How to Advise Teenagers on their Choice of College

Advising a teenager on choices of college is more an art than a science. The art arises from the truism that adolescence is a time of a confusing array of choices with built-in variables of academic ability, financial resources, and sometimes-unclear career goals.

Choosing a college, then, becomes a “science” of finding the best fit for the particular student, depending on the student’s limitations and potential for success. This article will discuss college choices from the perspective of career goals (or lack thereof) and the impact of finances on the latter. What follows are four possible scenarios along those lines:

♦ The student has a clear idea of a future career choice and has the financial wherewithal to pay for a specialized education.

Advising this fortunate student is more a matter of keeping the student academically on track and finding the best college or university with the curriculum that will make the student a success. The student should schedule visits with prospective college counselors and orientation sessions. Also, be sure to visit the college or university web site for detailed information. U.S. News College Compass is an outstanding source for college rankings.

♦  The student has a clear idea, but cannot afford full college expenses.

Unfortunately, with the ever-increasing costs of higher education finding an affordable college might be out of the question for the prospective first-year college student. Look into completing the college academic basics via the community college route.  Local community colleges are vast and more affordable resources for college entrance, and many offer specific career paths in business and vocational fields.

♦ The student has no clear career goals, wants to go to college, and has the financial resources to choose a college or university that will prepare the student for that success.

The best advice is to remind the student that, above all, current academic performance in high school is the best indicator for future college success. Finding one’s life work, like luck, is often a serendipitous convergence of opportunity with preparation.  The college search would be similar to the fortunate student alluded to above and would involve visits and orientation.

♦ The student has no career goals, wants to go to college, but cannot afford on-campus living and tuition.

Again, look into the community college option described above.  If the student has a financial plan that includes eventual matriculation to a four-year college, it would be prudent to ensure that academic credits earned at the community college are fully transferable to the last two years at the four-year college.  Advise the student to get such assurance in writing, if possible, from an authorized representative of the four-year institution.

♦ The bottom line

Regardless of the student’s career goals or finances, the best advice that any parent or advisor can give any teenager is to maintain a serious attitude towards studying and academic achievement. That attitude has to manifest itself into being successful, if only for its own sake. Eventually, opportunity will actually meet preparation and the young adult will meet his or her own life’s work.