How to help your child pick the right university or college

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you that time has the ability to magically fly by. One minute you’re watching your toddler try to navigate the living room and it seems like the next minute, you’re witnessing your teen trying to navigate high school. Sound familiar? Then don’t let the next few years slip away, because now is the time to start thinking about your teen’s next steps after grade 12. Is post-secondary education in the picture?

Some students will have definite ideas about their future career, what college or university they want to attend and even have a list of questions ready for open house day. On the other hand, many other students will have no idea what their career path will look like or which post-secondary school interests them. As their parent, you may ask yourself, "how can I help my child choose a subject area or even pick the right university or college?" To lessen the load of this big decision, we've narrowed down some things you can do to help your teen navigate through this exciting new chapter.

Start the conversation about post-secondary education early. 

To help prevent panic, start talking about post-secondary options around grade 9 or 10. While your teen may not know precisely what they want to pursue, knowing their general focus will give them time to meet the course prerequisites and get ahead. 

You can also use this time to provide your student with a taste of university. US universities including Stanford, Harvard and MIT, and Canadian schools such as the University of Toronto, McGill and University of British Columbia offer summer programmes designed specifically for high school students.

Evaluate strengths and passions to help inspire career direction. 

First, hobbies and summer jobs can provide clues as to what your child likes. Second, look at where they’re excelling academically – those show which subjects they’re enjoying. For instance, health sciences may be a future path if your teen is doing really well in bio or chem. Conversely, if your child is getting excellent marks in english, you may have a budding writer in the family. 

Alternatively, think about the discussions around the dinner table: what does your child get passionate about? Political debates may mean you have a political science major in the house; tech talk may tell you your child is destined for software engineering or data security.  If you’re short on clues, fear not. Liberal arts programs are designed so students can dabble in a broad range of courses to see where they might like to focus.

Establish parameters on finances and location. 

Once you've addressed what could potentially interest your child career-wise, it's time to start thinking about important logistics.

  1. Budget. Add up tuition, books, residence fees and food if your child will be going away, to better understand what your estimated expenses could look like. If you’re feeling stretched financially, discuss the idea of your child working part-time to contribute towards costs. Of course, scholarships, financial aid and an Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) can help too.

  2. Location. Does your child want to study from home? If your student wants to go away, will it be in Canada, the US or elsewhere? Do they want to live in a university town or attend a university or college in a big city? These conversations will be crucial to applying and selecting the right university, college or trades school. 

Do your research to help with post-secondary decisions. 

Now that you have your parameters defined, it’s time to kick off the research phase and make concrete decisions with confidence. Consider the following when making final decisions about your teen’s post-secondary exploration: 

  1. Talk to the school guidance counsellor. Guidance counsellors are a great resource, as they often know your child’s strengths, have deep knowledge about post-secondary options and many will work through the application process with students.

  2. Head online. With your parameters in mind, search Canadian universities or colleges, US universities and colleges or even see how international universities rank globally.

  3. Tour the campus. A campus tour is a great way to get a feel for a school. Tours are usually led by students, so you’ll get an insider’s view on student life, instead of the glossy brochure version.

Have an RESP to keep your options open.

By 2039, the average cost of students studying from home will cost around $71,000/year. Tuition will only continue to climb. That said, an RESP plan can help you save for tuition and make post-secondary education that much more manageable. Don’t have a plan in place yet? CST Consultants can help deter student loans and put your high school graduate at an advantage, come decision time. 

What if your teen just isn’t ready for the next step?

A gap year spent volunteering, travelling or working can also look good on a school application. And, it’s a great way to try out potential careers.

Figuring out the right next step for your teen involves talking and a lot of listening. At the end of the day, your child will be the one spending the next few years living with the decision you make together, so make sure you’re hearing their needs and working on the above together as a team! 

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