Top 9 Things Parents Need to Know about the College Search

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Top 9 Things Parents Need to Know about the College Search

Northwest Nazarene University
Aug 21, 2020

The college search process can be overwhelming. There’s so much that needs to be done, it’s hard to know where to even start. If you are feeling this way, begin with these important reminders:

1. There is no such thing as a “perfect” university.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but no matter how hard you search, you will not find a perfect university. That being said, you can find a “perfect for your child” university. Figure out what factors are going to provide the complete college experience for your child and go after finding that instead of wasting your time searching for a university that is perfect. It doesn’t exist.

2. Each student’s journey to his or her perfect college will be different.

Your child’s journey is not going to be my child’s story nor is my child’s journey going to be yours. The starting points are different. The desired destinations are different. Don’t worry if what you are doing looks different than what I’m doing and vice versa. It should...Each journey should be personalized to each student.

3. The college process is not a competition.

Sure, there are competitive aspects that play into college selection—the higher the test scores and the better the GPA, the more likely your child will get into a selective university or secure more merit-based aid. However, the process itself is not a competition. There are a plethora of different pathways to a diversity of universities that all end with the same result—a happy high school graduate ready to begin their college career. Don’t panic if you are taking a different pathway or are on a different timeline than others (see #2). This is an experience where all who participate can “win” by finding a university that is a great match for them!

4. Your admission counselor will become your new best friend.

Even though this process may be completely new and foreign to you, it’s not to your assigned admission counselor. This is what they do day in and day out. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or send an email. Trust me, they’ve been asked it all, and—believe it or not—they want to help you!

5. Communicate with your child.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. This can’t be said enough. Things are changing as your child begins to embrace their future and move toward even greater independence. They have dreams. You see reality. There is a happy medium somewhere between dreams and reality, but you will have to communicate to find it. During each stage in this process, talk with your child and really listen to them. Regardless of what decision you need to be making or what issue you may be addressing, you are both on the same team and both want what is best for your child.

6. Create a new college search email address.

This is closely related to #5. Consider setting up an email account just for college correspondence that both you and your student have access to. Trust me, as soon as your child starts inquiring about college and taking college-prep tests, you will be inundated with emails—both solicited and unsolicited. If you have a designated account, you can keep it all in one place (which helps with organization) and both of you have access to communication coming from different universities as well as deadlines for exams, applications and financial aid. Without a designated, shared account, you may be left out of the know. A significant amount of communication from universities comes via email and if it is only going to your child’s email address, there’s a pretty good likelihood you will never see it.

7. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power.

If you’re anything like me, sometimes it seems easier to keep my head buried in the sand and be oblivious to all that we need to be doing. However, once I pulled my head out and shook the sand from my ears, I found that the more I am learning, the easier it is becoming. The more you know, the more prepared you will be for the college search process. Together with my son, we are developing a plan and moving forward on what is sure to be an incredible adventure to his future.

8. Just get started.

The overwhelming nature of considering the college process can be paralyzing. It’s hard to know even where to begin. Let me share a little secret: by reading this, you just took the first step! We don’t have to be able to see the finish line or even know where it is at this point—we just need to be able to see the step that is right in front of us. Have a conversation with your child about what they are thinking regarding college. Start doing a little research on some possible options. Download a college process timeline to give you a general idea of where you should be heading (here is the one my son and I are using as a first step: Breathe). Also, consider encouraging your child to look into The Common App or Apply Idaho. Both of these allow him or her to complete one application to apply to multiple universities. Additionally, together you will want to complete the FAFSA. I’m confident that as we take the first step and then the one after that and the one after that, the process will not seem nearly as overwhelming as it once appeared.


Yes, it may seem overwhelming. Yes, you may have no idea where to start. Yes, there may be questions along the way. But you can do this! Sure, you could go out and hire a college consultant to help you (and if you have extra money, go for it!), but it isn’t necessary. All of the resources you need to be able to assist your child are readily available with a quick search—and we will be here to help throughout the process.

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