Helping your student through the college search process is an exciting—and busy—time!

And for good reason. There are thousands of higher education institutions in the nation. While each offers a potential place to earn a degree, your student has likely begun to narrow it down by location, major offerings, size and more.

But we’re willing to bet you’ve done some research as well!

Whether you’ve found yourself scrolling through college websites at 1 a.m. or have simply made it a point to be there for any questions your student may have, we know you want to support them in finding their perfect college fit.

That’s why we’ve put together a parent’s guide to the college search process. Check out six of the most common questions that parents have during this time.

Between home, family, and work responsibilities, you’ve got a lot on your plate as a parent of a high schooler! We’re sure the college search process can feel overwhelming at times.

If you’re wondering where to even start, we’ve got you covered with a roadmap to the college search process.

  1. Prioritize – Ask your student to rank in order of importance things like their desired major, location, cost, campus size and faith association. This will provide helpful parameters as they research colleges.
  2. Contact – Have your student connect with admissions counselors at schools they are considering to see if they could be a good fit.
  3. Visit – Coordinate college visits for your student to truly get a feel for different campuses. And, of course, parents are always encouraged to attend!
  4. Apply & Begin Financial Aid Process – Help your student locate any information they may need as they fill out college applications and start the financial aid process. Decide – Be there for your student as they process all the information and make their final choice. It’s a big, exciting decision!

College is a big investment—wherever your student ultimately decides to go. But it is one of the most valuable investments they can make in both their personal and professional life.

So, how much does it actually cost?

The answer varies, depending on each school’s tuition structure. But here’s the (really) good news. Most often, the “sticker price” you see listed on a college’s website is more than what you will actually pay out of pocket.

Your student will receive a financial aid package upon acceptance to a college, which will provide details on what they can expect to receive through federal aid, scholarships, grants and/or work-study programs!

Whether you’re accompanying your student on a college visit or chatting on the phone with an admissions counselor, asking questions is one of the best ways to get a basic understanding of a school. Here are some types of questions you may want to ask!


  • What makes your school unique?
  • What types of health and academic support resources are available?
  • What steps does the college take to keep students safe?


  • Who would be teaching my classes?
  • What is your average class size?
  • What study abroad opportunities are available?


  • Can you tell me about your admissions process?
  • What is the total cost of tuition? Room and board?
  • What type of scholarships/aid are available?

Campus Life

  • What is the school culture like?
  • What types of clubs and activities are there?
  • Can you tell me about the dorms?

Spiritual Life

  • What types of mission trip opportunities are there?
  • What are chapel services like?
  • How are students supported in their faith?

Career Readiness

  • What is your graduation rate?
  • What do your _______ majors do after graduating?
  • What is your career outcomes rate?

We know you—as a parent—want the very best for your student. And maybe you’re wondering what your role is throughout this exciting college search process.

Our best advice is to let your student be the “CEO” of their college search process, but be there for them when they need help or advice. In a sense, you can think of yourself as a key investor or personal assistant—there to help outline expectations and help the boss look good.

Here are a few great ways you could be involved:

  • Let your student know that you are there to offer support as needed.
  • Facilitate questions with your student about what they’re looking for in a college.
  • Be a second set of ears (and notetaker) during college visits.
  • Research options for financing the education.
  • Encourage your student to look into real facts about each college (graduation rates, student outcomes, academic programs, etc.)

Your student’s surroundings—such as their room—can play a big role in their college experience. Between studying, classes and extracurriculars, college life can get pretty busy. But having a room that feels like an extension of home can provide a peaceful place to recharge.

So how can you help your student create that space? Here are a few great items your student can consider packing!

  • Comfy chair
  • Cozy rug
  • Decorative pillows
  • Foam mattress topper
  • Full-length mirror
  • Lamps
  • Mini fridge
  • Photos of friends, family and pets
  • Removable wallpaper
  • Sentimental item(s)
  • String lights
  • Throw blanket
  • Under-bed storage containers or baskets

The college experience is going to be so exciting for your student—but it can also be stressful at times. To help your student navigate the first few weeks of college life, check out a few of the stressors they may experience:

  • Syllabus Shock – Students will receive all of their syllabi within the first week, which can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed by assignments and exams. Reassure your student that previous learners have succeeded in the same classes, and to simply take it one day at a time.
  • Time Management – Your student will begin learning to balance their schedule on their own, which may take some practice. Encourage your student to utilize planners and to-do lists to organize their time.
  • Homesickness – Missing family and friends from home is very common—especially when your student may feel like they don’t know anyone yet. In addition to offering love and support, remind them that everyone is in the same boat and looking for friends!  

Pro Tip

Encourage your student to download ZeeMee, a mobile app that connects students interested in the same colleges! Once your student has been admitted to IWU, they will have access to an official private chat community on ZeeMee where they can:

  • Meet other admitted students
  • Take the Roommate Match Quiz
  • See videos from current students
  • Join live virtual social events
A family walks outdoors during a campus visit

Read A Parent's Guide to the College Search