Thinking College Educates Parents About the College Search and Application Process

Karrie Shroyer and Cheryl Niebeling at Caribou in Chaska.

Cheryl Niebeling has a standing appointment on her calendar, and it’s been there for about six years. The Chanhassen resident regularly attends meetings of Thinking College, a nonprofit program that aims to educate parents about steps for their children to prepare for, and apply to, college.

Niebeling started attending the monthly meetings when her eldest son, Kyle, now 20 and a junior at the University of Notre Dame, was a freshman at Chanhassen High School. “He was my first, and I was clueless, and I needed information,” she says.

Chaska’s Karrie Shroyer launched Thinking College after going through the college search and application process with her two children. She recalls trudging through weeds of information and paying a college search business to help navigate the process when her kids, Joe and Jackie, were in high school.  Her goal—synthesize the volume of information available online and through for-pay businesses and personalize it all to fit the needs of local parents.  “That information is out there, but it’s so obscure, and you may not know to look for it,” she says. Thinking College also provides the type of parental support that can be best found over coffee and accompanied by fellow parents sharing their experiences and questions.

Shroyer notes that the search firms did a great deal of legwork for her family, and she wants to share what she learned from her experiences. “I help them understand the process and the tricks-of-the-trade,” she says. Her experience as a parent isn’t her only tool; she’s a certified education consultant and a member of the Minnesota Association for College Admission Counseling and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Shroyer is clear in noting that school counselors do a great job in helping students. I actually think [guidance counselors] do a really good job with the parents, too,” she says. “But I think the parents could use some more help, and they don’t know what they don’t know.”  The extra assistance, Shroyer says, adds to what schools provide and better prepares parents to work with counselors and their children.

Gatherings, averaging five parents, are held one Monday and Tuesday a month at the Caribou in Chaska. Topics are dictated by the needs of the day.  “The parents who have really embraced it and appreciate it come five to seven times a year,” Shroyer says. Some just dip in from time to time as questions arise.  For example, families headed out for college tours will attend a meeting to get tips about what to look for and questions to ask.

Though Niebeling went through the college process with Kyle, she continued to attend as her youngest children, Abby and Alex, now both 18, were making collegiate plans. “I liked the local camaraderie and sharing stories, personally,” she says, adding that each child is different, and college search experiences differ, as well.  She calls Shroyer “a good mentor.”

“This is more for me,” Niebeling says. “The kids have their thing at school, and it doesn’t always come back to me.” She views the meetings as a way to equip herself with knowledge that will help her assist her children on their college search journey. “Then they’re not alone on the path,” Niebeling says. “I can speak intelligently about it with them.”  

Meetings are held at the Chaska Caribou, 160 Pioneer Trail. Visit thinkingcollege.com for meeting times and dates.