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Selecting a College for Your Child

A look at some key factors parents should consider when helping their children take admission-related decisions.


Many parents are plagued by anxiety when the time comes to choose a college for their children. Selecting a right-fit institution is certainly a big task and a decision that needs to be made responsibly. At the same time, it is important to remember that while parents can guide their children, the final decision should be taken by the students themselves. After all, it is they who are going to spend the next few years in the chosen college or university.

Students are often encouraged by peers and influencers to consider rankings while shortlisting universities. While this can help them come up with a preliminary list, it’s important to look beyond rankings and shortlist institutions based on their academic priorities and allied aspects like type of institution, average class size, location, opportunities for research and practical training, and considerations unique to their situation and aspirations. There is no central body in the United States that ranks universities. Additionally, rankings are complex and need to be evaluated thoroughly before using them as a primary decision-making tool. With more than 4,700 accredited higher education institutions in the United States, students have immense opportunities, choices and flexibility. The EducationUSA website provides checklists for undergraduate and graduate studies, which will help students define their priorities.

“If your child comes to you with an option of pursuing higher studies in the U.S., feel free to have a candid conversation,” says Pankaj Khurana, whose son has accepted an admission offer from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Create a feeling of support and excitement if you agree with the idea of your child studying abroad. Try to tell your child to keep options open, with back-up plans.”

Having interacted with numerous students and parents over the years, EducationUSA advisers have put together a list of key factors that parents should consider when supporting their children to take admission-related decisions.

• Finances and funding: A crucial aspect of the college selection process is tied to who is footing the bill. What is the anticipated total cost that needs to be planned for the entire two or four years, depending on the level of study? If your child’s dream school is beyond your budget, it is necessary to make that clear at the outset. This may help children understand the honest rationale behind parents saying “no” to certain options.

• Academic offerings: Hundreds of colleges offer seemingly similar degree programs. But that does not mean every academic program is the same. They may differ in pedagogy, modes of instruction, research or applied focus. Therefore, some programs may be better suited to your child’s areas of interest and professional goals. It is very important that, along with your child, you too investigate the website of the college, delve deep into the majors and minors offered to international students and engage with the university to learn more. EducationUSA advisers can also provide resources and information to aid this research.

• Explore the college: You may want to take your child college-hopping by exploring different campuses. If that is not possible, explore the campus virtually. Several higher education institutions have curated virtual experiences of their campuses that simulate real life. U.S. universities and EducationUSA centers in India offer students and parents opportunities to engage with current students and alums. So, be sure to ask about these.

• Extracurricular activities: College life is not complete without extracurricular activities. If your child has a passion or a hobby, choose a college that will nurture it. U.S. higher education institutions offer a vibrant bouquet of extra and cocurricular engagements that allow students to engage with their peer groups and academic community.

Finding the right college is not an easy task. Some children may be ready for a big leap, others may be confused. Therefore, your constant support is important. Learn more about your child’s aspirations, concerns and questions. Empower them to find answers rather than doing all the groundwork for them. Place them at the center of the decision-making process. This experience of finding a best-fit institution is a highly educative process in itself and will equip children with essential life skills that will hold them in good stead as they transition from one level of education to the next and one education system to another.

 

Rupali Verma is an EducationUSA adviser at United States-India Educational Foundation, New Delhi.