By Sam Coren of Student Advisor
Hate is a strong word. But when it comes to looking out for your kid, it's easy for parents to have knee-jerk reactions when it comes to the college search. Like many teenagers I too had to deal with defending the colleges I wanted to apply to until I was blue in the face. My dad? Every school I thought would be a good fit for me he deemed too expensive, too dangerous (I wanted to be in a city), or too far away and no amount of arguing could convince him otherwise.
While I know he had my best interest in mind, it made my college application process much more stressful than it should have been. Fortunately things worked out in the end - I went to my dream school, graduated with honors, and have a pretty fantastic career. My dad came to the realization that I probably would not have gotten to where I am today if I didn't go to a college I was 100% behind. However getting to that point was not easy, and I couldn’t help but think that much of the tension could have been eliminated if we were better at communicating with each other.
So let's say you're in my dad's shoes 6 years ago and you absolutely can't fathom your child going to any of the schools they have in mind. What should you do to avoid a whole mess of unnecessary drama? Here are some suggestions:
Before you express your disagreement, ask your child "Why?"
Understanding your child's reasons for choosing schools to apply to is absolutely essential to being a supportive parent in the applications process. For me, I only focused my search on schools with strong internship programs and those who offered the niche major I wanted. Size was also another important factor - I didn't want to be lost in a sea of 100+ undergrads in every class. When I explained this to my parents they had a much easier time digesting which schools were going to be better for me than others even if they weren’t completely in love with them.
Don't be a victim to college rankings and brand appeal.
Everyone knows about the various "best college" rankings that come out every year. It's easy for parents (and students) to get caught up in the craze of getting into the highest ranking, most-selective schools. But guess what? The "best college" according to whatever magazine might not be the best college for your child. There are over 2,000 four-year colleges in the US alone and there are plenty of amazing lesser-known schools out there that don't make the Top 100 for any given year. Use college match tools to uncover the hidden gems that might be a good fit and read up on college reviews to see if current students and alumni believe if the school is worth the money.
Understand that picking a college is the first "grown up" decision many teenagers will have to make.
For 18 years you've helped your child make decisions on everything from which clothes they should wear, which classes to take, what friends they can hang out with, etc. Now it's their turn to control their path to success and plan for their future. Badgering your child into picking the college that you would want to go to is a surefire way of alienating them and hurting your relationship. This isn't to say that you should remove yourself from the process completely - it's important for you to guide your child to the places where they can find answers if they're having trouble.
Be careful how you dish out your advice. It's better to ask questions that make them think about consequences than to accuse them of being flat out wrong. For instance, if a school on their list looks out of your family's price range ask them if they've looked into the financial aid program, scholarships or loans. Once they understand the risks and responsibilities of choosing a pricier school they can make a better-informed decision on the matter.
Sam Coren is the Content Manager for StudentAdvisor.com, a Washington Post education site for college reviews and free resources on “all things college.” You can read more of her insights about the college search process on the StudentAdvisor blog.