As a college-bound parent, one of the biggest challenges is being able to step back and let your teen make the ultimate college decision. That can be hard, especially if you aren't exactly on the same page regarding what you think is best for your child. Your guidance is important, but your input should be just one factor among many that your student uses to make his or her choice.
Here's how to guide your child throughout the college process, without telling him or her what to do.
Help your child work through a checklist that hones in on what's important to him or her. Some questions to ask: Large university or small college? Dorm or commute? Big city or college town? Whatever the answers, resist the urge to be judgmental if your preferences happen to be different.
Do your homework
If you plan to share your opinions on various institutions, you should know what you're talking about. Read up on the colleges in which your child is interested so you can have an educated conversation about the pros and cons of each. The effort will show, and your teen will be more likely to consider your take.
Think about your teen, not yourself
You might fall in love with a particular college based on your own allegiances, especially if you always pictured your son or daughter following in your footsteps. While those feelings are valid, remember that your teen has a unique personality and set of interests. Try to picture the type of environment in which he or she is most likely to thrive and offer assistance in looking for the right match.
Don't make it all about money
Obviously how to pay for college is a huge consideration, but it doesn't have to dominate every college conversation, or keep your teen from applying to a dream school. In fact, sticker price doesn't always tell the full story since it doesn't take into consideration any financial aid, including grants and scholarships. That being said, once the award letters arrive and you know how much each school is offering and what you are expected to pay out of pocket and/or take out in student loans, a conversation that considers the potential return on investment of each choice is important.
Make time for touring
If possible, go with your child to check out his or her top college picks in person. You'll be able to get a better sense of the type of campus that your son or daughter prefers. Seeing the campus in person and what it has to offer can help ease your mind that he or she is making the right choice.
Encourage further exploration
Your student is facing a tough decision, but there are many resources to help get through the process. College advisers, for example, might have insider knowledge that can help narrow down the list of potential schools. Your teen can also research their schools of interest online and through social media by talking to current students and alumni.
By positioning yourself as a trusted confidant — rather than trying to sway him or her toward the college you think is best — your family will be able to get through the college selection process without any surprises.