Though it’s never too early to start thinking about your child’s education, especially when it comes to saving for college in an account like (partner) ScholarShare, choosing a college that fits is a process best left to the high school years when children have a clearer understanding of who they are.

Kids Need to Make Choices

Kids who are aware of their strengths and weaknesses usually have an easier time with the application process. According to education consultant Deena Maerowitz, selecting a college can be hard for kids who have been shuttled from activity to activity and not given enough freedom to determine what they actually enjoy.

“This is really deadly for college admissions, because the process is really all about conveying who you are as a person, in a very concise way, to an admissions office. If your kids don’t really know what they like or dislike and why, or what they enjoy studying or not and why, this process can be very, very difficult,” she says.

Things Parents Can Do in Early Years

With college such an emotional and financial commitment these days, getting it wrong can be incredibly disappointing. Pressuring kids about college starting in the early years is a no-no, but one thing that parents can do from the start is teach kids resilience and allow them freedom to explore activities they enjoy.

Deena adds, “These skills are incredibly important. Let them realize that they don’t have to be great at everything. Failure is really important for kids to experience so that they can realize it’s not the end of the world. Let them deal with the consequences of their own decisions. Let them have some time off.” 

When Do Families Focus on College?

Though Deena receives calls from stressed parents of kindergarteners, she mostly starts working with kids in their junior year of high school and guides them through the entire admissions process and sometimes through the first year transition into college. A quick consultation with freshman parents, however, can help identify the type of support kids might need throughout their high school years and eliminate parental anxiety.

What About Alumni Connections?

A college that fits your child doesn’t always translate to a school that a family has strong alumni connections to. “I try to really bring parents back to what matters most–their kids’ happiness. It’s always better to be successful and feel good about yourself than to flounder because of someone else’s idea of what is good for you.” Sometimes a legacy school is a good fit, but it shouldn’t be the only focus–it’s only one part of a broader picture.

How Does the Application Process Begin?

Deena starts the college list conversation by focusing on fit through an analysis of the child’s learning style, social style, academic and extra curricular interests, as well as the child’s personality including whether they are outgoing or shy. The next level down includes potential restrictions that might be geographic, religious or financial.

The Importance of Saving for College

With college costs on the rise, financial resources can certainly impact which school your child is able to attend. However, Deena suggests that kids apply broadly and not limit themselves to in-state options if there are private or out-of-state options that are a good fit. “Sometimes, private colleges give a lot more merit aid (which is determined without any consideration of need) and this can make up for the cost difference of in-state colleges.” Part of her job also involves working with parents to determine financial aid eligibility. But, the best way to alleviate the stressor of tuition is to start saving early.

Dealing with Competition

Bank balances aside, the truth is that competition is rising at the top schools and even kids with perfect grades are getting turned down. How do families navigate this? Deena suggests, again, that success starts with the kids knowing themselves, having an interest, and owning a level of commitment to an activity. While it’s easy to get discouraged, remember there are plenty of options.

Keep in mind there are almost 3000 colleges in this country, and most of them accept kids with B averages. I don’t mean to say that the most competitive colleges aren’t awesome. I think they are.” She sends kids to Harvard, Princeton and Yale every year, but doesn’t want kids to think that their happiness hinges on their acceptance to only these schools. Deena adds, “What really stands out in terms of job contentment and career contentment is the number of years a person spends in post-secondary education, not WHERE they end up going.”

The Bottom Line

Finding a college that fits your child can be a stressful time for the entire family. With proper planning and experts available to help, it certainly doesn’t have to be.

See also:

About Deena Maerowitz:  Deena subscribes to the La Jolla Mom newsletter and reached out to me after reading about my partnership with ScholarShare. I’m thrilled to use her as a resource. In addition to a position as Associate Director of Admissions at Columbia University Business School, Deena’s extensive experience include 15 years as a practicing attorney and social worker as an advocate for children and their families. Stay tuned for more tips from Deena and find her online at Undergrad Admit.

About ScholarShare: Saving for college in California has never been easier and this is the account we use for our daughter. It’s our way of making sure that the college she chooses as her perfect fit will be an option. Scholarshare is a partner of La Jolla Mom.

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Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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