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What should you do
if your child is clueless about college?

My child is clueless about what he wants to do when he grows up. I can’t afford for him to explore different majors in college the way I did 30 years ago. What can I do to help him discover his career path so he can graduate in 4 years instead of 5 or 6?

Is your child clueless about college options?

Even though there are over 4000 colleges in the United States, most students only know the big-name universities and local colleges. Students often choose colleges because they’ve heard about them from friends or family members. Others consider the campus esthetics, the quality of the athletic department, and the distance to beaches and mountains without considering the school’s academic programs and reputation. Students often make uninformed choices or just end up choosing colleges for the wrong reasons. One senior found that UCSB didn’t offer her major – international business marketing – after she had already accepted the admissions offer and sent the University her deposit! Make sure the colleges your child applies to fit her or his needs.

Does my child need to choose a major before entering college?

Back in the old days, students used to enter college clueless about career options and majors. They used to take interesting classes and explore options before choosing their majors. Many students would change majors a few times before their junior year. Sadly, this practice has become a luxury that most American families can’t afford anymore. The college scene has changed. Some colleges require students to declare their majors when they apply. Others are so impacted that they won’t allow students to take courses outside of their majors.

According to, in the 1999-2000 school year 59 percent of college undergraduates reported attending more than one college institution and only 40 percent of students actually graduated in 4 years. This goes to show that students aren’t as informed as they should be about the colleges they are considering. If they would take the time to research colleges and majors of interest, they would be more likely to graduate on time. If a student matriculated to, say, Santa Clara University’s School of Business, but then decided to study architecture instead, the student would then have to reapply to a different college that offers an architecture program and could end up losing a year or two of study in the process. Additionally, many 4-year institutions give priority to community college junior transfers before considering CSU, UC, or private college transfers.

That said, most juniors and seniors in high school don’t really know their career options. They are usually aware of careers that they have been exposed to by their families, their circle of friends, and on television. To enlighten college-bound students, Merit offers comprehensive career testing and counsels students as they explore different jobs and professions. By discussing each student’s personal learning style, unique personality, desired income, and preferred learning environment, the student begins to narrow down college options and hone in on possible career paths.

How do you select the best-fit college for your child?

Not all students will thrive at Stanford or Harvard; as a matter of fact, most students would flounder at these selective colleges. Parents often pressure their children to attend their alma mater. Students often select colleges that their friends are applying to. While discussing college options with friends and family can open doors, make sure your child is choosing colleges for the right reasons. The “best fit” colleges are those that offer your child’s top majors, favorite sports and clubs, ideal locations, great campus life, and a reasonable budget.

If you’re like most families, you and your child may be feeling overwhelmed by the piles of information sheets, brochures, and applications that are arriving in the mail. Meet with Merit’s College Advisors to create your child’s College Worksheet. By selecting colleges that offer all of your child’s top majors along with other important factors, your child will be able to rank each college and narrow down the list. Merit’s College Worksheets include vital information about GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, deadlines, selectivity, essay topics, letters of recommendation, interviews, and more. Completing a custom College Worksheet will allow your child to make smart, informed choices when selecting colleges.

Tips on visiting colleges

Even though virtual college tours provide an innovative way to see the campus grounds, there’s nothing like walking around the college, sitting in on classes, and mingling with other students to get a real feel for each campus. Check online to see how tours are coordinated at your top 7 colleges. Some schools have online tour reservation forms, others require phone reservations, and many don’t even take reservations. Ideally, it’s best to tour one college per day. Set up a morning tour and information session (allow two to three hours). Typically the tour will be led by a college student and an information session led by an admissions officer will follow.

Don’t be shy! Stay at the head of the walking tour so you can ask the student guide questions. Ask about how difficult it is to register for general education and major courses. Prompt the guide to discuss his or her major and ask about the exciting debates or events occurring within his or her field of study. If the guide doesn’t take you through the dorms, visit them after the tour. Ask students as they enter the building if you can take a peek at their rooms. Most college students are happy to oblige. You may also want to visit the bathrooms and laundry facilities.

In the information session, ask questions about tuition, acceptance policies, etc. This is a good opportunity to learn more about admissions considerations and financial aid. Ask about the programs your child is interested in.

After the tour, sit in on a class. You can determine which classes will be in session by going checking the school’s website. Click on “Schedule of Classes.” Choose a general education class or a class in your child’s area of interest. Most professors don’t mind having guests sit in on their classes. You can email the professor ahead of time to get permission or you can walk in with the rest of the class. When sitting in on classes, arrive a few minutes before class starts so you can walk in and be seated in the rear of the room without disturbing anyone. Always stay for the entire class; don’t walk out during a lecture because it is disruptive to the class.

While on campus, eat at the dining halls. Most colleges have a smorgasbord of offerings and each college offers different types and qualities of food. Some colleges have plans that allow students to use flex dollars to buy items at their on-campus stores; other colleges, have fast food restaurants on campus. Your child can also mingle with college students during the lunch hour.

Before you leave the campus, visit the sports facilities, libraries, and other departments of interest. If your child is considering a major in biology, walk through the biology buildings and read the bulletin boards at the department offices. This will give you insight about programs offered through the department. By visiting the major departments at your child’s top seven colleges, you’ll get a better sense for each college.

What if my child can’t decide on a major?

With hundreds of career options available to all college-bound students, it’s difficult to know which profession is best suited for each teen. The most reliable way to check out career options is to do internships. By having the opportunity to work with professionals while they conduct their daily routines, the student interns get to see what it’s really like to work in that particular field. Unlike job shadowing where a student follows a mentor around for the day, interns get to see much more. They will be exposed to the good and the bad.

Merit offers students individualized internships that last 12 weeks. Students work with professionals for 3-4 hours per week over a three-month period. This gives them time to work with several people in the office, sit in on meetings, discuss the career, and interview their mentor. When students intern in all of the fields they are interested in, they usually narrow down their choices before heading off to college. This gives students the opportunity to make educated decisions that will enable them to attend the best-fit colleges.



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