The run-up to your child finishing high school and heading off to college can feel momentous for both of you, and you probably want to do everything you can to help them prepare for this big change in their life. However, there are certain approaches that are more helpful than others.
Your kid probably needs and will welcome your help in sorting out all the financial issues around attending college, whether you're contributing any money yourself. This starts with filling out the FAFSA, the form that determines their eligibility for federal aid. You can also help them search for scholarships. Most students end up needing to supplement sources of funding with private student loans. The obstacle they often run into is that they haven't established a credit history themselves. You can cosign on these loans, meaning that you guarantee them. However, maybe you don't currently have the best credit either or have other concerns. You can review a guide that explains more about cosigning that will help you decide.
Selecting a School
Your teen might have had a dream school in mind for years, or they might not have any idea of where they want to go. In either of these situations, you can help. In the first, you can suggest that they look to alternatives. This can be a good idea so that they have a backup plan and in case there's actually a place better suited to them that they haven't considered. You can also point out criteria that they may not have considered, from what is offered in the specific department that interests them to things like the size of the city or town where the school is and the campus culture. Ideally, you'll be able to go with them to visit the campuses that they're interested in, but this may not always be possible. However, you may be able to do some research online and perhaps even conduct a virtual tour to get a better sense of things.
Applying for multiple colleges, scholarships and financial aid can be overwhelming. It's also a good experience for your kid to manage some of this on their own. You shouldn't be completing the applications for them, but they may need some help in organizing and keeping track of deadlines and requirements. You can put together a spreadsheet or use another tool to help you stay on top of this. You can also talk to your child about conventions for getting any necessary letters of recommendation. They shouldn't ask someone for these letters at the last minute; they should give them at least two weeks' notice, and more if possible.
Your Own College Experience
You had such a great time when you were in college. You did this and that and this other thing. Your teen doesn't want to hear it. If you don't understand why, think about whether you've ever planned a vacation or another interesting endeavor and a friend, colleague or coworker insisted on giving you every detail of their own experience doing the same thing. It probably felt a little bit like they were taking it away from you and preventing you from having your own experience and reactions. They probably meant well, as you do, but it can feel smothering, especially when it's coming from your parents and you're trying to strike out on your own. It can also feel as though you're comparing yourself to them just as they're struggling to establish their own identity. It's not that you can never talk about your own college days but keep it low key.