Helping Your Teen Choose a College

Mom hugging new college kid daughter as she hold a pink teddy bear

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My daughter, Christine, didn't have a clear direction for choosing a college. Throughout her junior and senior years, she searched catalogs, discussed options with friends and admissions counselors, and attended college information days — but no school seemed right. She felt overwhelmed by the pressure of making a decision that would affect the rest of her life.

To help her make the right choice, my husband and I prayerfully guided her in three distinct ways: fostering an understanding of her gifts and personality, helping her match a college's focus to who she was, and assisting her in facing the realities of finances and other practical factors.

Discover a teen's unique talents

As a parent, I recognized that Christine would need a college that fit her spiritually, academically and socially because it would be more than just an education: It would be her final preparation for adulthood. We first considered her strongest school subjects — music, history and English — but she didn't seem to prefer one over the others.

  • To help her better understand herself, my husband and I gave her questions to answer privately:

  • What have been your most fulfilling experiences?
  • What did you enjoy most about them?
  • Which skills or talents did you use most during these experiences?
  • Do you prefer working alone or on a team?
  • What ages do you enjoy working with most?
  • Which have been your least-fulfilling activities?
  • What made them unfulfilling?
  • What ideas or activities excite your imagination and inspire you to make a difference for others?

Once Christine viewed herself through her activities and experiences, she was ready to discuss the strengths, talents and weaknesses that my husband and I had observed in her.

After much prayer, she realized that she loved working with teens, wanted to influence the culture for Christ and felt most fulfilled when she participated in drama, music or dance.

Match the school's strengths to the student's

College choices involve many factors. One is how a child will fit into a specific school. For Christine, we ranked what she wanted in a college from most to least important. The most important ranked something like this:

  • an atmosphere that would strengthen her faith and deepen her biblical worldview
  • professors who wouldn't intentionally undermine her belief in God
  • a godly approach to the teaching of the arts

Next we considered majors that matched Christine's strengths, which turned out to be theater, music and communications. Then we looked at each college's academic strength in those majors, along with its location, size, affordability, available scholarships, extracurricular opportunities, student-teacher ratio and graduate employment success rate. Much of this information was readily available online.

From all that, we were able to narrow our search to a handful of colleges. Before spending time and money on applications, Christine narrowed her choices to four schools that we could visit.

Sometimes visits reveal how a teen's perception differs from the school's reality. While prospective-student weekends are a good place to start looking at colleges, we found parent-child visits to the campus on regular days invaluable. During these visits, Christine stayed in a dorm and attended classes with students.

Face financial and other realities

Throughout her search, Christine remained aware of the realities she faced. My husband and I talked frankly with her about finances: what we could provide and what she would be responsible for. Together we weighed the potential value of each college with its overall cost.

Christine also considered holidays she might miss at home and the cost of traveling back and forth from out-of-state schools. As she vacillated, my husband and I were tempted to make the decision for her, but I'm glad we didn't. (One of Christine's friends attended a college her father chose for her, and although she did well there, she confessed later that she was unhappy.)

Ultimately, the best strategy for choosing the right college is early and continual prayer for God's guidance. Once Christine accepted the idea of leaving the state, her choice was obvious. She attended an out-of-state Christian college and became a high school theater director.

Recently, my husband and I watched a musical that Christine directed with her students. As we witness the impact she has on her students' lives and on her own children, I'm glad we took time to pursue God's plan for her college career.

This article appeared in the August/September 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine.
Copyright © 2015 by Jeanne Gowen Dennis. Used by permission.

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