Split blue image, woman with tablet, man at laptop, words Ask the Experts

What if I Disagree With My Student's College Choice?

Many parents have strong opinions when it comes to their student's college choices. But should parents do something if they disagree? Our experts weigh in.

Suzanne Shaffer
Freelance Writer
College Coach
When students and parents begin the college process, issues tend to arise. It’s the inevitable clash of what parents think is best for their kids versus what their student wants. As college approaches, the parent-student conflict intensifies. Parents must remember this core fact: Your student will be attending college, not you. Many parents want their children to attend their alma mater, but it’s not advisable to push them there. You may want them to attend a four-year college, but they may want to start at a community college and transfer once they know what they want to study (a smart move for many students). They may choose to attend a lesser-known college over a prestigious university. Or they may choose a trade school over a traditional college education.

The only guiding factor parents should have in college choice is cost. If your student wants to attend a college that’s not affordable for your family and financial aid at that college doesn’t lend itself to merit aid, you should step in and discourage this choice. You don’t want your student to graduate with insurmountable debt. The bottom line: Your student won’t be happy or excel at a college they didn’t choose themselves. Parents always want their children to be happy and succeed. If you want this for your child, let them choose the college they feel is their best fit, but offer your guidance to help them make a money-wise decision. 

Silhouette of person sitting at desk with laptopRhiannon Schade
Director of College Counseling
Collegewise of Millburn

It’s difficult to answer this question without having context. It depends on why you disagree. What are your reasons? The best way to avoid a situation where your student wants to attend a different college than one you would like is by opening up clear lines of communication before the student submits a single application. That being said, if you're in this situation, I recommend having a very honest conversation and being upfront about whose priorities matter more here. Things are not always as straightforward as they may seem.

Charlotte M. Klaar, PhDCharlotte M. Klaar, PhD
Director
Klaar College Consulting LLC
Unless it's a financial consideration, the decision is the student’s to make. It's the student who has to live at the college, not the parent. Smile and congratulate them on a decision that was well thought out. If it's a financial issue, you should have discussed this earlier in the process, but if the student wasn’t listening, then you simply have to tell them you can't afford to jeopardize your retirement for their education. Compromise is key.

You can find more great advice for navigating your role in your student’s college search in our Parents section.  

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