Helping Your Kid Choose a College: A PARENTS GUIDE

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1 Page1 Helping Your Kid Choose a College: A PARENTS GUIDE A Human Workplace E-Book By Liz Ryan CEO & Founder, Human Workplace

2 Page2 Helping Your Kid Choose a College: A Parents Guide I wrote this E-Book because when I was a kid, thirty years ago, I had no idea how to begin to pick a college to go to. It seemed that the prevailing mindset in my town (a suburb in northern New Jersey) at that time was Go to the most competitive college you can get into. For the most part, my friends and their parents didn t look any more deeply at the college-choice issue than that. So my personal experience with choosing a school was one of the influences on the creation of this E-Book, and there are two more. My oldest children (twins) graduated from high school in 2011, and were faced with the college-choice decision a year or so ahead of graduation. The school made all sorts of wonderful exercises available to them, both sorting mechanisms that tell kids and parents about school sizes, majors, and other datapoints, and also tools like Naviance, that tell users how easy or difficult it is likely to be to get into a given college, based on the experiences of other kids with similar grades and test scores who live in the same geographic area as the site user. Here s the problem with those sites: they stick to data. They sail right over these burning questions: What do I WANT in a college? Why am I going to college, in the first place? What do I hope to get out of my college experience? What do I want or need in a school apart from an understanding of its competitiveness and its top majors? That s Why I Wrote this E-Book Now you can see why I wrote this E-Book. I wrote it as a guide for parents and their collegebound children to use as a starting point for a conversation, or a series of conversations, about what the child and his or her parents want from a college experience, and how to zero in on schools that will offer the benefits and the experience the kid and his or her parents are shooting for.

3 Page3 In this E-Book there are three exercises that I hope will spark some lively conversations in your household as you begin to think about the right college for your child (or yourself, if you re the kid who s in a college-picking mode). Three Exercises to Spark Conversations about College In this E-Book we share three exercises for beginning a conversation about college and its place in a kid s life. With this E-Book (as with all Human Workplace E-Books: we have gazillions of them, on all different topics related to careers, job search, life on the job, leadership, personal branding and work/life topics) I hope to get parents and kids to take a higher-altitude view of the question What s the best college for me? I hope to encourage the folks who read this E-Book to think more deeply than many collegepicking families do about these five critical issues. (In the list below, the term participants means anyone involved in the college-choice decision, including the college-bound kid, Mom and Dad, and perhaps other people): Five Critical College-Choice Questions What are each participants. views on the role of college in a person s life? beliefs about what makes a particular college a good choice for a child? values around the importance of academic achievement, social environment, experimentation (e.g., college as a place to try new things) and status, prestige or brand name in the college-choice decision? views on the financial aspect of college?, and Where are the overlaps and gaps between the views of each participant in the mix? When you use the three exercises in this E-Book to start a conversation about these important issues, I hope you ll gain some insight that will not only help your family make a better-for-your-

4 Page4 child college decision, but also open a channel for communication in your family that will serve you for many conversations in the future. We would love to hear about your experience with this E-Book and our three college-choice exercises! Exercise Number One: the College Missionometer The exercise above is the Human Workplace COLLEGE MISSIONOMETER. (It is pronounced Mission-awmeter). This is an exercise that allows a kid and his or her parents to separately and then collectively think about and talk about what they believe the mission of college is, in this particular child s life. To use this exercise, first make as many copies of the Missionometer drawing as there are people who are going to be participating in the conversation. If the child, Mom and Dad are the three people in the conversation, then make three copies of the Missionometer and give a copy to each person. On the left side of the Missionometer exercise is the Practical Side. Many people believe that college is a practical solution to the problem A kid without training can t get a job. If your belief is close to that viewpoint, then you ll make a mark on the Missionometer exercise over on the left-hand side of the graphic. On the right side of the Missionometer is the Passion side.

5 Page5 If you believe that college is primarily a place for a kid to discover and explore his or her passion, then make a check mark on the right hand side of your copy of the Missionometer. If you fall somewhere in the middle, then make a check mark in the middle of the Missionometer. The Middle View Many people fall in the middle of the Missionometer when they think about their views on the mission of college. For instance, a parent may have the view I want you to do what you love in college, but there has to be SOME career potential in whatever you choose to study. That is the position on the Missionometer one place to the left of the right-most position, Figure out what you love. One more place to the left is the position Choose the most marketable of the things you like to do. This position has a bit more practical bent than the viewpoint we talked about in the last paragraph. Instead of saying Do what you love, dear just make sure there s some chance of turning it into a paying job this position says Of all the things you like to do or are interested in, use your college time and cost investment to focus on the most marketable of those choices. MISSIONOMETER EXAMPLE A college-bound child might be interested in three things: math, visual art and design, and geography. In the Passion position on the right edge of the Missionometer, a parent s or child s view would be The thing to do is to go to college, take classes in all those things, and follow your heart. You ll get a job in something-or-other when you graduate, but it s more important that you learn about yourself, what you love and what you feel called to do. In the next-to-right-most position on the Missionometer, a parent s or child s view would be Pick any one of those those three favorite areas of study to focus on in college, or mix them together in a double major somehow. Just make sure there s something in the mix that could lead to a paying position after graduation. In the more practical position, one place to the right of 100% practical, the viewpoint is If you like math, visual art and design, and geography, let s find out which of those things is the most marketable and you can major in that. In the 100% Practical position all the way to the left on the Missionometer, a parent s view might be I m not sure there are great jobs in math, geography or visual art and design. You can take those things as electives. Let s pick a school and a major for you based on what you can get hired doing right away after college.

6 Page6 Talking about the Missionometer When everyone in the conversation has found his or her spot on the Missionometer, the spot that best represents his or her point of view, then get everyone back together (that might be Mom, Child and Dad) and talk about what you learned as you completed this exercise. Where do your views overlap, and where are there gaps between your views? How will you reconcile those differing viewpoints to help your child (or yourself) make a good college decision, meaning one that will take into account how each of you feel about the mission of college? As you talk about the Missionometer exercise, consider these questions: What did we learn as we completed the Missionometer exercise? How will the things we learned talking about the Missionometer inform this child s college decision? Have our viewpoints about the mission of college shifted as we considered and then talked about the Missionometer? Exercise Number Two: the College Cultureometer

7 Page7 How to use the College Cultureometer Here is another exercise to look at and consider independently, and then use to spark a group discussion about where each member of the college decision committee falls in his or her viewpoints about the importance of intellectual rigor vs. a supportive culture at college. Intellectual rigor means a challenging academic environment. Lots of people believe that the most important element in a college is how hard it is to get into and how hard it is to graduate. Other people believe that it is more important to find a college that has a nurturing environment where a kid will make great friends and feel supported. Lots of people fall somewhere in the middle. To use the College Cultureometer (pronounced College Culture-awmeter) make as many copies of the Cultureometer drawing as you have people in the decision-making team. Give each person a copy and ask him or her to look at it and think about it independently. Ask each person to make a check mark near the place on the dial that matches his or her views about college culture the most closely. College Cultureometer Example The far left side of the College Cultureometer is marked EMOTIONAL. The person who checks this area of the Cultureometer believes that the best school for a particular kid has the most nurturing environment. This person may feel that it is a big transition to leave home and go to college, so asking a kid to jump into a tough and possibly competitive academic environment at the same time is not a good idea. A person who checks the section of the Cultureometer one place to the right of the far left may believe that a high level of emotional support is very important at college, and also believe that there should be academic challenges for the child. A person who checks the section of the Cultureometer one to the left of the far-right position may believe that college is a place to push yourself to excel academically, but not to the exclusion of all emotional and social nourishment. A person who checks the section of the Cultureometer on the far right hand side of the drawing may believe that it s most important to achieve academically at college, and that emotional nurturing is not a factor or an item to emphasize in the choice of college for this particular child.

8 Page8 Talking about the Cultureometer Once each of you in the college decision-making conversation has had a chance to consider the Cultureometer and make a mark on it to show where your own viewpoint lies, get back together and talk about what each of you discovered about your views on intellectual demands vs. social/emotional support as you make the college-choice decision for this particular child. What did you learn talking about your Cultureometer results? Our feelings about college (just like many of our strongly-held but seldom-examined beliefs about many things, from money to parenting to health and on and on) often come from our childhoods, from our parents and other influences we may not even be aware of. We may have strongly-held beliefs that we don t question, because we believe That s just the way it is. For instance, a person who believes that college is primarily a place to get career education may say about his belief, Well, heck, everybody knows that. The belief is very strong, but the person who holds that belief may never have expressed it before, thinking that it isn t a belief at all it s just the way things work. We call these strongly-held but unexamined beliefs and mental models frames. It is important to talk about frames, because if we don t talk about them and examine them, we won t even know they re there! We may think Shoot, everyone with any sense knows that [fill in the blank here]. That is why it s good at a time when important decisions are being made (like the decision about where a child should go to college) that we bring up our beliefs and air them. Our last exercise, on the next page, deals with our views on college & money.

9 Page9 Exercise Number Three: The College & Money Values-ometer

10 Page10 How to use the College & Money Values-ometer The College & Money Values-ometer is an exercise that will help you understand what each member of the decision-making group feels about the cost of college in relation to the value of an education. College is expensive, and it is important to talk about what each person feels about the value of a college investment, if you want to incorporate all viewpoints in your decision. There are a huge number of choices to make in the college-picking decision, and the cost of college is often a large factor in the decision process. If you can determine that the decisionmaking team (often Mom, Dad and the child) agree on a particular position that is, a common point of view on the appropriate level of investment in a college education, that will make your choice of school much easier. You will have fewer colleges to consider, because you ll have zeroed in on the level of investment that feels right to you as you make choices about schools. To use the College & Money Values-ometer, make one copy of the College & Money Valuesometer for each person who is part of the college-choice conversation. Give each person a copy and ask him or her to make a check mark near the point on the spectrum where his or her own views lie. College & Money Values-ometer Example A person who checks the area near the left-hand side of the College & Money Values-ometer believes that incurring less college debt and/or getting a good value for money in a choice of college is very important in the college-choice decision. A person who checks the area to the far right of the College & Money Values-ometer believes that cost is less important in the collegechoice decision than getting a great education. (Having completed the two previous exercises, your decision-making team should have a good idea by now of what a good education means to you!) New information? I hope that completing these three exercises together with your Mom and Dad or your child has helped you get clearer about what each of you decision-makers values in the college experience, and also helped you identify places where you don t all see things the same way, so that you can talk about them some more as you move forward toward a college decision.

11 Page11 Our goal at Human Workplace is to improve communication about human issues, at work and at home, and I hope that these exercises have helped you understand and communicate some of your beliefs and values that don t always get air time in a conversation about college choices. We would love to hear about your experiences with this E-Book. Please write to us at and share your thoughts with us! What s Next? Once your child starts college, he or she will be learning an amazing amount about the grownup world, about him- or herself and about navigating new situations. At Human Workplace we teach life and career skills to people of all ages who want to get altitude on their lives and careers. Once your child has adjusted to college life, write to us (or ask your child to do that) and ask us for the E-Books Slipping Through Keyholes and Building Your Career Mojo During College. Both of these E-Books talk about the intersection of passion, personal branding, and networking. Slipping Through Keyholes teaches young (and older) people how to create and cultivate their networks, even when they aren t job-hunting. Building Your Career Mojo During College teaches college kids how to begin thinking about career paths and taking steps to prepare themselves for careers in many ways. Good luck to you (if you re heading off to college) or your child (if you re a proud parent) in college! We hope your experience is magnificent, and we predict it will be. About Human Workplace Human Workplace is a think tank, online community and consulting firm whose mission is to bring a human voice and human energy to work and career education. We work with universities, employers, government agencies, not-for-profit agencies and individuals on their strategy, branding and culture. Our perspective is a human perspective. Join Human Workplace for free at Follow us on LIKE our Facebook page: Reach us: (303)

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