Teen Voice: How to Help High School Students Survive the College Search

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I’m a high school junior, and college is on my mind.

College sounds incredible. It’s got interesting classes, every club and sport you can imagine, uber-smart professors and tons of friends—all in one place! I can’t wait to get to college, but I’m also stressed about all the obstacles I’m going to have to hurdle in order to reach it.

The college application process is long and complicated, and it’s hard to go through it alone. Getting help from parents is crucial. We’re going to need your guidance, your research skills, and your support—not to mention your tax forms if we’re applying for financial aid of any kind!

Read on for some insight into what the teenagers in your life are really thinking and feeling about this huge next step in their life.


Admission

Almost every kid has a “dream school,” but it’s important to strike the balance between striving for the absolute best academic environment and finding a place where we’ll be genuinely happy to spend at least four years of our life. To help us figure this out, take us on a few college visits. 

Visiting prospective schools was what got me motivated and excited about going to college. It is a great way to get a feel for the campus atmosphere and student body. It was useful for me to visit both “safety schools” and “reaches” to get a sense of whether I could actually see myself as a student there.

Tuition

Young people are very aware of the sky-high price of a college education. We don’t want to be in debt for years, and we’re worried about how it will impact our future. But to be honest, most teenagers (myself included) aren’t as financially literate as we would like to be.  

We might not understand how loans work or how to apply for them, and we’ll certainly struggle with the infinite scholarship and financial aid options that exist. This is where adult guidance is crucial.

College payment is probably the first major financial decision a teenager is going to make in their life, so sitting down with parents and mentors to discuss financial options will be a huge help. Talk to us about the real-life ramifications of taking out loans, how long it might take to pay them off, and how they will affect our lives later on.

Field of Study

While it’s easy to get caught up in the media-projected vision of college as a teenage party land, it’s important for us to keep in mind that college is an educational institution, and we need to think about what we want to study. To my knowledge, most high schoolers have only vague ideas about what they want to study in college or what career path they'd like to pursue. And that’s okay! We have a lot of time to explore our options, so it’s best not to rush the final decision.

Personally, I don't yet know what I want to study, so I am looking at liberal arts schools that will let me pursue a variety of interests. I’ve found that it has been very useful to talk to my parents and teachers about what they majored in during college and how it lead them to where they are now. Hearing most of the adults in my life say that their college major didn’t “define them” took a lot of pressure off of the subject. 


Remember: Teenagers are human, and as humans, we are subject to the occasional meltdown. In these moments—when we are freaking out about how we’re going to afford a college education, or whether we’re going to be accepted into our top-choice school—a supportive and calm adult can be just the right remedy. Help us recognize that our concerns and stressors are valid, and that if we work hard and stay organized, we will make it through this stressful process.