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Wake-Up Call for Parents: College Process May Differ for Kids

If you think you know all about the college-preparation-testing-search-financing process, just because you've been there, think again. The landscape has changed. For many, the process of preparing and applying for college is more complicated than a generation ago. Also, it could be that you are raising your child in a different part of the country or your money situation is tighter or more plentiful, depending.

We parents tend to think of ourselves as experts when it comes to education because we've all been students after all, right? Not really. It's fluid, and we need to adapt.

My college-application experience growing up in Iowa will likely be very different from that of my kids in suburban Maryland. In the early '80s, I took the ACT one Saturday morning totally clueless. A test-prep class? No way. I don't even know if one existed. I vaguely remember getting my score, but let's just say I didn't lose any sleep over it. Only state universities were on my radar. I visited one campus and loved it. Tuition was affordable, and my parents were able to foot the bill, no problem.

Today, high school students might take both the ACT and SAT. As for getting ready, test- prep companies market heavily on the phone, e-mail, and through schools. Where I live, it seems more common to take an SAT prep class than not. I'm eager to look into the value of these courses in boosting kids scores ... more on that in a later blog.

Also, the world is smaller for our kids. Many are mobile and look past their state borders for college. Some want to visit a smorgasbord of campuses before deciding what fits their taste. (Goodbye summer vacation and spring break.) How much can you really find out about a campus is a one-day visit? I'd like to explore how to make the most out of a college tour.

As for tuition, freshmen this academic year paid seven to eight times as much in college tuition and fees as students entering in 1980, according to the College Board This puts a strain on families and means that more are graduating with debt.

For many, all this change can make the process more stressful. And if you are a low-income or struggling student, add another layer of anxiety. The jobs of the future will require a college degree, yet it can be tough to scrape together loans and get the academic support you need to make it through college.

I'm interested in your thoughts about letting your kids lead this process, parents taking charge, or finding a balance. Is pressure inevitable in this process or can the schools and parents work together to ease the transition from high school to college? I'm eager to hear what's working for you and sharing what I hear.

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