6 Mistakes Parents Make When Helping Their Child Make a College Decision

Here at CollegeVine, we often hear from parents who are earnestly working to support their students as best as they can. However well-intentioned, many parents tend to make the same mistakes again and again when it comes to the college decision process. We know that, as a parent, you just want to do what’s best for your teen, but this can be hard when navigating a new high-stakes process like college applications and making a college decision. In this post, we discuss some of the mistakes we hear about most often. Keep reading to learn how you can avoid these pitfalls.

1. Starting Too Late

Sometimes there can be a certain nonchalance in submitting college applications. “It’s okay,” some students think, “I’ll just choose where I’m going to go once I get accepted.” This thinking is flawed because it de-emphasizes the most important part of the college admissions process. Working with your teen to create a careful and thoughtful college list is the best thing you can do to ensure that he or she ends up at a college that’s a great fit. Getting an early start is integral to this process as it will allow enough time for thoughtful consideration and thorough exploration.

 

Start thinking about college options early, weighing priorities together and keeping the dialogue open. Allow plenty of time to visit schools, peruse their websites, attend information sessions, and go to college fairs. The earlier you start, the more likely you are to be able to attend events in your area. By the time your teen applies to college, he or she will be submitting applications to a finely tuned list of schools, all of which would be a great fit.

2. Pushing For a Specific School or Major

It’s only natural to want the best for your child, and sometimes this means applying some gentle pressure to nudge him or her in the right direction. In fact, you are probably used to having the final say in any disagreements with your teen anyway. But with college, it’s likely that your teen will soon be taking over in the driver’s seat, and if you apply too much pressure, you might soon see it backfire.

 

Rather than pushing your teen towards the school or major that you envision, think of the decision as something that he or she will ultimately need to decide, or at least agree on. Ask your teen thoughtful questions to get him or her thinking about possible majors and careers. Research lots of different colleges, and discuss what aspects you each like or dislike. Be careful not to push too much in one direction, otherwise you could end up with a student who ultimately chooses the complete opposite or one who ends up pursuing a dream for the future that isn’t his or her own.

3. Overlooking Areas of Interest

Parents aren’t the only ones who can push students towards dreams or careers that they aren’t passionate about. In fact, many students end up following these paths on their own, perhaps due to their understanding of the career market or the earning potential of their prospective field. Empower your student to think deeply about his or her strengths and interests as they look toward college and their longer career.

 

Strive to achieve balance. Make sure that your teen knows that there’s nothing wrong with considering what looks good on paper or what translates to a top pay check, but encourage him or her to also weigh interests and skills in this equation. Beyond discussing unique skills and interests as they might apply to a college decision, get your student thinking about how these might be framed as career skills. A student who excels at art and public speaking might become an amazing marketing professional. One who cares deeply about the environment and excels at math might make a great climate scientist. Think outside the box to consider career options and choices of major that fit with your teen’s ambitions.

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4. Micromanaging the Process

Think about the big picture. Next year your student will head off to college. He or she will likely be living out of your house, maybe even very far away. They will be responsible for living independently, having to manage laundry, food, school work, and social commitments all on their own. How can you best prepare your teen for his or her newfound independence?

 

Don’t just step back; actually empower your student to take the lead. True, this is a very important choice in his or her life and the stakes are high, but it’s also one that he or she will live out the consequences of on their own. Lead him or her to a place of leadership gently by having discussions about goals, priorities, and long term ambitions.

5. Comparing Your Student to Others

College admissions are no doubt a competitive endeavor in many cases. In fact, acceptance rates at the top colleges in the country regularly stoop into the single digits in recent years. While this might mean that you can’t stop thinking about how your student will stack up to the kid next door, try to step away from that thought process and leave the comparisons to the admissions committee.

 

For one thing, your teen cannot become a different person for the college decision process. If he or she isn’t interested in attending an elite college with a high profile reputation, there’s really no reason to push the issue unless you aim to create more tension in the process. Rather than thinking about how your teen will stack up to others, help him or her identify areas of skill to highlight. If you can work together to identify a common thread of skills or personal qualities, your student can develop an admissions theme around these areas. For more on that, check out our Step by Step Guide to Applying to College.

6. Not Considering Finances

In 2016, CNN reported that the average American family was paying more than $100,000 out of pocket for a four-year degree from a private college or university. While 85% of college students receive financial aid, this often isn’t enough to cover the income gap. Before your teen compiles a final college list, you need to take a good look at your finances and decide what is feasible for you and your family.

 

Have candid conversations with your student about the financial side of a college education. This is one area in which you might have to set firm limits. What your family can afford is what your family can afford, and your teen should understand the ramifications of taking out a student loan if he or she chooses to attend a school beyond your financial capacity.

 

Choosing a college is rarely an easy decision, but with enough planning and discussion the decision can become much easier. Take that important first step by starting the process early! Let CollegeVine take some of the load off your back with our Early Advising Program, which exists to help your teen optimize his or her applicant profile, set meaningful goals, and develop a winning strategy as they look toward college. You can trust us to help your teen develop the tools they’ll need to attend their dream school.

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.