Why is your student going to college?
Does that question take you by surprise? Have you asked your student this question? The question may take both parents and students by surprise because we don’t ask it often enough. Many students head to college because it is what students do after high school. It is what all of their friends are doing. It is what everyone has expected of them for as long as they can remember.
We are not suggesting that your student should not be headed to college. However, if you haven’t asked your student the question, it might be a good thing to do. It is important to know where we are headed, but also important to know why we are headed there.
Your student may struggle with the answer to the question of why they are going to college. It is not necessarily intended to be an easy question. Ask them to give it some serious thought. After the initial moment of being surprised, after the possible struggle to answer, your student may be pleased that you asked. You may find that the question leads your student to think carefully about their hopes and dreams – and then they may share some of those things with you.
If your student shares their goals, (“To get a good job” is a relatively common reply.) You may then be able to talk to them about how they can best use their college experiences to make sure that they achieve those goals. For instance, if getting a good job is the goal, ask your student what they will do during college to work toward that goal. Should they be working toward internships? What kinds of classes will be most helpful? Would studying abroad be a help or slow them down? Should they try to make a connection with a professor to work on a research project? How might they work with the Career Development Office? Just graduating from college will not necessarily ensure that your student will get that good job.
If your student’s primary goal for college is to prepare for graduate school, then their path may look very different from a student headed directly to the workforce. If your student isn’t sure why they are attending college, ask what they will do to find their way – or whether deferring enrollment and taking a gap year might make sense. If your student knows they want a college education but doesn’t know where they are headed, ask how they plan to explore majors and options.
The answer to the question, “Why are you going to college?” is less important than the thought and direction that asking the question can provoke. Remember, when you ask the question, listen carefully to the answer. Talk to your student, but listen even more. Both you and your student may find the process of discovering the answer a wonderful experience.