Tips for Talking to Your Teen About College

Does your teen want to go to college? Do they want to take a year off?  Are they considering staying local or going away to school?

Nothing is more difficult as a parent than watching your babies leave the nest.

This moment can happen at any age, but one of the most common associations is on the day they start college courses.

Even if your child will be living at home for a few years when they start school, the beginning of college still marks the beginning of their adult life. So, how do you prepare your kids for the process of choosing a college based on their needs? And, how do you do this while recognizing that this decision is, ultimately, up to your child?

Even though this can feel like a thin tight rope to walk, and you may be more nervous about your child’s choice of college than he or she is, it is still very important to have a discussion with your teen about future college plans. In fact, this conversation can be helpful for you both.

Here are some good tips for going about it:

1. Be realistic about your expectations.  This is probably the most important step parents need to reach in order to have a successful talk with their teen about college. There is nothing wrong about setting high standards for your children and having high hopes for the education that they will pursue after graduation, especially if you intend to pay for it. However, you have to remember that, once they graduate high school, your kids’ lives are technically in their own hands. They will be of the age to make their own decisions and determine their own futures. So, parents need to reach a healthy balance of personal expectations and allowing their children the freedom to follow their own dreams before a conversation can be had.

2. Figure out how they feel.  The next step after you have come to terms with your own expectations is to figure out what your child’s expectations are for him or herself. Starting in on page twenty when your kid has only thought about college to about page four won’t really work. Likewise, falsely assuming your child is starting at square one when, in fact, he or she has been researching schools for months is another way to start the conversation off on the wrong foot. Instead, ask your child how much time they have spent thinking about going to college. Then, ask them what they have been feeling about it. Figure out where your kids are in the process before you carry on with a discussion.

3. Make sure they understand the commitment.  There is more to college than picking a school and signing up. College students are no longer on a high school timetable where they attend school from 8 to 3 every day and have their schedules lined up for them. In college, your child will be responsible for getting himself to class on his own and getting work done in a timely manner without parental supervision. There is also a huge financial commitment involved in enrollment. Once you know your child’s plans, you can discuss with them the realities of those plans and how they mesh with the realities of what your family can provide.

4. Ask what you can do to help.  Instead of becoming a dictator in your child’s college search, simply ask what you can do to help the process. Ultimately, unless your child wants you to choose a school for them, the choice of where to go and what to study is up to your kid, so you should simply act as a form of help and guidance in the process. Let them know that you are there for them, no matter what. If your teenager doesn’t seem to know how to take the first steps toward figuring out college plans, then you can step in and provide a little direction by setting up school visits and looking for information about degree plans.

5. Suggest other sources of guidance.  If your teen is less than enthusiastic about working with you on college plans, you can refer them to someone you trust to provide insight and advice. Try suggesting that they talk to their favorite teacher, a college-aged cousin, or anyone else who has their best interests at heart for help along the way.

This is a special guest post by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online university.  You can contact her at:

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