Guest Post: Laura Burkhart, MD

“There are two gifts we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings.”

As summer winds to an end, one of the most exciting times for a teen is figuring out what they are going to do after high school graduation. The last year in high school can be filled with both anticipation and anxiety, and as a parent it can be a difficult task to help them navigate the momentous next steps along a path filled with opportunity. College might not be right for all, but if you and your teen think it might be a good fit, you should know about all the options out there. First of all, take a deep breath…you and your teen will get through this! Here are a few tips to help you get started and make the big unknown of the college universe a little clearer.

There are more options now then the traditional 4 year college, and each one can have unique differences to help everyone obtain an education no matter their life situation or learning style.

University: Generally, universities are larger and more independent than colleges. They are more likely to offer graduate and postgraduate degrees (Masters Degrees, PhDs) as well as a broader range of courses.

College: A college usually only offers undergraduate degrees. In general, a college may stand alone or make up a part of the university. There may be several colleges as a part of one university, which sometimes have their own admissions tract and operate separately.

Community (Junior) College: A community college refers to a two-year school that offers certificates, associate’s degrees, and beginning courses of an undergraduate’s degree, which can be transferred and continued at a full, four-year college or university. This option is becoming increasingly more common as a way to pass pre-requisite classes before moving into actual degree program at a 4 year institute.

If getting started finding the right place is the first big hurdle you face, fear not! There are many resources that can help. One place to start is the U.S News Best Colleges ranking which offers parents and future students a ranking list that includes national universities, liberal arts colleges as well as regional college rankings and Best Value options. Here’s a link to get you started:

Many parents go through the struggle of helping their teen make the transition to college and becoming an adult, while still offering the parental guidance needed. There are many books and online resources for this as well (Trust me, you are not alone!). The book “Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years” by Helen E. Johnson is one of many that can offer some guidance.

Deciding which option might fit your teen best is a personal decision, and starting at one institution does not lock you in for the entirety of the degree. This is vital to keep in mind as your teen explores what their interests are, with the expectation that it can change as they do. Good luck and remember to enjoy this time with teen as a great bonding experience!