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Talking to Your Parents About College

Keeping your parents informed isn’t just helpful for them. It’s valuable for you, too.

The college admissions process – and the months or years leading up to it – isn’t just an important time for students. It’s a big deal for parents, too.

In an article for The Washington Post, clinical psychologist Linda McGhee talks about some of the ways this time can be emotionally taxing on the people who raised you. For example, your parents might be trying to figure out how to guide you without helping too much, or how to engage in serious conversations without seeming overbearing. They might also be coming to terms with the realization that what they envision for your future is not necessarily what you are picturing.

“The college process is part of the long goodbye that parents experience with their children,” McGhee writes.

With this in mind, try to keep your parents in the loop as much as possible while you’re planning for college. This is beneficial not only for them but also for you, because their perspectives — whether they received diplomas or not — can be valuable and help you along this new journey.

Here are a few tips to help keep your parents informed and to (hopefully) minimize stress for everyone involved.

Be upfront about your goals.

For many high schoolers, college planning is one of the first steps you’ll take in establishing your independence and individuality as an adult. Be honest with yourself about what you want – or don’t want – your future to look like. Talk openly with your parents about your goals and interests, your fears and dislikes. If you have disagreements, it’s better to discuss these now, while you’re still in the planning process, rather than later when you’re up against the stress and time constraints of admissions deadlines.

Ask for advice.

“The world of college admissions has changed since parents were young adults,” says McGhee. Not only has the number of applicants increased (therefore making the process more competitive), but the digital era has also introduced an array of changes.

Even with generational differences, however, your parents are likely able to shed light on universal topics like budgeting, moving away from home, networking, and other aspects of the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Keep the conversation going.

Planning for college is a process with many steps and milestones. You’ll eventually need to create a list of desired schools, apply for financial aid and/or explore other payment options, fill out admissions paperwork, gather letters of recommendation, and so on. Each of these steps may require a sit-down (or two or three) with your parents. Talk to them about when they’d like to have these discussions. Over dinner? Every other Sunday afternoon? Plan it out, then stick to the plan. And remember, you’re all on the same team.

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