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What if My Parents and I Have Different Visions for College?

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Your parents are a critical part of your high school and college experience. They raised you, paid for your clubs and activities, made sure that you had transportation to and from school and extracurriculars, and may even be saving money to pay for your college education. They’ve done a lot for you, so their opinion in the college application process matters.


While you might have a specific vision of what you want out of your college experience, your parents may want something different for you. This can create tension, and understandably so; it’s your college experience, but parents often make many of the financial commitments with regards to college and so may expect to be included in every step.


If you disagree with your parents about your college plans, you’re not alone. Read on to discover the most common disagreements that parents and students may have about college and the best strategies to get the education you want in a way that leaves everybody happy.


The Most Common College-Related Disagreements

College is an enormous commitment for the entire family, and there are important and nuanced decisions that come with it.


Here are some common college-related issues that can cause disagreement between parents and students:


  • Location: Sometimes, a student wants to choose a school that is far from home, whereas the parents want their child to stay closer (or vice versa). To help decide where you fall on this decision, see the Pros and Cons of Attending College Close vs. Far From Home. It may also be the case that the student wants to attend college in a specific region or city, but the parents may not think the location is a good fit (whether it be cost, safety, or a host of other reasons). If a student and parent can’t agree on the location of the college, they probably won’t agree on the college itself. If this disagreement is not settled, the student may miss the opportunity to attend his or her potential dream school.


  • Major: In the eyes of parents, not all majors are created equal. While you can technically choose any major you want, your parents may want you to choose one that is better suited for a certain career field or specific income. When your parents tell you that they want you to pursue a major, they are usually doing so because they want you to be successful; however, if you see your future differently and want to pursue your own path, you and your parents could reach an impasse. For more information about college majors, check out Majors, Minors, and More: Which Degree Should You Pursue?


  • College A vs. College B: This disagreement occurs when the student wants to attend a certain college, but the parents want him or her to attend another one. This can be a tough challenge because the student cannot usually attend college without the parents’ financial and emotional support but also doesn’t want to be miserable at a college because the decision felt forced or unwanted. Until this disagreement is resolved, a student cannot accept a college offer or complete the admissions process.


  • Is college the right fit?: Sometimes, the dispute is not about choosing a college or a major but rather whether the student should go to college at all. While CollegeVine encourages every student to pursue higher education, college is expensive and a years-long time commitment, and therefore is not right for everybody. Hence, it is reasonable for parents or students to doubt whether college is the right choice for them. This particular disagreement is the most common among first-generation college applicants. If you fall into this category, see our Resources for First Generation College Applicants.


These aren’t the only disagreements that parents and students can have about college, but they are some of the more common ones. Regardless of what you and your parents disagree on, you should try to resolve the issue as quickly and respectfully as possible so that you both can move forward towards a college education that is right for you.


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Strategies for Resolving Disputes & Differences

The first thing you may want to do with a college-related disagreement is to talk it out with your parents and try to reach an agreement. Start the conversation by telling them that you acknowledge and respect their opinion. Then, in a calm and reasonable manner, tell them that you disagree with their thinking and explain your reasons for thinking the way that you do.


The key here is to stay appreciative and respectful while showing them that you are mature enough to make the right decision. When you focus on your insights and feelings, instead of becoming accusatory about their opinion, you increase the chances that your parents will actually hear you and not immediately rush to defend themselves.


One thing that may help persuade your parents to take your side is some background research or evidence that your choice is the right one for you. For example, if you and your parents are disagreeing about the major you should pursue, you can provide them with some statistics on how many college graduates with your desired major get jobs right after college or the starting salaries for that major.


In a similar vein, you can show different trajectories of students after graduation, particularly if they correlate with your goals. If you can show that you’re making an informed decision and let the evidence speak for itself, you’ll have a convincing argument for your parents.


In the end, however, you should be ready to compromise with your parents on some level. If you’re arguing about your college major, you could offer to apply under the major you want but agree to take some classes in the major department your parents prefer. Or, you could agree to pursue a double major or concentration in a practical major that pairs with your own, such as English and marketing. If you and your parents both come together, you may end up with a college arrangement that suits everyone.


When the issue is more fundamental, like the location or the institution itself, this can be a bit more challenging. The same idea applies, however: having a calm, positive, mature explanation for the reasons you feel the way you do can both impress your parents and potentially bring them around to your way of thinking.


Sometimes, parents do not know why a certain preference is so important to a college-bound student. Communication is key. If you must go to a school in California because it’s the only place to realize your filmmaking dreams, say so! Your parents might not have known that you felt so strongly and appreciate that you have a high level of commitment to your future life.


When you create a plan for college and beyond, you can reassure your parents that you’re taking the decision seriously and that you’ll soon be able to stand on your own. This more than any other point is at the root of many parents’ fears. They want you to be happy and independent, so if you show them that you share this goal, they’ll feel more secure about your decision.


Bringing It All Together

It’s important to remember that your college experience is often a family affair. You may be the one receiving the education, but your parents have been a part of your process from the beginning and will likely continue to be integral to your life and decisions for the next few years.


Thus, it is extremely important for you to take your parent’s opinions into account. Asking and understanding why they feel the way they do, and then showing through calm preparation that you can achieve both your goals and theirs is the most effective way to create a single, cohesive vision that works for all of you.


If you’re interested in learning more about the parent-student relationship in the college application process, check out the following blog posts:



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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!