The College Conversation: There are plenty of options out there

Type the words "college admissions" into your computer's search engine, and more than 100 million pages pop up for your browsing pleasure. With more than 3,500 bachelor-degree-granting institutions in the United States, how on Earth is your child supposed to narrow the field? Hold on a second. Is it really such a dilemma for your child to have so many options?

The college search doesn't have to be overwhelming. It all depends on what your student is looking for. If the goal is for your child to attend the most prestigious universities in the nation, be prepared for nonstop academics beginning in ninth grade, likely including community college courses, lots of projects, papers, tests, late nights and early mornings (zero period classes), stress and little down time to pursue pleasurable activities.

What if the goal instead is to identify the colleges where your child will thrive as a young adult and you, the parent, can breathe easier knowing your child's options are vast and your teenager may experience a more balanced high school experience?

At a recent meeting of the Beach City Service League, I spent time outlining the important elements in the college application file, and how different colleges evaluate candidates.

Following the presentation, a mother asked a very important question: "You said there's a college for everyone. How do I find those colleges? How do I prepare my son for the reality that he might not have options?"

My response: "Of course he'll have options, there are thousands of colleges in the United States and one or more that are just right for your son."

What I really wanted to do, though, was stop the discussion right then and there and ask the audience to write down as many colleges as they could name. I knew I could guarantee once we compiled all those colleges, allowing for overlaps, the whole list might entail upward of maybe 25 schools. Why? Because most parents and students think only of the local geographic colleges or big name schools that have a prestigious reputation.

Options are created when parents spend more time helping their student decide what he or she is looking for in a college, opposed to just helping him or her decide where to apply.

This grave mistake ends the college conversation too early in the process, sidestepping the most important aspect of the college search: finding out the environment where your student will flourish as a young adult.

Make it your goal to help your child create a crystal clear vision of where he sees himself thriving for his higher education. Your child will not only expand his or her options, but also feel far more relief knowing there are many places where he will find great success as a college student.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs on Sundays. Please send college admissions questions to

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