Making college decisions less stressful: Our tips for families

Making college decisions less stressful: Our tips for families

UNI international student with UNI parent

If your first child is in the process of deciding where to go to college, you know it’s an important decision. And whether you’ve gone to college yourself or your child will be a first-generation college student, you probably have a lot of questions. Here are some common concerns of parents with helpful tips to make the college decision a seamless, stress-free process.

Does it matter where you go to college?

While there are a lot of good options, finding a college that best fits your student’s individual interest and needs will create a lasting impact on their future. College will lead them into adulthood and set them up for the next chapter in their lives. It will help them grow, introduce them to lifelong friends and lead them to a fulfilling career. Because of this, it’s important to take the college search process seriously. Make sure your child is asking questions and thinking critically about if they can envision themselves at a certain college or university. Sometimes a certain campus will just feel right. Don’t let your teen ignore that feeling. Choosing to go to a college where they feel comfortable can set them up for long-term success. 

When should my teen commit to a school?

Without a clear deadline in mind, it can be tempting for your teen to put off their college decision. Don’t make this mistake. There are many next steps that come after a student accepts their offer of admission at a college, such as selecting housing and signing up for orientation, so once your student has all the information they need to make their decision, it's time to decide. National College Decision Day traditionally lands on the first day of May each year and is the deadline the majority of colleges follow for incoming college freshmen to select their school. After this date, most schools do not offer a refund on the acceptance fee that is paid upon accepting an offer of admission.

How can my teen pay for college?

Navigating the world of financial aid can be one of the more confusing aspects of figuring out where to go to college. There are four main types of financial aid, and your child may use a combination of all four to pay for college:

  • Scholarships are a form of financial aid that does not need to be paid back. They are most commonly awarded based on some type of merit (academic or otherwise) or financial need.
  • Grants typically don’t need to be paid back. They are based on a student’s financial need.
  • Work-study is a need-based form of financial aid. These programs provide financial assistance for tuition and other living expenses in exchange for on-campus work.
  • Loans are a type of financial aid that must be repaid. They may come from federal or private sources and accrue interest.

Schools will send your child a financial aid offer after they have filled out the FAFSA. This gives your student a full picture of what their cost of attendance will be. If your student is debating between schools, it might be worthwhile to sit down and compare financial aid offers and the true cost to attend each university. If you’d like to learn more in-depth information about your teen’s options for financial aid, check out this guide.

Will my child be safe in college?

Of course, as a parent, you worry about your child’s safety, especially when they’re away from home. Have an open conversation with your teen before move-in day about how they can make smart choices in college and stay as safe as possible. Encourage them to know what resources are available to them at college from the student health clinic to the counseling center. 

Nearly every college in America has its own campus police, which can offer you and your teen some added peace of mind. Campuses like the University of Northern Iowa offer safety escorts who are available 24 hours a day. If your teen is ever in a situation where they may be walking alone at night, this is a great option! 

UNI also utilizes the Rave Guardian app. This free app transforms your child’s cell phone into a personal safety device, allowing them to create a virtual safety network and immediately connect with UNI Police or other local authorities. 

How can my kid make friends at school?

Another concern for parents about to send their kids off to college is how their child will make new friends. Making friends at college definitely takes effort — but it’s worth it! One of the best ways to make friends is to get involved with on-campus groups. If the college your teen is attending has a student organization fair, make sure they attend. There’s likely a group that matches your teen’s interests. UNI has over 200 student clubs and organizations. From intramurals to academic groups and so much more, there's something for everyone. Browse the Office of Student Involvement’s website to find ways to get involved.

Working on campus is another great way to make friends and make some extra money. Simply asking classmates to get together to study can also lead to lifelong friendships. The key is choosing to say “yes.” 

No matter how your teen chooses to go about making friends, it’s important to do it early. This will ease the transition and give them more enjoyment at college.

Encourage your teen to decide on a college

Hopefully, with this knowledge, you feel more confident about your child’s college decision. Those four years will go by before you know it and they will graduate with wonderful, memorable experiences. While it’s normal to feel some nerves as a parent, you should be excited too! 

When your teen knows you’ll respect and support their decision no matter what, they can feel even more confident in their decision. If your teen is still weighing their options, make sure they check out our Why UNI page to find out just a few of the amazing reasons to attend the University of Northern Iowa. And if your teen has already applied, encourage them to accept their offer soon. We're happy to answer any questions that may help your family make a college decision or address any concerns. Contact your counselor or our general office at 319-273-2281 or