I started talking to my kids about their college education about a week after they were born. OK, that is a bit of exaggeration, but it is not too far from the truth. Education is important to any new parent, and I spent my 30s having children and pursuing graduate studies. During that decade of my life, my own education and my children’s future consumed my thoughts.
Parents have a huge influence on their kids, and children will adopt family ideals if Mom and Dad share their beliefs. Therefore, I recommend that college conversations begin when the little one enters pre-school. The purpose of these higher education dialogues, however, should not be about where to attend; rather, parents should share their college experiences, talk about the importance of education, and explain how some careers—such as being a doctor or a teacher—require many years of school. Setting the stage for lifelong learning begins in the early years.
Serious conversations about attending college should start during seventh and eighth grade. In fact, it is best to prepare for life after high school before the first high-school bell rings. Talk with your eager adolescent about choosing college preparatory classes, participating in community service and developing personal talents. With the right encouragement, a child could easily develop a passion that guides him to future educational and life goals.
In ninth grade, the college indoctrination process truly begins. Students take standardized tests, complete interest inventories, and participate in initial meetings with their guidance counselor. These exploratory steps pave the way to junior year when students and families should become motivated about researching their options.
There are more than 9,000 colleges and universities, and even the most organized student will benefit from parental assistance. Don’t, however, be the over-involved ‘helicopter’ mom who hovers over every move or the ‘talent-scout’ dad who tries to brand their teenager and broker the best deal. It’s more important to ask your maturing child the right questions, listen, and be supportive.
Size truly matters. More relationally-oriented individuals tend to prefer the intimate classroom environment of a smaller campus. These schools are more person-centered and offer better opportunities to interact with professors. On the other hand, seniors looking to break out of the high-school fish bowl or wanting to stay under the radar should consider big school opportunities. Larger institutions also offer a wider range of classes, a variety of housing options, and big-time sports.
Location is the next topic to tackle. A school’s setting can have a significant impact on the college experience. Some may want to be close to home, but others may prefer to be on a mountain, near a beach, or in a major metropolis. College is both an education and a journey; it is a great time to push beyond one’s comfort zone and live in your dream location. And no matter where the school is, a student can always pack their books and transfer credits to a new university if things don’t work out.
Some may allow their course of study to drive their college search. This is an important consideration, but the majority of college students switch degree programs multiple times prior to graduation. Also, most college-bound high school seniors don’t have enough experience or information to be absolutely positive about what they want to study. It is important a university has the proposed area of interest, but attending the most prestigious program will not ensure success or happiness.
Watching your child mature and make major decisions can be challenging for any parent. College is a huge step toward adult independence, and it can be difficult for mom or dad to recognize the line between interference and support. Trust you have a raised an intelligent individual who makes good decisions and celebrate this exciting life transition.
Prior to going into private practice as psychotherapist and learning disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S, M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.