6 Tips for Supporting Your Teen's College Search
What every parent of a college-bound teen wants to know.
Graduating from high school is a big step for your student. It’s also a major change for you.
You have so much on your mind as you think about your child’s future. How do you prepare her for the real world? How will your relationship change as she becomes a young adult? Will she be ready for college when the time comes? And which school will be the best fit?
As you guide your high school senior through the emotional rollercoaster and big life decisions this next year holds, it helps to remember that you’re not alone. Sara Villanueva, PhD, associate professor of Psychology at St. Edward’s University and author of The Angst of Adolescence, How to Parent Your Teen and Live to Laugh About It, offers some advice on making it through. Villanueva is not only an expert on adolescent development, she’s also the mother of a recent college graduate, a current college student and a college-bound teen.
Ideally, you’ve been talking with your high school senior long before now about planning for college. If not, make a point of having ongoing discussions during the months ahead. Brief, frequent conversations focused on a few topics are much more productive than one agenda-packed family summit. Especially when your teen’s attention span and patience are in short supply. Talking often, over time will help your teen (and you) stay on track, catch problems early on and feel a lot less overwhelmed by the many decisions and actions preparing for college requires.
There’s no denying that we see our children’s behavior, achievements, mistakes — and yes, the college they choose — as a reflection of who we are and our parenting skills. Take a deep breath, and relax. It’s natural to feel that way. Own up to this reality. If you’re butting heads with your teen over college choices and majors, realize that you may be too emotionally or vicariously invested in their experience. The harsh truth is that this big step in your teen’s life is not about you, it’s about your child and what’s best for him or her. Give them the freedom to be responsible for their own college decisions. Think of it as essential training for when they leave home. You will all be glad you did.
Everyone processes and shares information differently. What’s your teen’s style? Is he introspective, laid back and not inclined to reveal what he’s thinking? Or does he broadcast every thought and opinion on his mind? If your attempts to discuss college plans are constantly met with monosyllables or “Mom, Dad, I’ve got this!”, try a different approach. For example, leave a school’s brochure on his desk, or forward a college’s email or website link with a simple note: “Thought you might be interested in this.” Then, be patient. Casually ask him about it days later, after he’s had time to think about it at his own pace.
What happens when your gut tells you that your kid is targeting the wrong school for the wrong reasons, and they ignore you when you try to give advice? Don’t stop talking. Underneath the eye rolling, exasperated sighs and silence, you are still getting through. Approach conversations honestly and openly, and show them that you hear and value what they say. Guide them through exploring what they really want and the kind of school that would best help them achieve their goals. They may look as though they’re not listening and they don’t care about what you think. But it’s when they seem like they’re not paying attention that they actually need you most. Stay engaged. Oh, and don’t forget to listen too!
Our intuition flows from our most authentic selves. It harbors the important lessons and values we’ve learned from family, teachers and other key people in our lives. Encouraging teens to listen to their “inner voice” can help them make smart decisions in tricky and unfamiliar situations, and will likely play a role in the college they choose. During a campus visit, don’t be surprised if they announce on the spot: “This is the one. It’s the place that feels right for me.”
We’ve all heard about college freshmen who land on campus with no clue of how to do laundry, fix a healthy snack or meal, budget their money, get to a doctor when they’re sick, or even set an alarm clock! Adapting to college has enough stress factors without having to learn basic life skills. Make sure your student has plenty to fall back on — a few top ones being good communication skills and study habits. Teach them how to be thoughtful communicators and to manage their time using a calendar planner. The more complete their “skillbox,” the more confident they’ll be away from home. And the more at ease you’ll be about their ability to stand on their own two feet.
Want more insights for your college search? Get answers to the top 10 questions parents ask us about financial aid: stedwards.edu/top10questions.