mother and son talking about college options

How to Help Your Child Start the College Search

Your child is a freshman in high school, and you’re already thinking about college. “Too soon?” you ask.

Absolutely not, and here’s why: Not only is college is a major investment, but the search process is complicated. There are literally hundreds of schools to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your child’s needs. Your family requires time to make an informed decision.

But where do you start, and what’s your role as a parent in all this? We’re here to help.

Where to Start

students walking campus between classes

1. Talk about expectations and preferences.

Having a family conversation can help answer many questions up front so everyone is of a similar mindset moving forward. For example:

  • What’s your child looking to get out of the college experience?
  • What are you hoping for them?
  • Does your child already have any colleges in mind? 
  • What about majors? 
  • Who will be paying for what?
  • Does your family have any cost restrictions?
  • How and when will each of you participate in the search process?

(Want more advice on how to talk to your child about college? We have a blog on that, too.)

2. Research.

Once you’ve had an initial discussion, start doing some research. Take a look at any schools your child has expressed an interest in and search for ones that have their intended major or match the experience they’re seeking (big/small, public/private, in-state/out-of-state, etc.).

You can do much of this research online through college search sites like College Board or Cappex. These sites make it easier to compare and contrast U.S. colleges based on your child’s preferences. If you have specific colleges in mind, we also suggest visiting their admissions websites. This is where your child can sign up to receive more information via mail and email.

A quick reminder: If you do any of this research on your own, make sure to send it along to the rest of your family so they can check it out, too.

3. Start visiting colleges.

Although descriptions and photos can help, the best way for you and your family to learn more about a college is by visiting. Visiting can also help your child better recognize what exactly they’re looking for in a college, and it’s never too early to start!

Colleges offer a variety of visit opportunities throughout the year, including on weekends. Work with your child to determine any colleges you can or should visit, and then sign up for days that work for the whole family.

student drawing in a sketch book while listening to music

4. Encourage your child to explore their interests.

Your child probably doesn’t know what they want to major in yet, and even if they do, it’s quite possible they’ll change their mind later on. That’s okay. High school is the perfect time to self-reflect and explore. Your job? Encourage them to do so!

Your child can learn more about themselves and the kinds of things they like to do (or don’t like to do) by getting involved in clubs, working part-time, job shadowing, and more. Plus, colleges like it when students have had experiences related to the field to which they’re applying.

student working hard on a homework assignment

5. Help your child stay on track academically.

Students are required to take certain subjects in high school in order to qualify for admission at certain colleges (including Illinois). Sometimes these requirements vary depending on the major or the college. Make sure your child is aware of these course requirements now so they can work with their counselor to craft an appropriate class schedule each semester. Grades—including freshman year—count, too!

Your Role

Some parents are heavily involved in their child’s college search process. Others are more hands off. The way you choose to approach things is up to you—you know your child best and what they need from you. Take your cue from them.

However involved you choose to be, empower your child to take charge of their future by encouraging them to schedule their own high school counseling meetings, sign up for their own college mailing lists, and more. This is great practice for the kinds of responsibilities they’ll take on once at college and beyond.

Finally, be their sounding board, their cheerleader, and their advocate. Let them know they’ve got this … and know you’ve got this, too!

Illinois Admissions

Illinois Admissions

We're here for you as you prepare for college. Whether you're looking for guidance on the college search process or have questions about Illinois, we hope our blogs will help!