Information for the parents of college students
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Is Your Student Heading to College for the Right Reasons?

High school seniors have been doing their research on potential colleges, taking the appropriate high school classes, participating in plenty of extracurricular activities, making college visits, writing college essays, completing college applications, and finally awaiting the college verdict via acceptance or rejection letters.  Whew!

The college admissions process becomes a way of life for many high school juniors and seniors.  But amid the rush to get into just the right college, has your student taken time think about why she wants to go to college?

A college education is expensive.  No one would argue otherwise.  Depending on the college, the expense may feel manageable or overwhelming.  A college education for the right reasons is an investment in the future.  Heading to college for the wrong reasons may potentially be a monumental waste of money.

As a high school parent (perhaps soon to be college parent) encourage your student to take time to think about why she is planning on college as the next step in her path.  Some students may decide that college is not the logical next step, at least not right now.  Chances are that more students will affirm that college is where they want to be next, but they will have a better idea of why they are going and that may be just the motivation to help them succeed.

Take some time to discuss with your student her reasons for heading to college.  You may need to help her consider the possibilities.  Here are a few ideas to get some conversations started.

I’m heading to college because . . .

  • I can’t decide what else to do with my life right now.
  • I couldn’t find a job, so I might as well stay in school.
  • That’s where the social life/partying/drinking/fun will be.
  • My parents will pay my way.  Otherwise, I’d have to earn a living.
  • It is the only way I can get out of the house and stop living at home.
  • All of my friends are going.
  • I’ll be labeled a failure if I don’t go.
  • My parents are pressuring me to go because everyone else in my family has gone to college.
  • My parents are pressuring me to go because no one else in my family has gone to college.
  • That’s where I’ll find a husband/wife/partner.
  • That’s where I’ll make connections to get a good job in the future.
  • It’s the only way that I see to get out of my home town.
  • I have no idea why I’m going to college.  It just seems like what you do after high school.

Obviously, if your student’s reasons for heading to college are all on the list above, you may want to have some serious conversation about whether college makes sense right now.  He may need to consider alternatives such as deferring enrollment, taking a gap year, considering a vocational or trade school, or getting a job instead.

But perhaps your student has given more thought and both you and he agree that there are better reasons to head to college.

I’m heading to college because . . .

  • This is the way I’ll get a good job later.  College is job and career preparation.
  • I’ll earn more money later if I have a college education.
  • I’ll have more options later with a college education.
  • I’ll be able to network and make connections.  Other students may be the people who will hire me someday.
  • I’ll gain experience through programs such as study abroad or internships.

Obviously, some of these reasons are more thoughtful, and are often the reasons given for why the expense of a college education is worth it.  They may be very good reasons for many students.  But if students don’t value the experience of college as well as the end result of a college education, they will miss an important piece.

We’d like to suggest that some of the following reasons for heading to college will help your student make the most of his college experience.  Try to help your student understand some of the less obvious, deeper benefits of a college education.

I’m headed to college because . . .

  • My experiences will help me discover what drives me in life.  I’ll find and explore my passion.
  • I will have an opportunity to explore my personal identity.  I’ll discover more about who I am.
  • I’ll have a chance to study a field that is interesting to me – even if it doesn’t directly lead to a particular career.
  • I’ll learn more about how to learn so I’ll be able to learn new things all through my life.
  • I’ll learn life skills that will help me throughout my life such as discipline, confidence, social skills, the ability to express my opinions clearly.
  • I’ll have a chance to practice being “grown up” in a relatively safe environment where I can learn from my mistakes.
  • I will be learning how to think by increasing my critical thinking skills.
  • I’ll be exposed to diversity and people who are not anything like me.
  • I’ll learn to be a better citizen of the world by being exposed to great thought leaders and learning about civic engagement and how I can contribute to my smaller and larger communities.

The experience of attending college can be a wonderful and rich experience if your student is headed to college for the right reasons.  As parents, we can help our students think about his reasons and broaden his thinking.  It’s worth asking your student, “Why are you headed to college?”

Related Posts:

Yes, You’re a College Parent, But Who Is This College Student?

Five Conversations Parents and Students Should Have Before the First Year of College

Helping Your Student With Goal Setting – And Action Plans

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