It’s incredibly hard for me to believe that in my home, we’re starting to talk college options. I literally feel like I blinked my eyes and all of a sudden, my little boy has big dreams. He wants to go to college. He wants to be a sports journalist. He wants to see the world and spread his wings. While all these dreams are reflected in his eyes, right now, his journey is starting by visiting campuses, talking to counselors and beginning the process of narrowing down which North Carolina schools to which he wants to apply. It’s not at all uncommon for our evening conversations to be dominated by acceptance requirements and major and minor offerings. While I’ll fully admit that this stage of life snuck up on me as a mom, having been a college enrollment counselor myself in my younger years, I know that I am uniquely qualified to walk my teen through this journey of choosing where he will go for his college years. Since I’m right in the middle of the process and have been dusting off all my old knowledge, I wanted to share with all you other moms (and dads) out there what to do when it’s time for your teen to think about college.
In my family, college was the expected next step after high school. I guess in many ways, I was lucky that I grew up in a household where the barrier to higher education had already been broken. I was born to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate, and my dad reinforced to me time and time again how getting a higher education could improve my economic mobility and help change my life. For me, attending college was simply the next step and in the state of North Carolina, I had seemingly endless state universities and community colleges that offer an amazing level of higher education. Based on what my dad told me, I already knew the value of a college education, and perhaps that was what led me to a career in higher learning later in my life. While those days are long behind me, from my own experience, as well as my time working in the admissions office of a local college, I’ve seen firsthand that the decision to pursue a college degree impacts an individual’s social and upward mobility, has an economic impact on the community and changes lives for generations. More so than that, I know that most jobs require some sort of postsecondary credentials, meaning that attending college is more important than it’s ever been in securing a job later in life.
I am a strong believer that every person who wishes to should have the opportunity to attend a community college or university and continue on their learning journey after high school. Now that my son is at the age where he’s beginning to consider his options, it’s been important for me to think about how I can best lead him on this journey. Here’s how I’m navigating my teen’s path to college, as well as my tips for what to do when it’s time for your teen to think about college.
Arm Yourself with Valuable Information
Education is based on the thought process that knowledge is power, so I’ve always thought that arming yourself with the best information about higher education is a perfect place to start on the path to college. Living in North Carolina, I’ve always anticipated that my son will attend a North Carolina college or university. Not to brag but we do have some of the most amazing colleges and universities around that offer a variety of majors, minors and trade programs to help fit the goals of every student. For this reason, when my son started to consider his college choices, I was thrilled to discover the Higher Education Works Foundation. This amazing resource that is created based on the foundational belief that we must keep North Carolina’s higher education systems well-funded, affordable and accessible so that North Carolinians can get valuable higher education credentials makes me proud to live in the Tar Heel state.
The Higher Education Works Foundation is diligent in their efforts and constantly works towards the goal of keeping North Carolina higher education systems accessible and affordable because they know that our systems are at risk. They know that acceptance rates, rural locations and other obstacles can discourage high school students from fully exploring their postsecondary education options, and they know that keeping our state college education systems strong is a way to help break the cycle of poverty and ensure that North Carolinians have the opportunity to continue their educations after high school. Because of this knowledge, the Higher Education Works Foundation has put together amazing resources that are the perfect starting point when considering a postsecondary education in North Carolina. I highly encourage you to check out the Higher Education Works Foundation today and scroll through the tabs that feature resources on everything from how important a college degree is when getting a job to what the return on investment is for NC Public Universities. You can also learn more about the UNC System and NC Community Colleges to help determine what path of higher education is the right direction for you. Listen to me please, because I can’t tell you how invaluable this resource is. As you start to think about college with your teen, start with this fantastic North Carolina resource and be sure to register for the weekly newsletter and connect with Higher Education Works Foundation on their social media channels to stay informed.
Visit Your College Counselor
Once my teen and I took a look at all that North Carolina has to offer when it comes to postsecondary education, we moved on to the next step of visiting with his school’s college counselor. While I know that college counselors are there to educate you on your options and choices, I do think it’s important to go in with the general knowledge that the Higher Education Works Foundation website provides. For my son, our time spent on the website helped us narrow down what he was looking for in a college so that when he went to visit his college counselor, he was able to articulate what his goals were and how he saw North Carolina’s higher education system helping him get there. Some things to consider when talking to a college counselor are:
- Is a four-year college or a community college the right choice for your child?
- Which colleges have the major your child is interested in?
- What are the admission requirements for the college your child is interested in?
- Are there application deadlines and processes that need to be marked on the calendar?
- Is your child interested in early admission?
- What are the costs associated with your child attending college and what assistance is available?
Once my son and I met with his college counselor, we were able to narrow down his choices based on what he hopes to study at a North Carolina college (Sports Journalism, in his case) and the geographic location in North Carolina where he wanted to be. Once we had our questions answered and his options narrowed down, it was time to move on to the next step.
Schedule College Visits
Hear me when I say that you and your child NEED to visit the college campuses that they are interested in. While there is some great information about North Carolina colleges on the Higher Education Works Foundation website that can help you narrow down the best fit, you get a whole different feel for a school when you are simply walking around and taking a tour that is designed to give you the information you need to help your child make the right college decision for themselves. All North Carolina public colleges and community colleges offer tours and immersive ways for high school students to determine what school is the right fit. Take advantage of those opportunities. Schedule visits. Talk to current students. Learn all you can about the campus, the offerings and the requirements for admission. Trust me when I say that the more hands on your child is with visiting the colleges they are interested in, the more confidence they will have in the choice that they make.
Apply and Start to Figure Out Finances
Truthfully, we’re about halfway through the visiting campuses stage in our home, but I know from experience what is coming. I know that soon it will be time for my son to narrow down schools and begin the application process. I’m so thankful that I already know he’ll be applying to many North Carolina public colleges and universities, so at this point, I’m preparing for the application process. A few things to consider when entering the application process are:
- What transcripts/information will I need to include with my application?
- What are the application fees and when are they due?
- Is an essay required as part of my application?
- What can I do on my application to set myself apart?
- When will schools begin to send out acceptance decisions?
I recommend creating a cheat sheet of sorts (shhh) that has your child’s school information, GPA, test score information, extra curricular activities and more clearly outlined. That way as they fill out applications to multiple colleges and universities they have everything they need at their fingertips to make the application process smooth.
Now, it’s only fair to make a side note of finances and financial aid. I’m thankful that my family lives in a state that has a constitutional mandate that requires the North Carolina General Assembly to provide all citizens with an affordable higher education. As one of only three states to have this mandate, North Carolina has ensured that all people in the state have the choice of higher education. Through scholarships, financial aid and assistance in financing their college experience, the state of North Carolina is working hard to ensure that there is nothing standing the in the way of their residents getting to…
Make a Choice and Celebrate
Y’all, I know that for me, when this day comes, I’m gonna cry like a baby, but I also know that I will be so proud when those college acceptance letters start to roll in. As they do, help your child weigh out the options. Help them compare their choices and create pros and cons lists for every school to which they are accepted. Then (hear me on this one) let them make their choice. Stand back and be proud. Know that you’ve done your absolute best to prepare them for this next step in life, and celebrate the heck out of this life altering moment with them!
So, now that I’m crying at my keyboard thinking about a day not too far in the future when I’m going to pack my boy up and send him off to college here in North Carolina, let me share one final thought with you. I’m so thankful that my son will have the option of going to college in our great state of North Carolina, and as a North Carolina citizen, it’s my responsibility to ensure that our higher education systems remain among the best in the nation. To do this, I support and will continue to support the Higher Works Foundation. Through monetary donations and through supporting my son in his choice of choosing a North Carolina public or community college, I am showing that I know that North Carolina higher education works, and I’m so proud to live in a state that wants so much to see all their residents succeed!
Whether you’re a North Carolina resident or are simply considering one of our state’s amazing colleges or universities, register for the weekly newsletter and connect with the Higher Education Works Foundation on their social media channels to stay informed.
Now tell me, how are you preparing your teen for their college experience?