Helping your child choose the right university: 5 things parents should know

In what seems to be a blink of an eye, the time has come. Your child is soon off to university! But what university? Where will they go? How far away will they be? Although you had 18 years to prepare for this moment, you probably still have a lot of questions when it comes to helping your child choose the right university to ensure a happy and fulfilling future.

So, as a starting point, we’ve put together these 5 tips to help guide conversations and decision-making with your high school graduate!

1. Start the conversation early.

There’s a lot of new information your student will have to absorb in the months leading up to their university applications (on top of their high school workload), so starting the conversation early is key. Early conversations provide more time to explore your student’s interests and options; to make sure they’re succeeding in their high school courses and meeting the admission requirements of prospective universities (and getting the proper support if not); and ensure that application deadlines are met in terms of admissions and scholarships.

Of course, there is a fine line to balance here: you don’t want to force your student to have a conversation they’re not ready for, but you do want to make sure they’re thinking of their future and all of their options.

If your student hasn’t already brought up the idea of attending university, gently start the conversation by letting them know that you’re there to listen, support, and guide if necessary. If they’re receptive to the conversation, you can start with the basic questions such as have you given any thought to what you want to do after high school?

Once you feel your student is ready, try taking them through the 5 questions you should ask before applying to college or university. 

2. Take the time to find out what THEY want.

We’ve already mentioned this point (and will continue to reiterate throughout this blog), but we think it’s so important that it deserves to stand on it’s own.

When all is said and done, it’s your student who will be living out the next 3-4 years at university. It’s your student who will be doing the work, making new friends, joining societies and mapping out their career. It’s your student who will be finding their fit, wherever it is they may choose to study. So, try taking a step back and truly listen to what they want. Their happiness and overall mental well-being will amplify their chance for success within the classroom!

When talking to your student about university, remember that it is their decision first and foremost. Recognize this as a stepping stone into adulthood, where they will be faced with many decisions to make that are sometimes difficult.

Be there to support, but mostly, listen.

3. Do your own research.

Once you’ve started the postsecondary conversation with your student and listened to their wants and needs, it’s beneficial to do your own research (within their given boundaries) in order to have a better understanding of what options meet these needs. There may be universities and opportunities that fulfill your student’s goals personally and academically that they have not yet thought of. And, if you don’t agree with your child’s choices, doing some research may help you better understand their choice and stand behind them with support.

More to this point: university programs, supports, and processes may have changed since you were a prospective student. So, researching will help make sure you and your student are both on the same page in terms of options, language, and so on.

All of this might sound a bit tedious, but the good news is you’re already conducting research just by reading this blog, so this is a great start! Other sources of information are the university’s website, viewbooks, reviews on social media, or even talking to your own networks for a word-of-mouth recommendation. Keep open minded while doing your research, make it broad, and remember, focus on what your student wants.  

4. Be honest about Finances.

Education is an investment with a huge return, and there are a number of things to think about and discuss with your student before they choose a university. First of all, are you planning on contributing financially to their tuition and fees? If so, how much are you able to afford?

Once you openly discuss whether or not you’re able to support your student financially, next steps will become evident, such as narrowing down their list of potential universities to fit your budget, and/or looking into scholarship opportunities, financial aid and student loan programs. You can also speak to your student about work-study bursaries and programs, or the possibility of studying part-time while gaining paid work experience.

Overall, set expectations up front. If your student has their heart set on a university outside of your price range, make sure they understand their other options in terms of payment, and provide support when it’s time to apply for scholarships and/or student loans.  

5. Take Campus Tours.

After your student has created a short-list of potential universities, it’s extremely beneficial to take them to visit each campus on their list (if they’re not too far away). Campus tours allow your student to picture themself on campus first-hand, visualizing what it would be like to be a student at the university. It also gives you and your student the chance to meet some of the faculty and staff working on campus, ask specific questions, and get a feel for the overall campus culture and safety. After your campus tour, you can also scope out the surrounding city if it’s outside of the area where you currently live.

Prior to your campus visit, help your student do some extra research on the institution you’re scouting, and compile a list of questions to ask.

If any of the campuses on your student’s list are not within reasonable travel distances, look to see if they have virtual campus tours, or check out their social media channels for pictures and videos.  

To sum it all up:

Start the conversation about your child’s post-secondary journey early. Listen, listen, listen to what they want out of their studies. Then, research within these boundaries, perhaps pointing out opportunities they may not have known about or thought of. Be honest and open about finances, and support them with application processes. And lastly, if possible, accompany them on campus tours (if that’s what they want).

If you’d like to learn more about Cape Breton University and whether or not we’re a good fit for your student, fill out your information to download our viewbook now: