6 pitfalls to avoid when helping your child choose a college

At a glance

  • Your child’s expectations about college may clash with what you think is best.

  • Managing all the college search details on your own is a common pitfall.

  • It’s important to get your child to offer input and be involved in the process.

Working with your teen with learning and thinking differences to choose a college can be very exciting. However, it can also be somewhat daunting, and it may create a lot of tension between the two of you. Your child’s expectations about college may clash with what you think is best.

Here are pitfalls to avoid when looking at schools.

Pitfall #1: Making a college list without your child’s input.

How to avoid it: Start talking with your child about possible colleges early. Discuss what criteria you each think are important in a school. This may include location, majors and minors, admissions, two- or four-year options, extracurriculars, and more. Use these criteria to come up with a list together.

It’s important to take your child’s choices seriously. Your child is the one heading to college. Also, try not to take it personally if there are disagreements about your suggestions.

Pitfall #2: Assuming you know what your child needs to succeed in college.

How to avoid it: You probably have a good idea what helped your child be successful in high school. But college will be a different experience, and one you may not always be able to predict.

It’s important for kids to assess their own strengths and weaknesses when considering colleges. Parents can help by listening closely when kids describe what they say their needs are. Self-awareness is a key part of college success.

Pitfall #3: Managing all of the college search details yourself.

How to avoid it: You may not want to leave all of the college planning to your child. But it’s a good idea for kids to have some responsibility for managing the actual search process.

Get your child involved. For instance, teens can research the dates of the open houses at the schools you’re visiting, and add these dates to a family calendar. Or they can look into college programs for kids with learning and thinking differences.

Pitfall #4: Underestimating the importance of independent living skills.

How to avoid it: When looking at colleges, you may be tempted to focus on academics. To succeed, however, kids need many independent living skills. They’ll need to manage money, meals, schedules, personal hygiene, and maybe even medication.

As you choose a college, keep in mind the level of support your child will need. You may want to consider a school closer to home. Start working on the skills your child will need for college as early as possible.

Pitfall #5: Not asking for advice and support from others.

How to avoid it: Nobody knows your child like you do. They may not know what’s best for your child. But trusted friends, family members, and school professionals can be sounding boards and an added layer of support for you and your child.

They can help kids think about strengths, goals, and values. They can also help them communicate about where they see themselves fitting in, and why. And they might even be able to help keep kids on track with their responsibilities in the process. Finally, their experiences may lead you to options you and your child had not even considered.

Pitfall #6: Showing too much disappointment if your child isn’t accepted.

How to avoid it: Your child has overcome so many challenges to get here. It can feel like a big blow when kids don’t get into their first choice of colleges.

Not being too disappointed is important not only for your child’s feelings, but also for yourself. Your child may get into other schools on the list, and it’ll be important for both of you to feel like those are great choices, too. It’s important to stay positive and cheer kids on, no matter where they go.

Choosing a college is just one step in the process — the next is preparation. Read steps to help your child transition from high school to college. And check out what to know about college disability services.

Key takeaways

  • As you choose a college, keep in mind the level of support your child will need.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, and school professionals throughout the process.

  • Staying positive and cheering kids on is key — even if they don’t get accepted into their college of choice.


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