We live in a society that is inherently destination-oriented. We’re constantly considering our next step, big or small. This becomes especially more apparent when guiding a child through their college search and application process!
With the beginning of spring usually comes the start of students and parents/guardians visiting campuses and communicating with admission representatives in an effort to begin building their college lists. Here are some tips on how to get started talking with your teen about the process:
How to Start Talking about College with Your Child
Now is a great time for parents/guardians (aka supporters) and students to talk about college and career plans. For supporters, we encourage you to begin this conversation with your student with a simple question: “Why do you want to go to college?”
You may find yourself nervous and wondering: “What if my child says they don’t want to go to college?” You must put aside your own expectations that your child will want to attend a certain university, study a certain subject, or even go to college at all, and simply ask the question!
Asking this question will begin transferring ownership of the discovery process to your child and help them to begin a period of self-awareness that is critical. In order for your child’s college application process to be fruitful, your student needs to find their voice.
How to Deal with the Answer
Because of our natural inclination to be destination-oriented, it’s likely that your child may respond with something similar to: “Isn’t that what you do after high school?” or “I don’t know what else to do.”
So, how exactly should you respond to an answer like that? You should remind your student that, regardless of the circumstance, going to college should never be the default answer! There is too much time and money at stake to follow a whim. That doesn’t mean a life plan must be in place before college can be considered, but it does mean going to college needs to hold some sense of purpose.
Helping Your Child to Determine Their Purpose
As a supporter, you should know that it’s highly likely that your child could change their major during their undergraduate career. The uncertainty that your student feels now, as a high school underclassmen, will likely follow them into college - and that’s okay! Make it your priority to help them face their uncertainty with confidence. Ask them questions like: “What are the three things you want to make sure you accomplish by the time you cross the stage at your college graduation?”
When you ask them this, they may look back at you with a blank stare. Encourage them to just simply consider it over the next few days, and perhaps begin a journal where they can document their college and career goals.
The point of this process is to help your child develop an inner dialogue and analyze their interests and aptitudes. You want to help your child look past superficial things - like going to college in a warm-weather climate, or having a big athletic program - and instead focus on what really matters to them as an individual.
How to Help Your Child Start College Planning
- Encourage discussions. Encourage your child to start conversations about careers and college with anyone in your family, their friends, teachers, counselors, or mentors. Students and counselors that are connected through Scoir can maintain communication online and even use in-app messaging to stay connected. This is a great time for them to start building a network and create a mentor/mentee relationship for advice and support.
- Make Lists of What Interests You. For your child, thinking about what they enjoy and what they’re good at, and then connecting it to a career can bring on feelings of stress. But it’s important that they get comfortable in the discomfort because a career field isn’t going to simply be decided for them. Encourage them to make lists of what they like and discuss those things with others who may help them connect it to a career.
- Tour Colleges, In Person and Virtually. Whether you travel to a college campus 30 minutes or 3 hours away, or visit a campus virtually from the comfort of your own home, touring college campuses can give you and your student a much better idea of what the college is like. Scoir students can utilize YouVisit virtual tours to tour institutions that interest them.
- Visit College Websites & Social Media Accounts. Exploring college’s websites and social media accounts can give your student an idea of what certain classes and programs are like, in addition to what the campus is like.
- Begin Building a College List. At this point, it’s important that your child simply start a list. It will likely change a lot as time goes by, and that’s okay! Just encourage them to give it a start. Students on Scoir can keep track of their list using the "MyColleges" feature, and can receive recommendations from counselors and parents, as well, when connected.
If your high schooler is still an underclassmen, spring is a great time to start a conversation with them about college. Remember, stay "student-centered" and focus on allowing them to talk with you rather than imposing your own expectations on them. Provide them with encouragement, ask questions that promote self-reflection, and remain unbiased to their thought-process.
Content produced in collaboration with Peter Van Buskirk.