Should Parents Choose Their Child’s College?
Deciding where to attend college is one of the biggest decisions a young adult will make in their life. For many families, it involves a lot of discussion between parents and their children. But how much influence should parents have over their child’s college choice? There are good arguments on both sides of this issue.
Factors to Consider in the College Decision
There are several key factors that come into play when choosing a college:
- Course and major options
- Quality of teaching and faculty
- Academic rigor and reputation
- Extracurricular activities and sports
- Housing and dining options
- Location and surrounding community
- Tuition and fees
- Availability of financial aid and scholarships
- Size of college (small liberal arts vs large university)
- Geographical setting (urban, rural, climate, distance from home)
- Demographics (student body diversity)
- Campus culture and vibe
Why Parents Should Have Input
Here are some of the main reasons why parents should have a say in where their child goes to college:
For most families, parents foot a significant portion of the college costs. According to Sallie Mae, parents cover an average of 36% of college costs for their children. Given the large financial commitment, parents should get some input on college selection. They may encourage their child to consider more affordable options, particularly if money is tight.
Guidance and Wisdom
Parents often have a broader perspective than an 18-year-old senior in high school. They may suggest colleges their child hasn’t considered or point out potential pros and cons of different options. Parents can lend their guidance and wisdom during this important decision.
Accountability and Oversight
Some students may get caught up in wanting to attend a “name brand” college for prestige or status. Parents can hold their kids accountable, making sure they give fair consideration to all types of schools. They can also fact check any misconceptions their child may have about particular colleges.
Why the Child Should Decide
On the other hand, there are also good reasons why the college choice should ultimately be up to the student.
It’s Their Education
A college degree benefits the student much more directly than the parents. The child will be the one attending classes, studying for exams, and earning the degree. They need to be enthusiastic about where they’re going.
Part of growing up is learning to make big life decisions independently. Choosing a college helps teenagers take ownership of their future and develop critical thinking skills. Parents should guide, not dictate.
Interests May Differ
Parents often have a different perspective on which college factors matter most. They may prioritize campus safety, distance from home, or academics. But the student may be more focused on extracurricular activities, internship opportunities, or even the attractiveness of fellow students.
Recommendations for Parents in the College Search
Rather than outright picking where their child will go to college, parents should take the following approach:
Share Knowledge, Not Demands
Parents have the benefit of experience. They can educate their kids about the college selection process without demanding they apply to specific schools. Talk through all the options in a collaborative way.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Questions like “What majors are you considering?” and “What campus environment do you picture yourself in?” can spark meaningful conversations. It’s a more constructive approach than grilling your child about their list.
Encourage Campus Visits
There’s no better way for students to get a feel for different colleges than to step foot on the campuses themselves. Parents can facilitate college tours but allow their child to draw their own conclusions.
Discuss Budget Realities
Have frank conversations about tuition costs, financial aid packages, and any potential constraints around college funding. But let your child weigh affordability against other factors.
Stay Neutral About Specific Schools
Parents shouldn’t play favorites or vilify certain colleges. This can shut down communication if the student has different preferences. Stay open-minded.
Support the Final Decision
Once the student has decided on a college, parents should be supportive, even if it wasn’t their first choice. Getting behind their child’s selection eases the transition to college.
Advice for Students Making This Big Decision
Students should also approach the college decision responsibly:
Research All Your Options
Spend time exploring a wide range of colleges—don’t just default to those you’ve heard about or the top names. Use college search tools to find the best fit based on your needs.
Schedule College Visits
Set up tours of colleges you’re seriously considering so you can get a feel for what daily life is like on campus. Reach out to current students to hear their perspectives.
Have Candid Money Talks
Be realistic with your family about college costs and where you fall in terms of financial need and aid eligibility. Have open discussions about budgeting for college.
Share Your Thinking
Keep your parents in the loop about how you’re weighing each school’s academics, social life, location, and other factors. Get their feedback but make the final call yourself.
Practice Independence Now
Work on managing your own schedule, finances, and workload before college. Become more independent at home to prepare for living on your own.
Embrace This Exciting Milestone
Choosing a college is a major milestone on the path to adulthood. Enjoy exploring the possibilities and taking charge of your future!
Final Thoughts on Parents and College Selection
In an ideal world, choosing a college should be an open dialogue between parents and their children. Parents can provide guidance, insight, and support throughout the search process. But students should make the final decision themselves about where to attend. By maintaining this balance, families can reach a college choice that both parents and child feel good about.
The college years are a special time for learning, growth, and discovery. With reasonable input from mom and dad and an appropriate level of independence granted to the student, it can be both a collaborative and individual decision. This marks an exciting new chapter in life, allowing young adults to thrive in an environment that brings out their best.