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How Do I Help Families With Differing College Goals?

Sometimes parents disagree with their students on college preferences. Here's some advice from fellow experts on how you can help families through this.

Charlotte M. Klaar, PhDCharlotte M. Klaar, PhD
Klaar College Consulting LLC

One of the first things I tell my families is that the college admission process is about finding a good fit and match rather than trophy hunting. I work diligently to help the parents understand that this is the student’s process and that in order to have the thrill of success when he or she is accepted into a college, the student must make the decisions as to how the process will unfold. The college counselor is there to facilitate these decisions and to ensure that the timeline is maintained. As a good facilitator, the counselor will show the student many options that are viable for him or her.

Ann HerbenerAnn Herbener
College Counselor
Papillion-La Vista High School
The goal is to get everyone—parents and students—on the same page. Communication is key, making sure all parties have the same information. An individual meeting including parents can help keep that communication open. Ultimately, I encourage parents that the decision lies with the student with input from the parents.

Suzan ReznickSuzan Reznick
The College Connection
When, as is often the case, there is significant conflict between parents and students, I find myself in a mediator role. My greatest challenge is trying to help the “combatants” really hear and understand what the other is saying. While parents do need to respect their children’s desires, the students need to understand that their parents’ ability to pay can and should have a big impact on the decisions being made. And if parents feel very uncomfortable, as many do, having their child choose schools that might require a plane ride (which is an additional expense) these concerns need to be openly addressed.

CX experts generic imageHeather Johnson
Educational Consultant
I think a lot of this happens when families haven’t really explored too much yet. I encourage conversations, and I also present information about a variety of schools, reminding them that there are probably many that they don’t even know about yet. I think that when families visit schools together it can sometimes help in terms of their understanding, also maybe their appreciation of location. The financial piece is trickier but I always have the conversation with the parents and the student together about the expense of college and the fact that sometimes this is also a deciding factor in the process. For families who can afford to pay full tuition for college but would like to not have that huge price tag, we talk about merit scholarships and the possibility of that. For the most part these kinds of issues, in my experience, seem to work themselves out during the process.

Sandra E. CliftonSandra E. Clifton
Educational Consultant for Social & Emotional Learning
Clifton Corner: An Academic Coaching Center
I think this answer varies for each individual family, based on the unique situation they are currently encountering. But regardless of the details, it’s important for students and their parents to remember that college is a process of personal and intellectual growth—not performance art. If we keep the focus on discovery instead of achievement, I truly believe that college will be an invaluable experience. In the end, it comes down to who is willing to pay for the student’s first-choice school, among the schools that offer admission. When I went through this process 35 years ago, my father told me that there was a fixed amount of money for them to help cover college. That was enough to pay for tuition, room, and board at the flagship state school. After that, I would have to earn scholarships, take out loans, or work to cover the rest. I didn’t like that at the time, but as an adult, I found that was fair. I took my father’s advice and graduated with little debt.

Stuart NachbarStuart Nachbar
If the parents are not willing to pay beyond a specific amount and the student is unwilling to work to pay the difference to go to their first-choice school, then the parents will win out. They have the money and the student is under their care. If the parents are not willing to pay but the student is willing to take the extra steps to cover costs, you have to respect the student for wanting to take on the responsibility. A counselor can help the student confirm that for themselves. Counselors can do a lot to help make sure that a student does not end up making a very costly mistake.

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