Picking a College: Parents Just Don't Understand (or Do They?)

College Admissions

Every year, at thousandsPicking a College: Parents Just Don't Understand (or Do They?) of dinner tables across the country, a silent war of wits wages. You may even be engaged in it right now. The battle lines are drawn: Who gets to pick the college? Is it you, the student who will be attending? It is your parents, who are footing the bill? Or should both have a say? And if so, how much input does each party get?

Your parents, naturally, believe they should have the most say. After all, they’re not only paying for it, but they also feel that they have the best grasp on what’s most beneficial for you. You, on the other hand, feel that your input should be the most valid. You’re the one attending, after all! Sure, your parents are taking on most of the financial burden, but they’re not the ones who have to literally live with the decision—you do!

So, who should have a say, and who should butt out? As it turns out, both sides have valid points and opinions to share and, working together, can come up with the best solution—not only for your parents, but for you, too.

How can your parents help?

Parents have five very good reasons for why they should be involved in the college selection process:

1. They know you well.

Your parents probably know you better than anyone else. That’s their strong suit. They’ve watched you grow up, and they know your personality, your wants, and your needs. You may not realize it, but they’ve spent a great deal of their time simply observing you, cataloguing your likes and dislikes, and sharing in your goals and dreams. They may not know the name of your secret crush, or they may have forgotten (as they serve it for dinner for the tenth time) that you hate broccoli but, ultimately, they know you at your deepest core, and can give you guidance based on this knowledge. In fact, parents are often a better source of insight than your best friend or significant other, because they can use their years of observation, coupled with their own experience, to give you the wisest advice. Take advantage of it!

2. They want what’s best for you.

Sure, they may not know the coolest fashions (or be willing to buy them for you), and their idea of a fun evening might bore you to tears (Scrabble? Really?), but when it comes to what will place you in the strongest position professionally and academically, they want what’s best for you. In fact, they want it so much that, in many cases, they’re willing to go into huge debt for it. Don’t forget, your parents want you to succeed—not only because they’ll be able to brag about you to their neighbors, but also because they know that in academic success lies a bright professional future. And in a bright professional future lie many wonderful lifelong opportunities.

3. They’ve been there before.

We often tend to forget that our parents have been where you are now: at the brink of high school completion, with the whole future ahead of them, and with the all the uncertainty and excitement that comes along with it. Your parents have gone down that path with their own record of failures and successes, which they rely on when guiding you . Ask them for advice! You may not always agree with what they say, or be willing to follow it, but you can at least get another take on a school or city that will make your decision that much easier. Even more importantly, you can avoid the mistakes they made (even if you may make new ones!).

4. They can offer a adult third-party perspective.

Perhaps parents’ most useful insight stems from the fact that they are adults. They know what the “grown-up” world is looking for from a college graduate, and can give you that information without holding back. Even more importantly, your parents will always be honest with you. A guidance counselor may spin things in a positive light, and a potential employer or college admissions counselor may sometimes sugar-coat a situation. Your parents will never do that. They’ll be straightforward and upfront with just about anything you ask them—and, when it comes to the college selection process, that exactly the kind of guidance and advice you need!

5. They’re paying for it.

Like it or not, if your parents are likely paying for at least a portion of your schooling, they have a right to have their say about where you should go. They shouldn’t dictate or demand that you attend a certain school, and the decision should always be a collaborative one, but they still deserve to have their say, and their words should carry considerable weight in your mind.

But what about what you want?

Of course, it’s not all about your parents—nor should it be. You’ll be the one attending and, ultimately, you should be the one that’s happiest with your choice. It's easy to dismiss their concerns and recommendations because that's what teenagers do. It's a biological function which makes it easier for you to eventually leave home. Can you imagine if you had to move out when you were seven years old and thought that your parents were the two most amazing people in the world? It's a lot easier to imagine going to college next year, when your parents seem oppresive, unsympathetic, and annoying. Good riddance! But you will feel differently about them in a few years, whether you know it or not. You will return to a time when you marvel at how much they know and how much they love you. So you shouldn't discount their advice on a life-changing decision just because they are no longer "cool." They are still the same people who helped you learn about and navigate this world a decade ago and their desire to seek out the best for you hasn't changed.
When making your final selections, don’t rely simply on your own opinions—sometimes, when you’re so focused on all the little things differentiating one school from another, you can lose sight of the bigger picture. Let your parents give you guidance, and use their support to make the best decision.
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Image: "Take my hand" courtesy of Stephan Hochhaus

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