By J.D. Wyczalek,  


Whether one’s teens are in school, taking part in virtual learning or a hybrid of both, one thing is for sure: this is not the typical school year for any of us.


But just because the school day looks different this year doesn’t mean your child’s preparation for and decisions about college should suffer.  The best way to avoid overwhelming them or getting overwhelmed yourself: make a plan, but divide it into manageable pieces. The process can seem overwhelming, but if one takes it one step at a time, as the Chinese proverb states, the journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step.


If in middle or early high school, start by taking an assessment of your teen’s interests, talents or wishes for the future. There are several assessment programs online that can assist with this, including through, and any quality one will help determine where children’s talents lie and what they are actually interested in before producing potential career paths and college majors. A good assessment will generate a list of occupations. This is critical for the teens, because while they have access to technology in a way we never did, many still think of careers in a very general way. Think about your own family. While some might be doctors, lawyers or teachers, chances are most have job titles and positions outside of what someone might see in television or movies.


With a proper list in hand, start to weed. Try to narrow a list to a dozen or so potential career paths or jobs. Then, before even starting to look at colleges that offer degrees in that field, look to see two major things:


  • Is the occupation showing growth? Is it something that will be around in 20 years?
  • What is the pay scale? While it used to be taboo to talk about money, today it is critical to talk honestly with you child about money, and how much (or little) their paths may make. They need to get a sense for what is realistic.


Then what?


Ideally, these frank conversations will narrow the list of careers even further, then you can start looking at colleges in your family’s price range that offer degrees in those fields. In a few steps done over a month or two, you’ve started a road map to help your child make some very big decisions. With the resulting list of colleges, you can then focus on both positioning your child for acceptance into college and securing scholarships or financial aid.


The application process for college as well as student aid and scholarships is both an art and science, one that requires parents understand what colleges and universities, which are students who can continue to boost their own rankings. Professional firms are adept at helping determine what specific colleges want and need and how to best represent this on paper and during interviews despite the current health crisis. It is about being specific. It is about targeting. It is about cutting through the clutter and giving them a reason to accept a student beyond one’s GPA, community service or test scores.


J.D. Wyczalek is the founder of Scottsdale-based, which works with students and parents on career assessments, college applications and scholarship materials to ease the burden of the cost of higher education on youth and their families while increasing the likelihood of college admittance. For more, visit