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.
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.
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.
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.