A common question posed by parents of college bound students is “when should we start the college search process?” The answer: “sometime before your child goes to college!” The point being is that there is no hard and fast one size fits all answer to that question- it is all about each family’s situation and capacity to take on the college project.
Findings from the College Parent Readiness Questionnaire (CPRQ) that I developed provide some insight about when the families get started with the college project. Over 200 parents of high school students participated in the CPRQ and their responses paint a picture of priorities and practices associated with the college search. For the purpose of the CPRQ, the college search process includes looking at websites, attending college fairs, visiting colleges, communicating with college personnel, meeting with a college counselor, applying, and accepting an offer of admission.
This is what we learned about getting started with the college search. Five percent (5%) of families started the college search in the first year of high school. By the time students were sophomores in high school, 25% had started looking for colleges. In the junior year, two thirds (67%) of students had started the college search and in the senior year, 84% of students were in full search mode.
As a parent of two college bound students, I wrestled with the right time to get started. After all, our children have a lot going on in high school and why not let them enjoy the ride and delay the college search as long as we can. As parents, we are conflicted about balancing the present with the inevitable launch of our child into college and the path of emerging adulthood.
Anecdotally, I learned that families starting the college project earlier tend to be less stressed than those who start later. Consider this. Parents and students can start the college project at different times and in different ways.
Think of this as a staged launch. Parents need to get started first in order to effectively assist and support their child in this significant life passage. Remember the emergency aviation protocol of putting on your oxygen mask first and then helping others put on theirs. Parents need to get a head start by first becoming knowledgeable about contemporary higher education, student and emerging adult development, and the mechanics of searching, applying, and selecting a college. Take advantage of learning opportunities that will deepen and widen your knowledge of the college project so you can be ready to help your child when they are ready to launch.
The Academic Team of My College Planning Team specializes in helping families with their college search and selection. They offer free consultations to families of college bound students. Click here to schedule now!