grade structure of high school. We then started looking at other options out there. She added one to her list because it is considered a good location for e-Gamers. (Apparently this is a multi-billion dollar industry that may deserve some more serious consideration than I have given it!) The other two, I am not exactly sure how they made the list, but one is absolutely out of contention now and it was the most expensive one, so I’m breathing a sigh of relief. However, as a side note, don’t rule out expensive schools because they usually have great endowments and offer financial help.
So, what did I take away from this trip, aside from the fact that my daughter actually can be away from her computer for six days? Here are some things I learned:
- Check the astronomy calendar so you don’t choose to travel to a place that is going have 99% eclipse totality the weekend before it is happening. In all seriousness, it did make for a fun side feature of our trip, once we found a pair of viewing glasses to share. We were in Seattle for the eclipse and experienced 90% totality. Pretty awesome.
- Sometimes the information session offers no additional information besides what you could have read yourself from the brochure. The tour, however, will help you decide about the school. We knew right away that one school was absolutely not for the right place for my daughter. She decided this after looking at materials and going on the tour. We did not stay for the information session.
- You child may surprise you and actually like a school that you think would be perfect for him/her.
- There are good things about every school.
- The tour guides can make or break the decision. They are, for the most part, super enthusiastic about their school, and if they are not, it can turn your child away from that school. This happened at one school, though thankfully, not on the recent trip.
- You should absolutely look at a variety of schools, big and small, public and private. Even if your kid does not want to leave Texas or even the San Antonio area, you have lots of options to choose from.
After touring nine schools, my daughter has an idea about what she likes in a school. She has a ranked list. She has a plan. Now on to college essays and application fun!