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Parents: Are Your Child’s College Choices Realistic?
It’s hard enough sending your children off to college — not only is it a huge milestone, but it’s also never easy to part with your children to begin with. One thing that can make it easier to say goodbye is knowing that your child is in the right place for them once you drop them off at their freshman dorm. This is why it can be all the more upsetting when you feel like your child might supposedly choose the wrong college or make unrealistic choices regarding the college process.
It’s frustrating when you feel like the college your child has set their sights on isn’t the right one, or if your child doesn’t understand certain limitations in terms of their college search. You might not know how firm to be or how to advise them. This being said, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading for tips on how to assess whether or not your child’s college choices are realistic.
Assessing the Situation
If you are worried that your child’s college choices are unrealistic, the first thing you should do is try to get a gauge on how serious the situation is by communicating clearly and openly with your child. Remember to listen to their desires and be curious about them — don’t just shoot them down, even if they are being unrealistic or maybe a little bit silly.
If your kid is a freshman desperately wants to go to Harvard, then the good news is that you have some time to talk to them about how to make this happen — or if they should reconsider. On the other hand, if your child is a senior and has already applied to colleges, then you might have less time to talk to them about whether or not their choices are realistic.
You should also be thinking about what their choices are: are they shooting too low? Too high? Have they chosen a college that your family can’t afford to send them to? Or are they making college choices for reasons that you feel are the wrong ones?
Try to distinguish between your own needs and desires and your child’s needs and desires — keeping in mind that this is much easier said than done. Understand that no matter what, you should try to talk to your child from a perspective of unconditional love and support — but this doesn’t mean that you can’t be firm and realistic with them.
An important thing to consider is whether or not your child would be able to gain admission to the school (or schools) that they are considering. Of course, there is no such thing as a guarantee in college admissions—but in a general sense, are your child’s grades in the ballpark area to gain admission to a given school? For a better sense of this, take a look at these posts:
You should also consider whether or not your child is applying early decision or regular decision, as this might affect their options. If they did not get in for early decision, would they have time to apply to other schools?
It is also important to have a backup plan. Does your child have a fallback school, or would they take a gap year? These blog posts go more into depth on safety schools and gap years:
You should also consider whether or not you think the school would be a good enough match for your child academically—perhaps you think it’s too rigorous, or maybe it isn’t rigorous enough. Again, it is important to consider the context of your child’s situation. If your child is a freshman in high school who dreams of going to Harvard, but they don’t get great grades, then maybe this is a wakeup call to them to start working harder in school. Encourage your child to look at admissions statistics, websites, and brochures on their own, and try to help them gain a realistic idea of how the college admissions process works as best you can.
It can be hard to walk your child through the confusing process of affording college, especially if they do not already have a grasp of what your family can and can’t afford. Try to sit down with them and look at how much the school they want to go to would cost — how much outside funding would be needed? Could you or your child take out loans? How far in debt would this put you, and would it be worth it?
For a more realistic idea of the numbers, some schools offer a free financial aid calculator on their websites. You might also consider setting up a consultation with a financial aid officer so that your child can sit in on this and try to gain a better understanding of the process.
You should also think about how your finances might affect your child’s college application process. Some early decision applications, for example, are financially binding, which can affect whether or not your child might be able to apply.
Be sure to think about the difference between need blind and need aware schools as well. For more tips, tricks, and advice on financial aid, check out these posts:
Often, the tricker problem with your child’s college choices won’t come from whether or not your child could get in or whether or not your family could afford it, but rather, whether or not you feel the school is a good fit for your child. It can be extremely difficult to address this since your child is independent from you and has desires separate from your own— at the same time, you may feel like they are making poor choices that might hurt them further down the line.
You might feel like they are making choices based on the wrong reasons—maybe they are too concerned with prestige, or maybe they only want to attend a certain school because they have a friend or boyfriend or girlfriend who goes there.
Try talking to your child and asking them why they want to attend a certain school. Be sure to listen to them, but also pose any important questions you might have about whether or not the school is right for them.
Voice your concerns. Maybe you feel like the school is too big and your child might get lost, or maybe you feel like it won’t offer them enough of an academic challenge. Whatever the reason, you will only ever begin to get past it by talking about it with your child.
Everyone has their own parenting style, so of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” way to handle this situation. You might keep in mind, though, that there are ways to talk to your child which will assure that both of you feel heard and understood.
Keep in mind that your child may be reluctant to change their mind at first, and that emotions will likely be running hot on both sides of the discussion. Try to encourage active research on your child’s part to teach them to be more realistic. Go on campus visits together, visit college websites together, and talk to guidance counselors together.
You might even consider checking out the CollegeVine’s Mentorship Program, which pairs high school students with successful older peers who can help them with college applications, academics, and who will encourage them to discover their own self-led sense of direction.
It can be hard to advise your child on where to go to college. There are many factors at play— financial ones, emotional ones, academic ones, and many, many more. It is important that you discuss with your child what is realistic and what isn’t, all the while acknowledging that their dreams and desires are valid, even if they aren’t necessarily the best for your child or your family.
Most of all, be sure to establish yourself as a resource for your child. You should try to be a non judgemental source that your child can come to for advice, and a source that can occasionally ground them in more realistic—and ultimately more beneficial—choices.
For more advice on helping your child choose a college, take a look at these blog posts: