CollegeChoiceAs a parent, you have to help your child make several decisions over his or her lifetime. At first these decisions are easy. You help them choose a Halloween costume. You help them pick out a gift for their teacher. You stand beside them as they decide to cut off all of their hair in a fit of self-expression.

Then gradually they get a little more difficult. You help them choose a first job. Pick out a smartphone then finally, one day you’re helping them select a college.

As you sift through brochures and applications, your mind begins to race as you consider just how important this decision is. Essentially, this will be where your child spends the better part of the next four years. This is where they will make the friends they will keep for a lifetime, and where they could potentially meet the love of their life.

Before you start freaking out and retreating from this milestone, take a minute and soak in what is happening. You’ve gotten your child this far, so you have to have SOME idea of what you’re doing. So, as you browse schools and campuses keep a few things in mind. The tips below will help make this a smooth, seamless process for both you and your college-bound kid.

Don’t Impose Your Dreams

Maybe you’ve always envisioned you son or daughter doing you proud in an elite Ivy League school on the East Coast, but their heart keeps pulling them West. Let that happen. As long as it’s for legitimate reasons and not just to chase some significant other they may or may not stay with through the end of the month, support your child’s dream.

Just because they don’t want to pursue the path you thought might be best, doesn’t mean they aren’t making a good choice. To help allay your fears and apprehensions, have them explain exactly why they want to attend the school they have in mind.  Have them elaborate on specific programs or classes that caught their eye. This will help you realize your child is using smart judgment, has thought this through and is not merely acting on spontaneous whims.

Visit The Campuses With Them

Although they might not let on about it, your child is likely feeling a bit nervous about being away from home for the first time—especially if it is miles away from where they grew up. Making the move in the fall will be hard enough, so don’t make them go on campus visits alone. They may act annoyed that you want to tag along, but once you’re there I promise they’ll appreciate every minute of it, especially when they start to notice the kids who aren’t as lucky to have their parents there.

Not only will you be able to keep them company and ask questions they might not think to ask, you will also be able to gain a bit of familiarity with the place they might be spending the next 4-6 years. This will make those long nights you’re up worrying a bit easier because you’ll have SOME idea of where they are, even if you can’t be there in five minutes.

Be Realistic About Expenses

These days more than ever, the COST of college is an issue. It’s always been expensive, but with the current state of the economy it can be downright farfetched for some. If you and your spouse are worried about the expenses that are to come with sending your son or daughter to college, talk to them about that.

For the first time in their lives, bills and fees will be addressed to them and them alone. Sure, you might still be footing part of the bill, but they will be the ones held accountable if the money’s not in time. They will be the ones who are given the fee bills each semester, so they need to know what they’re working with.

This is especially important for them to know early on, so that they may apply for scholarships and aid where possible. If there’s a program or school they are really interested in, but it seems a bit pricey, discuss alternatives and options with them like school loans, so that they can make informed, educated decisions about their future.

Overall, when you’re helping your child choose a college, just BE SUPPORTIVE. Continue being the involved, concerned parent you’ve been up until this point, but learn to loosen the reigns a bit. Don’t freak out when they set out to make decisions on their own. Let them do it, but be there, waiting in the wings, if they need you. While it is their future, and ultimately their choice, but your input can make a world of difference.

Contributor: Lenore Holditch