Your high school student is about to embark on the college admission journey. And of course, as your student embarks on this journey, you will be along for the ride. Congratulations!
You will inevitably hit some bumps along the way, but the journey can be a meaningful one as well. If you’re hoping to minimize the bumps and maximize the rewarding parts, it’s important that you and your student have some discussions before you set out. As with any journey, having an itinerary and a map helps the trip go smoothly, but so does being open to some detours and side trips along the way.
As you and your student get ready to begin the admission process, we’d like to suggest five conversations that will help you both prepare. Don’t try to fit everything in at once, give yourselves time to talk and think, but addressing these topics early in the process with help prepare everyone for what might lie ahead.
- Ask your student why she wants to go to college and what her goals and worries are about both the college search and the college experience. Many students and their parents assume that college is the logical next step after high school. For many students in this country, it is. Because we so often see college as a natural next step, many of us don’t bother to ask, and students don’t bother to think about, why they want to go to college. Help your student think through what college involves. Talk about her goals (and this is not necessarily a major or a job). Ask what she hopes her experiences will be like. Ask what she worries about. You’ll get to know your student better – and she’ll do some important thinking.
- Ask your student how she sees the college search process unfolding. Does she expect you to be involved or to stand back and let her do this on her own? Does she have confidence in her high school guidance counselor? Does she feel she would like to work with an independent counselor? Is that an option? How will she create her list of colleges? What is she looking for? How will she narrow her list? There are many questions you can ask and a range of answers you might get. How do these answers fit with your vision of how the process will unfold? Find out now whether you and your student are on the same page or whether you’ll need to negotiate. Coming to an agreement now will avoid problems later.
- Have an early conversation about the realities of college financing. Let your student know if there is an absolute limit to what you can afford. Talk about scholarships and loans. Talk about whether your student should consider schools that seem out of reach (and remember that “sticker price” may not be what students ultimately pay). Talk about any expectations you have about how much your student will contribute or loans that will be in your student’s name. Don’t wait until too late in the process to have this important conversation about the reality of the cost of college.
- Talk about some of the important skills that your student may need in college and how he can work on strengthening these skills as he goes through the college search process. You and your student can talk about changes that you both can make to help him build important skills such as time management, organization, self-advocacy, financial management, etc. Of course, as your student works to build these skills you may need to work at letting him do more on his own (and occasionally fail). Talk specifically with your student about what changes might look like. Will you continue to wake him up in the morning for school or work? Will he be responsible for keeping track of all college deadlines? Is it important for him to make any calls to admission offices rather than you? Letting your student work on increasing independence and responsibility is often difficult, but using the final years of high school as a practice time will give him a great head start in college.
- Finally, make a plan with your student for the logistics of getting this process done. Get a good planner and file system. Get organized. Find a way to keep track of dates and deadlines. Mark college fairs on the calendar. Look for dates of college open houses. Agree about who will do what, but remember that this is your student’s search. Attend information sessions at the school or in your community. Begin to think about gathering the financial information you will need for scholarship applications. Resolve to let your student take the lead and step back and watch go along for the ride.
The college search and admission process can be a stressful time for both students and parents, but a bit of early planning and conversation about how to be proactive and agreeing on a shared understanding will make the journey more rewarding for everyone.