Every parent wants his/her kids to become independent decision-makers. As they move into their teen years, it is definitely time for them to make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. They pick their friends, their activities, their high school elective courses, the clothes they wear, and a host of other things. We hope they will make wise choices, and often have to force ourselves to “let go” and bite our tongues when we believe a choice is wrong. It’s hard.
A major decision that is made between 11th and 12th grades is the choice of a college. This is far greater in scope than a decision about high school courses or activities. It is a decision about the next four years of this kid’s life, as well as one that has long-term consequences both in terms of career and finances. Parents play an important role – teens don’t have all of the necessary information to consider.
Before the Applications Even Go Out
Your teen will be better placed to make a decision that will be good for them if you’re able to have solid conversations before he or she begin the application process. These conversations need to include:
- What are they considering for career choices? Of course, this may change, but schools to which they apply should at least have decent programs in those career areas.
- How far away from home do they want to go? There needs to be a discussion about leaving family and friends, of course, but also about the great opportunities there are for kids who “strike out on their own” and experience all that new environments have to teach them about growing up and life itself.
- Budget considerations have to be discussed openly and honestly. If parents have budgeted specific amounts for college and those amounts will not cover some schools under consideration, what will the student need to do to get the rest of the funding? And do they understand the amount of debt they may have upon graduation and how long that will take to pay off? Chances are they don’t.
Having these discussions before applications are made will avoid a kid being set up for a disappointment. Yale is a wonderful school, but it costs about $50,000 a year.
Choices are Narrowed – a Great Teaching Moment
Once applications have gone out and acceptances have been received, the field has been narrowed. But deciding among those options still involves the same types of discussions as before and more – it will involve a decision-making process.
A college choice is a decision with long-term consequences. Most teens have not made such a decision before, and this gives parents a great chance to take them through the process of making those big life decisions that will come after college. If all goes well, the process will carry over into their adult lives, and they will have the skills to analyze options and to select the best one. The parent role in this is to teach the process not to make the decision.
Begin With Goals
It is important for kids to think about what their goals are in attending college. And they vary a lot. Some kids want pre-med or pre-law; other kids want a Bachelor’s in a specific field and then onto the work force immediately. Still others are totally clueless about potential majors and will need a strong general education program for the first couple of years while they “test the waters.” Whatever the current goals are, they should be written down.
Other non-academic goals are also important. What are geographic preferences? Is a larger, less personal environment that has greater diversity desirable, or is a smaller more personal institution a better fit?
List Those Pros and Cons
Once those goals are set, then each option can be analyzed with pros and cons based upon its meeting those goals.
A list of pros and cons should be made for each option. This is the only way to avoid an emotional decision, such as picking a school because a best friend is going there or because Uncle Charlie went there 20 years ago and loved it.
Insist Upon Visits
Your teen may have combed college websites and gained lots of information to put on his/her pro and con lists. But no final decision should be made without a visit. It’s just part of a rational path of investigation. Technology is wonderful, and virtual tours, inviting and exciting websites, and even apps that compare and contrast institutions are all great sources of information, but none of these things will replace physically setting oneself on a campus and experiencing the environment first-hand.
If your teen is particularly independent, many schools do offer weekend visits that will place him/her in a dorm with current students so that there is a real taste of college life.
The Final Choice – It is Your Teen’s to Make
What parents can provide is a process. They can also ask the important questions that will help their teens flush out their real goals, needs and desires. Ultimately, however, your kiddo must make the final decision. When that happens, it must be with your blessing, even if your choice would have been another. The important thing is that your teen now has a process for making other major decisions that will come along.
After the Decision – Support
Your role now is to be supportive of the decision and to help your teen prepare for this new chapter of life. S/he will need to continue to conduct lots of research in order to know what equipment, supplies, clothing, and even technology, along with tools and apps that fellow students recommend for being more successful should be accumulated between now and the departure date.
About the author: Julie Ellis
Julie Ellis is Miami-based marketer, passionate traveller and business blogger.
When she’s not engaged in helping her customers and students, you can find her writing lifestyle and personal development articles.
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