In July 2015, the Washington Post noted that there were about 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States.


It’s no wonder, then, that the first question about college that most parents have for me is, “How in the world do we help guide Johnny to know which colleges are right for him?”

It can seem overwhelming, but there is a way to start your son or daughter on the right track.  

Your teen should:

  1. Talk to the high school guidance counselor early on.

Start this as a sophomore or early in the junior year. Students who make these appointments without being beckoned make a good impression. An even better impression is made by students who meet with their counselors regularly and invite their parents along. With hundreds of kids to one counselor in many high schools, the students who make the extra effort get the best support.

  1. Use online tools to find potential college matches.

Check out an online search engine tool such as BigFuture. Your teen can plug in personal preferences and find out which colleges meet his or her personal criteria.

  1. Check out the book Fiske Guide to Colleges.

This one is a favorite of mine for learning about colleges on a more intimate level. It doesn’t have all U.S. schools in there (there are about 300 institutions listed) but it’s got a terrific selection. A couple of great features include the “Overlap” sections for each school which introduces students to colleges that are similar but maybe that they hadn’t heard of yet. It also includes direct comments from students with their impressions of each school.

  1. Talk to friends and family about their alma maters.

Your teen should take advantage of who they know (and who you know) to ask about the colleges that friends and family have graduated from – what they liked, didn’t like, what was memorable. And, most importantly, would their trusted friend recommend it?


Finding colleges that are a good fit is the first step in the planning process. How’s your college search going with your teen? Leave a comment below!


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