How to Help Your Child Choose the Right University or College

Going off to university or college is one of the most exciting times in a young person’s life. It is the climax of so many rom-coms and high school dramas for a very good reason; this is the moment where teenagers take their first great steps towards becoming adults.

Even before applications to schools start going out, there is a lot of work to be done simply to determine which schools and programs best meet your child’s needs and goals. Picking the right school is often an extremely complex process involving research, talking to the right people, and budgeting for expenses such as tuition, accommodation, commuting, and food.

Though this can be a stressful time for your child, it is also an excellent opportunity for you as a parent to step into an uber-supportive role and help them through this process in a productive way. This is especially true in a post-COVID-19 world, where a great deal of uncertainty still surrounds what the future will hold for many young individuals’ academic experiences. Being there to help your child navigate the new pandemic-spurred complexities of choosing a school is important.

Here are a few useful tips on how you can help your child choose the right university or college:


Your child is probably completely overwhelmed by everything that picking a college or university involves. This is the biggest decision they have ever made and knowing how to work through it in an informed, organized way, as well as what questions to ask, may not come naturally to them.

As the parent, you can help your child by advising them on what things to research when looking at different colleges and universities. Suggest using spreadsheets and note-taking systems to record information like tuition costs or programs of interest in ways that will be easy to reference later. It is also helpful to ask questions about the location of the campus, what first year housing is like and most importantly, whether the school has programs that cater to your child’s interests.

For example, one university may have a science program that your child is interested in, but its campus may lack the excitement of another university with a downtown location. Helping them to decide what is important to their student experience and where compromises are acceptable will aid them in narrowing down their choices.

It is important that throughout this process you do not tell your child what they should be prioritizing but rather help them to identify the things that they value.

Look for virtual events and resources

COVID-19 has changed the game for how prospective students explore colleges and universities. While nothing quite captures the magic of visiting a campus in person, schools are quickly adapting to the limitations of safe travel and accommodation by programming a slew of virtual events. These offer people plenty of opportunities to connect with other prospective students and get to know what a school has to offer.

While it is still worthwhile to try and visit campuses to get a real sense of what student life is like, virtual events make it easier to explore more options without having to spend money and time on flights, accommodations, or long drives.

Compare student safety information

Even though COVID restrictions are gradually easing, the student experience has fundamentally changed as a result of the pandemic. As mandated by the government, all colleges and universities are expected to have a COVID safety plan in place for staff and students, however, not all plans are equal.

It is important when considering schools for you and your child to review each institution’s safety plan and how it has been received by people in attendance. Look for articles published in local and student papers and do your own research to establish whether you and your child are satisfied with the measures put in place. This will help give both of you peace of mind knowing the institution your child chooses is a responsible one that prioritizes student safety.

Run the numbers

There are no two ways about it; school is expensive. We may be lucky in Canada to have low tuition relative to the United States, but even so, going to college or university is no small financial consideration. Even after tuition payments, there are always the added costs of textbooks, housing, commuter fees, and food to factor in.

This can be an excellent opportunity to educate your child on financial responsibilities by having them put together a budget based on estimated expenses and doing research into financial aid. The Canadian Government offers their provincial and federal loan programs and your child’s prospective school will likely have its own scholarships, which can help to reduce the costs associated with enrolling for higher education in a college or university.

Know when to step back

Going to a post-secondary school is all about your child leaving home to take their first steps towards adulthood. It is about them learning how to be independent from their parents, making challenging decisions on their own and then embracing what those decisions lead to. This is also a huge adjustment period for parents who might not be used to life without their kids around everyday. That dreaded “empty-nester” feeling can actually be as bad as it is made out to be!

One of the most important things you as a parent can do is know when to be there to support your child and then when to step back and let them figure things out themselves. Giving your child the space to work through things like deciding which school or program they want to apply to will make the results of those decisions all the more fulfilling.

Choosing a university or college can be stressful but it does not have to be. By following these steps and helping your child to navigate the complexities of researching schools and completing applications, this can be an opportunity for immense growth and development.

The odds are you and your child will only get this one opportunity to apply to schools (unless they go on to a master’s degree), so, make the most of it! School is an exciting time and there is so much to look forward to. Bringing positivity and encouragement to the discussion rather than stress and pressure, can set the tone for your child’s overall experience at university or college. It also helps them to cultivate better coping strategies for stress which will serve them extremely well come examination time at the end of each semester.