The quest for the perfect fit: navigating the college search with your teen

The quest for the perfect fit: navigating the college search with your teen

Students touring UNI

What makes the perfect college? If you’re going through the college search process with your teen, you may find yourself asking that question. While your teen’s interests, career goals and budget will determine the right fit, there are some things every parent can do with their teen to help them make the college choice that’s right for them.

Start the college search ASAP

First and foremost, don’t make the mistake of procrastinating when it comes to the college selection process. Ideally, you should start having conversations with your teen about college when they are a freshman in high school. Not only does this make the decision seem less daunting during senior year, but it also helps your teen to be future-minded. For instance, when you’ve already had discussions about the cost of college early on, this should equip your teen to understand the importance of keeping their grades up for scholarship purposes. In addition, the more competitive a school is, the greater the commitment your student will need to be accepted at their dream school.

Discuss finances early and openly

One of the more complicated aspects of making the college decision is determining how to pay for it. Every student has a unique situation. Some parents may not be able to assist with college at all, while others may cover most or even all of their child’s college expenses. It’s important to have an honest conversation with your teen early on about how much you are able to help them pay for college, if at all. 

You can expect to receive a financial aid offer from schools where your child has been accepted. This piece will break down your options in terms of scholarships, loans, grants and work-study programs. Compare what your teen receives from each institution to determine where they can get the best price and value attending college. This doesn’t necessarily mean cheapest is best, but it’s an important factor in your decision.

Luckily, if your teen is considering the University of Northern Iowa, talking about finances may come a little more easily since UNI is the most affordable public university in Iowa. UNI students enjoy lower student debt compared to their state and national peers, and more than one-third of undergraduate students finish their studies without debt..

Use online college finder tools

Before you start visiting college campuses, there are a wealth of college finder tools available online to aid you in your college search. These are a great way to narrow down college choices because they aren’t as time-consuming as visiting in person.

  • Appily has a variety of tools including personalized college suggestions, virtual tours, a college major quiz and an extensive scholarship database. Appily also offers a unique reverse admissions process where students make a profile on the site and then schools compete for the student’s attendance. 
  • College Board Big Future is a site that offers quizzes on careers, colleges and scholarships. In addition to student resources, the site also features helpful tips for parents. 
  • College Raptor allows you to easily compare colleges with tools like College Match and a financial aid offer comparison. There are also a number of beneficial tools to help you determine how to pay for college such as a student loan calculator and a tool that creates a college savings plan.

Using any or all of these tools will help you find colleges that fit your teen’s unique preferences and your family’s budget.

Visit campuses together 

Being able to research colleges online and use college finders is fantastic, but it can only take you so far. You have to actually get out there and tour college campuses. Sometimes, you may need to visit more than once to get the full picture of the college experience. In addition to touring, visits give you the opportunity to meet with faculty members or advisors in your teen’s major of interest. It will be so much easier for your child to visualize themselves at a college if they can actually go there, engage with staff, eat in the dining center and walk around campus.

Visiting campuses will also help you feel more at ease as a parent sending your teen to college. This is exactly what happened for Tracy Stepanek, the parent of a UNI student. "The campus visit to UNI with my daughter was the best for us,” she said. “From the ‘Welcome to Campus’ to the tour with current students and finishing with a personal meeting with an advisor, everything was so helpful. At the end of the visit, I was comfortable, as a parent, to let my daughter start her next journey at UNI to become a teacher."

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to make the most of your campus visits, check out this article on exploring colleges with your teen.

Use admissions counselors as a resource

Make sure to take advantage of the knowledge of admissions counselors. At the University of Northern Iowa, admissions counselors are your dedicated resource on all things UNI. They can answer questions about scholarships, financial aid, majors and UNI in general. You can even schedule a virtual meeting with admissions counselors so your child can connect with them from the comfort of your own home.

Look into long-term career outcomes

It’s easy to get swept up in all the different aspects of the college experience like the student organizations and the residence halls. Although these are important, it’s especially important to look into the long-term return of your child getting a degree from a particular school. Research the career outcomes of schools as you find colleges your teen is interested in. This will help you understand the reputation of certain schools and the credibility of their degrees.

At the University of Northern Iowa, students can expect a strong return on their investment in their college education. The mean starting salary for a UNI graduate in 2022 was almost $53,000, and UNI alumni with a bachelor’s degree experience an average increase in earnings of $22,700 annually compared to Iowans with a high school degree alone. UNI graduates are in demand, with 97% reporting starting a new job, continuing education or meeting their professional expectations within six months of graduation.

End the comparison game

If you have a lot of friends sending teens off to school, it can be tempting to compare, such as what schools each person is interested in, their career goals and what schools they’ve been admitted to. Try not to give too much thought to what other students are doing and remember that your child has their own unique path to chart. The best thing you can do is offer support to your teen. 

Search for colleges the smart way!

Armed with these suggestions, you and your teen will be prepared to have a productive college search. It’s time to go find colleges that meet your needs! 

If your teen is looking for an affordable school where they can get a world-class education and make meaningful connections with professors, make sure the University of Northern Iowa is on their list. You can start the process by booking a Panther Visit Day or Daily Visit today. We can’t wait to meet you and your teen!

Real, relevant academic excellence for a world that expects future-ready graduates.

  • 94% of UNI grads find success within six months of graduation.
  • UNI graduates more teachers than any other university in Iowa.
  • UNI graduates more CPAs than anywhere in Iowa.
  • UNI is ranked a top regional public university by U.S. News & World Report.
Program of Interest:*
Currently we do not offer any on-campus doctoral degrees. Please see our online options.

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