1. Young Adults

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a College

What educational programs does the college offer? How many students are there in each major, and how many of them graduate? What are the studentteacher ratios, and how available are the instructors and other college staff? There are several ways to gather information about a school.

Step One: Research and Read

Bookstore and library shelves are practically sagging from the weight of guides to thousands of colleges. The school guidance office may have some of these books on hand for lending to students.

Step Two: Ask Questions

Your child’s guidance counselor may be able to fill in some of the gaps about a college; just be advised that counselors’ experience varies widely. Other sources of information are alumni of the college in question. A Web site called World Alumni Net ( contains e-mail addresses for school alumni organizations as well as for individual alumni. Feel free to ask the college to put you in touch with current students or recent graduates.

Most colleges now have their own Web sites displaying photos of the campus and accompanying text. Some of the more ambitious sites feature “virtual tours” that take you from building to building. They may incorporate interactive maps, films, sound clips and live Web cameras. For an index to college Web addresses, go to

Step Three: Visit the Campus

The best way to get to know a school is to visit the campus. During your teen’s sophomore or junior year, drop in at a few local colleges—large and small, if possible—so that she can get a taste of college life. Once she’s been accepted at an institution, or two or three, call the admission office and schedule a guided tour. Schools do this all the time, setting up visitors with volunteer student escorts; even arranging overnight stays in a dormitory.

1. Young Adults

What Creates Perfectionism

There may be a biological component to perfectionism as evidenced by its link to eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The information below focuses on those environmental factors that may contribute to or exacerbate perfectionism.

Inappropriate Praise

Carol Dweck and colleagues study the effect that praise and criticism have on performance and write about a “growth mindset” compared to a “fixed mindset.”

Growth Mindset

Young people with a growth mindset believe their intelligence can be developed with effort. When they do not produce desired results, they don’t see themselves as failures, but as learners.

People with a growth mindset want feedback because they understand they need others’ assessments to learn to do things better. Dweck writes, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.”

Fixed Mindset

In contrast, people with a fixed mindset (including maladaptive perfectionists and others) believe people are either smart or not and failure proves you’re not. In fact, hard work suggests one doesn’t have natural intelligence. Their goal becomes to avoid failure at all costs since they need consistent feedback to affirm they’re smart. Dweck explains that people with a fixed mindset view situations from the prism of, “Will I succeed or fail?” “Will I look smart or dumb?” “Will I win or lose?” People with a growth mindset feel successful when they can do something they couldn’t do before, whereas those with fixed mindsets feel smart when they avoid errors.

Dweck’s research reveals that how a child is praised contributes heavily to whether she develops a growth versus fixed mindset. In brief, those praised for being smart are more likely to grow to fear being seen as anything else, and those noticed for effort develop a passion for growth.

Academic Pressures and a Competitive College Admissions Process

Parents and children alike see getting a college degree as important for long-term success and financial security. This often translates into external and internal pressure not simply to attain high grades and test scores, but also to build extensive resumes filled with impressive extra-curricular achievements. The competition is not limited to those applying to elite universities. Increases in the perceived importance of secondary education across society as well as the rising costs of tuition lead to anxiety among all students about competition for admission and scholarship dollars, especially in the context of difficult economic times.

Sensationalism of Success and Failure (i.e., Who Are Our Heroes?)

Our culture reveres success and ridicules failure. The heroes in our society tend to epitomize a perfect performance in their fields and are rewarded with the greatest external trappings of success. Whether the highest-scoring athlete, the top-grossing recording artist, or the most beautiful movie actress, our sports stars and entertainment figures receive enormous attention, especially when at the “top of their game.” When they have a transgression, the media quickly focuses on their problems. Youth receive the message that, to gain recognition, you must be at the top, and, once there, you had better not make a mistake.

Increase in a Permissive Style of Parenting

Permissive parents are very warm and supportive to their children but offer few boundaries or rules, often taking on a tone of “friendship” more than mentorship in their approach to parenting. The result is that teens’ behavioral control is achieved largely through their desire to please parents. Achieving perfection can ensure the child pleases his parents, especially if the definition of what counts as “acceptable” is not clear.

Fear of Disappointment

Many perfectionists have a strong desire to avoid disappointing their parents, especially when raised in a permissive parenting style as noted above. Others are driven by the fear of disappointing themselves. Children who see themselves as valuable only when achieving success may experience significant cognitive dissonance when trying to accept a failure or limitation in performance or abilities. As a result, they pursue perfectionism as a means to avoid disappointment at all costs.

Applying Professional Standards to Personal Parenting

Some parents highly prepared for the work world apply the same standards of efficiency, productivity, and performance to family life. When this happens, their children’s perceived successes or setbacks become markers of the parents’ own success. This may intensify stress on children either directly through parental pressure or through their own drive to please adults.

Desire to Spare Stressed Parents

Teens sometimes have an intense need to spare a parent whom they perceive as stressed. Children whose parents suffer from trauma, illness, or divorce may try to be perfect children. They may keep their own anxieties and struggles as tightly held secrets, always showing parents their best face. Parents who explicitly verbalize feelings of being overwhelmed to their children or who excessively rely on their children as confidants about adult problems could exacerbate this.

1. Young Adults

Types of Colleges

Two-Year Schools: Community Colleges, Junior Colleges, Technical/Professional Colleges

The sole difference between community colleges and junior colleges is that community schools are supported by state and local funding and mainly serve area residents, while junior colleges are funded privately and therefore may attract students from anywhere in the country. Students can earn several degrees: associate of arts (A.A.), associate of science (A.S.) and associate of applied science (A.A.S.).

Technical schools offer programs geared toward preparing students for specific professions, including accounting, air-conditioning and refrigeration, automotive and diesel mechanics, commercial art and photography, drafting and design, electronics, health care, horticulture, office administration, retail merchandising and welding. Community and junior colleges provide technical training in addition to more general studies. Depending on the vocational program, students can earn an associate degree or a certificate. A two-year school may be an end unto itself. Or a graduate may transfer her credits to a fouryear institution and resume studying for her bachelor degree there. Be aware, though, that some two-year-school credits may not be transferable. Check with the four-year college about which courses it will accept.

Four-Year Schools: Colleges and Universities

These institutions confer bachelor of arts (B.A.) and bachelor of science (B.S.) degrees in many fields, including biology, chemistry, economics, English, foreign languages, history, literature, political science and zoology, to name several. Universities differ from colleges in that they usually are larger and encompass one or more colleges of the arts and/or sciences.

The size of the school is often reflected in larger classes, which may be taught by grad students instead of professors. What’s more, graduates can continue their studies and earn advanced degrees in their chosen field: a master’s degree (upon completing one to two years of graduate work), a doctoral degree (two to three years), or a professional degree (one, three, six years, maybe more, depending on the profession and whether the student pursues the degree part time or full time). Some colleges offer graduate programs.

1. Young Adults

Tips to Support Your Teen Graduating from High School

Graduating from high school is a time of excitement and adventure for many young people, but also a time filled with uncertainty. In addition, the end of high school means transitions to college, into jobs, into the military, or out of the foster care system. All of these situations bring up things to think about regarding general well-being, health concerns and diagnoses, and medications. Your child’s pediatrician can be a wonderful source of advice on helping your teen to transition successfull​y. 

Advice for Parents & Caregivers: 

Is your child headed to c​ollege? Know what to do to support your teen emotionally as he ventures out into the world and away from home base.

  • ​​Make sure that your teen has medical coverage after high school and teach your teen how to access and use it. Many teens and young adults are covered under their parents’ health insurance through age 25.
  • If your teen is going to college, check into the health and mental health support services on campus, and make sure he is familiar with them.
  • In addition to making sure that the graduating patient has all of the vaccines and other preventive health care recommended for this stage of life, pediatricians also can help families to ensure they are preparing the way for their young adult’s continuing mental and emotional health.
  • If your teen has mental health needs, develop a plan of care in advance of your teen moving away from home. For college, this can take several weeks or months to develop.
  • Does your child have a mental health diagnosis, such as A​DHD, depression, eating diso​rder, etc?  Be sure to ask the health center staff what kind of medical information they will need related to your teen, and how to set up prescription refills if needed.
  • With your teen, communicate with college or university staff about their accommodations for teens with ADHD and other diagnoses. In addition, consider contacting the college’s Disabilities Office, Academic Advising Office, or Student Affairs Office to determine what accommodations are available for ADHD and other diagnoses.
  • Once your teen is settled into the college routine, keep in close contact and try to get frequent readings about how he is doing academically and socially. This is especially important during the first month or so while teens are still trying to settle in and may not have made friends yet.
  • Do you have a child in foster care who is “graduating” out of the system? Depending on state laws, children in foster care are covered under Medicaid until age 18 or 21 and may need to transition to a different provider.  Some may need to transition even earlier to an adult or Transitional Aged Youth mental health provider.  Young adults transitioning out of the foster care system need help in identifying caring adults—related or not—​from whom they can seek advice, support, and reassurance.
  • Is your teen going straight to work rather than college? Even though she may be remaining at home for a time, her life will change dramatically from when she was in the structured environment of high school, having daily contact with friends. Be sure to give her extra space as a young adult, but realize that she may need help navigating adult responsibilities like bill paying, taking on her own health care, etc. She may be missing her high school life and friends who have moved on. Encourage her to keep up her friendships and to form new ones through work or other interesting activities.
  • Alcohol, drugs and sexual activity may become more accessible at this time.  Be clear about your expectations regarding drug and alcohol use are even though your child may not be living at home. Be sure your teen knows where to go—whether on campus or locally—for reproductive health care. Continue to have conversations about peer pressure, good decisions, and consequences.
  • Once your teen turns 18, you’ll no longer have legal access to his academic or health records.  After he moves on from high school to college or work, have frequent, one-on-one conversations with your teen as a means of staying in touch.
  • It’s normal for young people starting at college or moving to a new place to have days when they feel sad, homesick, or a bit lost. If these feelings persist or interfere with their ability to work, they should seek help and know that it is normal to do so. Watch for warning signs and be prepared to act.

Advice for Your Teen:

Graduating from high school is such an exciting time. For some, this may mean transitioning to a full time job. For others, it may mean heading off to college. Whatever this next stage in life brings, it’s important to be in charge of your own health. Here are some tips for you to consider.

  • Participate in activities to promote your overall health. Eating right, getting enough sleep (at least 8-10 hours), and being active will keep you feeling energized and can reduce stress.
  • Talk with your pediatrician about when to start seeing an adult doctor. Many young adults see their pediatricians until they turn 21. Your pediatrician can provide you with guidance about choosing an adult health provider.
  • If you have a health care problem, know the facts. When going to a new doctor or clinic, you will need to provide information about your diagnosis and how you treat it.
  • If you are taking medication to treat a health care problem, know the name of the medication, how is it taken, side effects, and if you cannot have certain foods or drinks while taking the medication. Also know how and where you will go to refill prescriptions.
  • If you will no longer be living at home, know where you will go if you are having a health problem. What hospitals or clinics are close by? Is there a student health center? Talk with your parents about how your family’s health insurance works, and be sure you have a card from the health plan.

Tips for the New College Student:

  • Be sure you are familiar with the local or campus health center and counseling center (hours of operation, services offered, fees, location) and what to do if the Center is closed (nights and weekends). Make sure you have your insurance card and know how to use it (For example, some insurance companies may only allow certain labs or may require pre-authorization for referrals.)
  • If you have a chronic health condition, make sure roommates or someone close to you know about your health condition, signs of problems, and what to do in an emergency situation. Consider having your treating physician send a report with your current status and treatment report to the Health Center. If your problem is particularly complex or challenging, consider talking with or meeting with a health center staff member before the academic year starts.
  • Studies have shown that the majority of students on campus don’t use drugs and either don’t drink or do so in so moderation. So you don’t need to do either one to fit in. Drinking excessively can open you up to significant health risks (accidents, fights, date rape/sexual assault).
  • Find out what resources are available to support you. Often there are support  groups and student services available to help address the transition to work or college. And don’t forget about your family…they want to hear how you are doing!
  • It’s normal for someone starting at college or moving to a new place to have days when they feel sad, homesick, or a bit lost. If these feelings last for more than a week or so or are interfering with your ability to work or enjoy your college experience, seek help. The health center or counseling center is the best place to start.

Depression or Mental Health Warning Signs:  

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Unexpected weeping or excessive moodiness
  • Eating habits that result in noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Paranoia and excessive secrecy
  • Self-mutilation, or mention of hurting himself or herself
  • Obsessive body-image concerns
  • Excessive isolation
  • Abandonment of friends, social groups, and favorite pastimes
  • Unexpected and dramatic decline in academic performance
  • Drinking excessively or using other drugs to feel better or help with sleep
1. Young Adults

The Problem with Perfectionism

Today’s teenagers have more impressive college applications than a decade ago, and far more impressive ones than their parents had. Many teenagers seem to be entering this admissions process perfectly prepared. On paper they look almost too good to be true—dream candidates for any college—socially committed and brilliant, widely experienced in summer jobs, internships, and community service projects. Their resumés suggest their teeth glimmer whenever they smile and their hair blows in the wind even as they stand still.

As we prepare these paper-perfect students for higher education, are we undermining their ability to succeed in life? As we mold them to be so well balanced, are we actually making them feel unsure of their own footing? Are they so committed to being “perfect” that they fear being anything less? The most worrisome thing about this generation of driven students may be the fear of imperfection that’s being instilled in their psyches. This fear will stifle their creativity, impede their ability to experience joy, and ultimately interfere with their success.

When we speak to parents nationwide, we hear 2 very distinct views. Some parents see their kids’ jam-packed lives as a wonderful sign that they are poised for success. Others notice that their adolescents seem burdened, and they worry that their kids are missing opportunities for happiness during a time that is supposed to be carefree, a time before they have to earn a living and support families of their own.

The first group of parents shows justified pride that their children are driven to succeed and relish their accomplishments. They recognize that successful people always put in the extra effort. They’ve held their kids to high expectations and arranged the finest opportunities, and their active parenting style seems to have paid off. Some of their children seem to have garnered all of this success while remaining joyous and self-confident. If other kids exhibit signs of weariness or stress, these parents see it as the price to be paid for success. As long as their grades remain high and they continue to be involved in many extracurricular activities, their parents believe they must be doing well, regardless of outward or inward signs of stress.

The second set of parents has equal pride in their children’s accomplishments, but they are concerned that their children are too stretched, too pressured. They notice the signs of fatigue and pressure. They fear that happiness has been sacrificed in the name of accomplishment.

All parents want the same thing—that young people become happy, successful adults. To evaluate whether they are moving toward genuine success, we need to look less at accomplishments and more at kids themselves. The process of producing students who are perfect on paper may be working for some and seriously harming others. Those who seem to be thriving may be budding perfectionists who are headed for elite colleges as a reward for their accomplishments. But they may not be headed toward a lifetime of success and are unlikely to achieve a lifetime of happiness, satisfaction, and contentment.

Some materials mention “Big Lies” that parents shouldn’t project on the next generation. The first Big Lie—that successful adults are good at everything—is applicable here in a discussion of perfectionism. When was the last time any of us was good at everything? Probably in second grade—we got gold stars on our spelling papers; we were told we were great artists when we made construction paper Thanksgiving turkeys; on the playground everyone was an athlete and got a chance at bat.

Since those halcyon days, how many adults can say, “I’m good at everything”?

Most of us do quite well at one or two things and are less talented in many more. Successful people usually excel in one or two areas. Interesting people excel in a couple areas but also enjoy exposure to several fields even if they can’t be a star in all.

So why do we push the Big Lie on teenagers that they must be good at math, science, foreign languages, English, history, the arts, and athletics? Doesn’t this unrealistic expectation only foster the drive toward a perfectionism that is bound to crash land?

1. Young Adults

Taking Care of Your Mental Health at College

Starting college can be stressful. You may be away from home for the first time. Maybe you miss your family and friends. And it may take you time to adjust to new surroundings, new teachers, and new friends. All these things can make you feel alone, overworked, and stressed out. The following is information concerning your mental health. 

Making friends

Friends usually become your main support system while in college. In fact, college friends often become close friends for life. 

You may be worried about how you will make new friends. You will probably meet some people you like in the first few days of school, and you will meet more in your classes, in clubs or sports, and through other friends. If it takes a while to find people you click with, don’t worry; it will happen. 

A word on roommates:

Roommates can be terrific friends or great sources of stress. Even roommates who like each other will clash over things like cleaning, bedtimes, and music. Talk these things over early on and you will be less likely to have problems later. If you and your roommate just can’t get along, talk with your resident advisor (RA) about how to handle your roommate problem. 

Missing home

Many students miss home—even those who’ve been away from home before. Feeling homesick doesn’t make you less mature or mean that you are not ready to be on your own; it just means you are human! Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Talk with your friends about it. Chances are they’re feeling the same way.
  • Keep in touch with family and friends back home, but make sure you develop new relationships at school.
  • Still having trouble? Try talking with a counselor.

Why going home for visits may be hard:

You’ve changed. Your family has changed. Even your home friends may have changed. Old conflicts don’t disappear and new ones may come up. Again, if things are too stressful for you to handle alone, talk with a counselor. 

Dealing with depression

There will be days when you feel down, when the pressures of college life really get to you. Those feelings are normal. When you feel down, take some time out for yourself and do something that makes you feel good. Spend time with friends. Exercise. Read a good book. 

Sometimes, though, feeling down can turn into depression. Depression is a serious illness that can be treated.

If you have had any of the following symptoms for 2 weeks or more, see a counselor right away: 

  • Sad mood
  • Hopeless, helpless, worthless, or guilty feelings
  • Loss of pleasure in things you usually enjoy
  • Sleep problems
  • Eating problems
  • Low energy, extreme tiredness, lack of concentration
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or body aches that do not respond to treatment

If at any time you have thoughts of death or suicide, seek help immediately. Do not think you can handle depression on your own. If one of your friends seems depressed, suggest that he or she see a counselor as soon as possible. 

Try telehealth

If you’re still seeing your pediatrician or family physician back home, contact them to see if they offer telehealth visits​. If they’re in a different state or you’re no longer seeing them, call to ask if they can recommend a doctor near campus. You may be able to schedule a telehealth visit using a video or phone call from school. You can talk about what’s troubling you and learn about treatment options.

1. Young Adults

Letting Go for College

All animals grow up and leave the nest. They go through their playful phase, practice adulthood, and then are on their own. Human children just play longer and their parents worry more. When children are ready for college, parents want that last time at home to be so special. It’s the last opportunity for family togetherness. It should be a perfect time. The last family vacation before the child leaves home should be idyllic. Why then does your daughter say, “Mom, I hate you. I’d rather be with my friends. It’s a good thing I’m leaving in August because I couldn’t stand one more minute in this prison”?

Because she is ready to cross a chasm, and it’s so much easier than saying, “I love you so much that I can’t even find the right words. You’ve done every thing for me. I’m petrified. Do you think I’m ready to go off on my own? Do you think you’ll miss me as much as I’m going to miss you?”

Adolescents challenge parents because they need to loosen one kind of connection—the one that involves parents’ assuming full responsibility for them. When challenged this way, it’s completely understandable for parents to feel hurt or even angry. If they don’t understand what is happening, parents may push harder to keep control. This only breeds resentment and ill feelings. But if they recognize that their teen is struggling for independence and learn to celebrate it, everyone will be healthier and less tense.

Every time kids behave badly or speak meanly to parents doesn’t necessarily reflect their growing independence or their conflicted emotions. Sometimes they might just be acting mean. They know a parent’s vulnerabilities.

Whether they are justifiably or unfairly angry, they can be masters at saying hurtful things. Often it’s a way of shouting, “Listen to me!” Perhaps they’re testing the waters to grab attention before they can bring up something that’s troubling them. If parents respond with anger and shut them down, they may feel justified for not sharing their concerns: “Remember, I was going to tell you, but then….” When parents listen and reserve judgment, their teenagers’ stories unfold.

But it’s OK to tell them when they hurt your feelings—not in a way that makes them feel guilty, but just a clear statement of fact that their behavior is inappropriate and hurtful. That is an important part of a parent’s job in building character. Even when kids challenge the parental connection, parents need to be consistent about one thing: Their love is unconditional and they will always be there for their children. With this clear message, parents say, “Go ahead—grow. I’ve got your back.”

1. Young Adults

Freshman Year

The first year your baby heads off to college is likely to be the most difficult, both for parents and for new freshmen who will have completed the initiation ritual of moving from high school to college. Parents need to remember that moving into a dorm room does not really signify entrance into full independence.

For that reason, it’s important for parents to play their cards right during freshman year, to figure out how to balance parental involvement with distance, and to match this balancing act with the individual child’s needs.

All parents want some reassurance that their freshmen children still love— even remember—them despite geographic separation. I can reassure parents that a time will come, in the not-too-distant future, when you will get all the love you deserve, but it may not be during the first year away from home.

Until they are clearly standing on their own feet, they are likely to be quite ambivalent about contact with parents. They will be happy, of course, to keep in touch and let parents know how they’re doing—though this may not be often enough for parents’ tastes.

Seventeen and 18-year-olds, living away from home for the first time, usually want to maintain just enough distance so they can remind themselves that they’re on their own. But some go to the other extreme. It’s not uncommon to see students walking around campus with cell phones to their ears and checking in with parents several times a day. Everything in moderation. Don’t hang up on them, but don’t allow cell phones to become satellite controlled umbilical cords either. Let them know you’re thrilled to hear from them, and certainly always leave communications open, but try to limit calls to one a day or fewer.

Many parents express sadness when they first visit campus. They have difficulty understanding why their children seem rude or embarrassed by their presence. They notice how friendly a roommate is toward them, but feel empty because their own pride and joy greets them unenthusiastically. (Of course, they never saw how chilly the roommate was to her parents.) Rather than feeling hurt, parents need to understand the ambivalence many college freshmen feel by seeing parents on their own new turf. They love their parents, but that love makes them question whether they’re really ready to be independent. These conflicting emotions create confusion and anxiety that comes out as rudeness. When they become confident that they can stand on their own, they will be more comfortable about giving parents the embracing welcome they deserve.

1. Young Adults

Fostering Healthy High Achievers

If we accept the premise that perfectionists worry they will not be fully accepted unless they are flawless, our job becomes clear. Unconditional acceptance is the antidote to perfectionism. The most essential ingredient in raising resilient children is an adult who loves or accepts them unconditionally and holds them to high expectation. High expectation is not about grades or performance. It’s about integrity, generosity, empathy, and the traits we need our children to have if they are to contribute to the world. Of course, it is also reasonable to expect children to put in a real effort to learn. We also want them to discover their talents, interests, and passions; if we nurture their passion—usually from a distance—they will be motivated to succeed.

Parents need to accept children for themselves, not compare them to siblings, neighbors, or the kid who won a full scholarship to Hotshot College. Such comparisons are toxic to children feeling comfortable about themselves. When you believe you should comment about how your children could do better, base your statements on the fact that they already have done better. Use an example of past successes to remind your children that they are already equipped with the talent, experience, and resources to address this new challenge.

Parents must be cheerleaders. We get excited when our kids “win,” but we have to learn to encourage and praise more effectively. The difference lies in what we get excited about. We tend to praise an outcome or accomplishment. “I am so proud of you for scoring that goal, getting a blue ribbon in the art show, or getting an A on your chemistry test.” The hidden message is “I wouldn’t be as proud if you hadn’t come home with the prize.” Instead we have to encourage the process and show our pride about the fact that they are playing the game of life with integrity, genuine effort and, yes, joy. “I love watching you paint—you seem to care so much about expressing yourself. You are practicing lacrosse a lot—you must love this game. It is good to see you so happy. I know you are struggling with your physics lab, but you sure are hanging in there and trying your best. I am so pleased that you can ask Mr. Hannigan for some extra help.”

One of the best things parents can do is to model for children that no one gets the prize every time. As you put in great effort at work, let your children know how you are trying a new strategy. And when you don’t succeed the first, second, or eighth time, model for them how you learned from each effort and keep plugging. You are not destroyed or worthless, you do not become paralyzed, you become energized! You take disappointment with grace and good humor. Your B+ at work is not a catastrophe. They will see that their B+ in Spanish isn’t either.

Kids’ self-acceptance is fostered when they trust they are competent. If they believe in their ability to manage their own problems, trust their own decision-making capability, and develop their own solutions, they needn’t catastrophize their mistakes. We nurture their competence by getting out of the way (by staying behind the line, as Dean Jones says), and by encouraging them to take control of their own lives. We want them to recognize that they each have a compass and can follow its direction.

1. Young Adults

Financial Planning for College

Planning Ahead Financially

Since 1960, the total cost of attending college in the United States has soared ninefold for public four-year colleges and twelvefold for private four-year institutions. But don’t rule out a school because it seems too expensive. Financial aid may bring the cost down into an affordable range. Almost half of all college students, from a wide range of economic backgrounds, receive monetary assistance in the form of grants and scholarships, loans and work-study programs. Every year, approximately $50 billion is available, three-fourths of it from the federal government. States contribute, too, as do colleges themselves, and various scholarship organizations and foundations. One of the main jobs of a college financial-aid administrator is to procure funding from these different sources and present eligible candidates with a financial-aid package.

When It’s Time to Apply to College

Fall, the season of change, is when high-school seniors typically begin mailing their college applications (certified, please; return receipt requested) or filing them via the Internet. Let’s say that your teen has decided to apply to six schools, an average number. Guidance counselors generally recommend picking one or two “reaches”—longshots, in other words—and including one or two sure bets. The rest of your child’s choices should be colleges where his qualifications seem comparable to those of the average undergrad at each one.

The first of the year is the usual filing deadline for September classes. (Colleges that operate on what’s called a rolling basis accept applications throughout the year.) Some students, however, elect to apply early, under an early decision plan or an early action plan. Approximately three hundred institutions offer one or both of these arrangements.

An early decision plan is binding, meaning that the candidate must commit to attending the school if accepted, provided that the financial-aid package offered is adequate. The decision is made quickly; submit your application by November, and you’ll receive word sometime in December.

Early action plans are not binding. Notification typically comes in January or February, still well in advance of the usual acceptance date.

Applying early wins applicants the most attractive financial-aid packages and first crack at choosing a dorm room. They also get to enjoy their last six months of high school knowing where they’ll be headed come September. However, this process is not recommended for everyone. If your teenager isn’t absolutely certain that he wants to attend a particular college, or if he wants to play free agent later in the spring and weigh offers of financial incentives from several schools, he should apply according to the standard schedule.