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How to Help Your Child Choose a College: A Parent’s Guide to College Decisions

You’ve guided your child through so many of life’s turns. Now it looks like they’re heading toward the biggest one so far—deciding where to go to college. Should you race up to them and take the wheel? Should you close your eyes and cross your fingers? 

If you’re not sure how to help your child choose a college, you’re not alone. Many parents struggle to find a balance between giving their kid enough agency and enough support when it comes to college. Here’s our advice on how to find that balance.

a beagle with its long ears pulled open wide


This is the most important piece of advice we have to give. Pay attention to their words, their body language, and their tone of voice. Transitioning to college isn’t easy, and talking with them about it won’t be easy, either.

Before reacting, think about why they’re changing the subject whenever you try to ask them about college or acting so stubborn during that college info session. They might be scared, confused, anxious, or insecure—especially during a year like this. Things will be easier for them if they know you’ll be there whenever they need you during the process, and one of the best ways for you to demonstrate that is by actively listening to them. 

Be Honest

A great way to help guide your child’s decision is to be honest with them. Now, this doesn’t mean saying, “Billy, I realized yesterday that I don’t trust you. That’s why I’ve decided to accept our offer of admission to the University of Giraffes.”

What we mean when we tell you to be honest is to let your child know about any real impossibilities that you’re aware of if you haven’t already. Are any of their choices way out of your price range? If so, tell them explicitly. You can just say, “I know that you’ve been accepted into the University of Monkeys, but I’ve been looking over our finances, and I realize that we can only help you pay $X of the tuition a year.”

If they have their heart set on the school, they’ll have to plan out how they’re going to pay for it. This could be a great opportunity for them to learn about money management. To start, you may want to direct them to our guide to paying for college.

neon lights spelling "OUR"

Let Your Child Be Involved

Try to remember that these are your child’s offers of admission, not yours. That’s hard to come to terms with (it’s really, really, really hard), but it’s true. Maybe you’ll be the one helping pay the tuition. Maybe you’ve helped make decisions for your child up until this point. But right now, you need to include them in the process. They’re the one who may be living at a college for most of the next four years, so they deserve a say about where it’s going to be.

It’s a tough decision, and tougher still when it’s complicated with differing opinions. If you want to make this decision together, compromises will have to be made on your end as well as theirs. This isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean that neither of you will end up with what you want. Remember, there are millions of paths your child can take, and millions that can lead to happiness on both your ends. Let that be your end goal. We know it’s easier said than done, but reaching a compromise will be a lot less difficult if both of you commit to having each other’s best interests at heart.

Offer Things for Them to Look For

While we don’t advise you to tell your child where to go, that doesn’t mean you can’t help them with their decision. Talk to your child and suggest criteria they can use to evaluate their options. You can suggest they consider the size, convenience, and fit of each choice. Don’t tell them what to think about these criteria, but rather, ask open questions. “What do you think about the University of Giraffes’ academic opportunities?” “What are your thoughts on the location of Elephant College?” 

Deciding where to go to college is just another step in your child’s life. You can think of it as a practice round—you learning how to let your child take the reins, and your child learning how to take the driver’s seat. 

We know it’s hard. But you should know that if you’re having a tough time with this, you’re not the only one. Besides the millions of parents who are right there with you, your child might be a little freaked out, too. Listen to them and their concerns, and you’ll show you’re there for them. 

Finally, remember that letting your child make their own decisions doesn’t mean you’re giving up your job as being a parent. You’re actually continuing it. Part of raising a child involves teaching them as much self-sufficiency as you can. You’ve come this far together, which is a good sign, and we know that whatever happens, everything will work out. All you need to do is take a deep breath and move forward.

UIUC Admissions

UIUC Admissions

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  • Hello,
    My son Michael had his heart set on attending but you accepted him for Econ major and not computer science

  • My daughter Maddie has not had a chance to visit UIUC. She was accepted to the engineering program. Are there any student driven chat sessions for school of engineering? Are there any online classes she can “sit in” on? Any “tours” of campus?

  • Great article and wise advice.

    It seems, we should have such advice earlier than just now. Experience and anxiety started lot earlier.

  • Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for reaching out, and congratulations to your daughter!
    We do have a variety of virtual options for students right now. For virtual tours of campus, info sessions with admissions counselors, and more, you can check out our virtual visits page: https://admissions.illinois.edu/Visit/virtual-visits. The Grainger College of Engineering also offers some virtual options: https://grainger.illinois.edu/choosegrainger.
    We hope these resources help. Any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

  • My son Jonathan always wanted to do Engineering. His mind is set on Engineering from 6th grade.. That is the reason he took all engineering and Math courses in High School. After school he has to take care of his brother who is diagnosed with Autism.
    University of Illinois offered him pre-engineering and he is little disappointed.
    It will be nice to know why he was not offered computer engineering.

  • Hi Joe,
    If your son would like to discuss his decision with an admissions counselor, the best thing to do would be to call our office. They can also answer any questions he might have. Our number is 217-333-0302, and we’re available 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Thanks for reaching out!

  • My son Pranav was accepted for Math major but he wants to go for computer engineering. He is very keen on UIUC but only for Computer engineering.

  • Great article and advice! As a single parent, I think I am just as nervous and anxious by this decision as she is! My little baby all grown up! 🙂

  • Thank you for the supportive suggestions. College admissions are stressful for everyone involved! We don’t know where our daughter is going to land, but we appreciate the opportunities UIUC has to offer – even if some, like Computer Science, are in incredibly high demand relative to the number of spots available. UIUC graduate.

  • My son Tamir was also admitted to pre- engineering. We would like to know why he was not offered engineering? Also what is possibility for him to get into engineering if anyone who admitted into engineering decides not to join the UIUC? Is there a ranking of kids who are in pre-engineering who can move up to engineering?
    Thank you

  • Hello,

    My Son’s dream college is UIUC. But He did not get into the first Major. He was offered his Second Major Choice. We are little disappointed.

    What are the possibilities to switch majors after joining and how hard it is to switch from LAS to Engineering major.

    Please advise.

    Thank you,

  • Thank you for reaching out to us! Due to the personal and confidential nature of an application, we’re unable to discuss an admission decision via the blog, but please feel free to contact our office at 217-333-0302. We’re available Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Standard Time. Our admissions counselors are happy to help.

  • Thank you, and good luck to you and your daughter when it comes to making her decision. We know it’s hard!

  • Thank you for reaching out to us! Due to the personal and confidential nature of an application, we’re unable to discuss an admission decision via the blog, but please feel free to contact our office at 217-333-0302. We’re available Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Standard Time. Our admissions counselors are happy to help.

  • Hi Gaby,
    Thank you for reaching out to us! Due to the personal and confidential nature of an application, we’re unable to discuss an admission decision via the blog, but please feel free to contact our office at 217-333-0302. We’re available Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Standard Time. Our admissions counselors are happy to talk to you and your son about his options.

  • Hi, thank you for your acceptance for my daughter for your Computer Science major. She is an International Asian student. It would be a great help if she can communicate directly with some present Computer Science students in different year levels, with Local , International and International Asian students, in order to get a better picture from their different experiences, for the courses and grades, job/internship opportunity and student social life. Is it possible to arrange that ?

  • Hi Amir, and congratulations to your daughter on her admission! The Grainger College of Engineering has a number of virtual visit opportunities available this spring, all of which you can find here: https://grainger.illinois.edu/admissions/virtual-visit. Since she’s interested in talking to other students, your best options might be found within the “Virtual Experiences with Grainger Students” section near the end of that page. If you don’t find what you’re looking for there, you may also want to reach out to Grainger Engineering directly at engineering-nsp@illinois.edu. We hope this helps!

  • Hi Karen,
    Thanks for reaching out. At this time, our focus is on the health and safety of our campus community; therefore, we aren’t encouraging families to visit campus. However, we do offer a large variety of virtual options on our website, including admissions info sessions, college meetings, video tours, and more. We encourage you to check them out, and we look forward to hosting you in person once it’s safe to do so. If you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to email us or call us at 217-333-0302.