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 he is headed to college. It is not necessarily intended to be an easy question. Ask him 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 his hopes and dreams – and then he may share some of those things with you.
If your student shares his goals, (“To get a good job” is a relatively common reply.) You may then be able to talk to him about how he can best use his college experiences to make sure that he achieves his goals. For instance, if getting a good job is the goal, ask him what he will do during his college years to work toward that goal. Should he be working toward internships? What kinds of classes will be most helpful? Would studying abroad be a help or slow him down? Should he try to make a connection with a professor to work on a research project? How might he work with the Career Development Office? Just graduating from college will not necessarily ensure that he will get that good job.
If your student’s primary goal for college is to prepare for graduate school, then her path may look very different from a student headed directly to the workforce. If your student isn’t sure why she is attending college, ask her what she will do to find her way – or whether deferring enrollment and taking a gap year might make sense. If your student knows she wants a college education but doesn’t know where she’s headed, ask how she plans 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.