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Once your child has compiled this list you can start researching colleges to match it. The College Board's College Handbook is a comprehensive list of schools and what they offer. You may find many schools match your attributes, so at this point you'll want to look beyond the surface, comparing schools to narrow your choices.
Your child can order catalogs to get more detail about what schools offer, and she can ask questions of admissions officers to find out more. Good information to know includes the percentage of students who graduate from the school, the percentage who get jobs in their fields of study, and how long it takes on average to get a degree. Your child might also want to find out about special opportunities, such as an honors college or overseas study.
Now that he has a lot of information, your child should be able to narrow his choice to half a dozen schools. Finances have not come up at this point, a qualifier many parents would put at the top of their lists. But many experts recommend selecting a range of schools to apply to regardless of financial considerations.
Options for financial aid are available - so many that hundreds of guides have been published to help you. Your child's high school guidance counselor can point you in the right direction. In general though, it's good to keep in mind that the initial price tag may not tell you everything. More expensive private schools often offer extensive financial aid to qualified students.
Remember those great family vacations of yore? It's time to take another one, visiting as many schools of interest to your child as possible. Without a visit, it's tough to get a real sense of a school and make a final choice. Schools offer tours to prospective applicants, a good way to get a guided overview. You and your child should also wander on your own; check out the student union, the library, dorms, classrooms, labs and computer facilities. Try to visit at a time when school is in session, so your child can get a feel for the place "in action."
At last it's time for your child to send in her applications. And wait. This can be the toughest time for a teenager, and receiving a rejection letter can feel like a devastating blow. You can reassure your child though: Many colleges get more qualified applicants than they can accept, so a rejection doesn't mean she doesn't "have what it takes." Recent studies have shown that nine in 10 applicants get accepted to their first or second choice school, so your child has lots of reasons to look forward to those envelopes rolling in.
And you can feel reassured too. Now that you've done all this homework, you know whatever school your child attends will be a place where she can be comfortable and successful. That makes it a lot easier to send your child on this first journey into adulthood.
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