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How to Start The College Conversation®

As a parent, time occasionally feels interminable – usually when your child is in one of those “difficult” stages. Mostly, however, the future arrives far more quickly than you ever anticipate.  In the blink of an eye, your child passes from one grade to the next until it’s suddenly time to pick up his cap and gown.  Rather than be caught by surprise at the end of his senior year, it makes sense to slowly begin discussing what comes after high school with your seventh, eighth and/or ninth graders.  

Here are a few ideas as to how to get the dialogue rolling:

Talk about your own experience.  Did you or your spouse/partner attend college?  If so, use that to your advantage and tap into your own undergraduate years.  You can regale your child with stories about dorm life, amazing professors or even the simple fun of debating politics with your roommate in the dining hall.  If he sees how much you value your experience, he’ll be more likely to consider it a viable option for himself. If you didn’t attend college, talk about that as well. If you hope to send your child to college, it’s even more important to make sure he knows it’s a possibility.

Attend events at a local school/campus.  Whether it’s a community college, the flagship campus of your state university or a swanky private school, most people live within acceptable driving distance of a college.  Do some research and investigate whether there are any special events open to the public (preferably one you think your child would enjoy).  It could be a lecture on the Gold Rush, a basketball game or a campus production of Les Miserables.  A little exposure to collegiate life might just get the wheels turning in your child’s head.  He’ll get a small taste of the opportunities and entertainment higher education can offer.  And he begin picturing himself walking around a college campus.

Inquire about career dreams and professional aspirations.  Is your child angling to become a Supreme Court Justice?  Perhaps he’s gunning to be the next Steven Spielberg?  Or maybe he’s hoping to take his love of cars and open up his own auto-body shop?  Regardless of his specific ambitions, he’ll most likely require an education to fulfill his goals.  Take this opportunity to talk to him about defining his idea of professional success and the academic path that might be needed to get there.   

Encourage your child to talk with teachers and mentors about their own academic journeys.  The push for college doesn’t only have to come from within your own home.  Let’s be honest, sometimes kids are more likely to listen to someone who isn’t their parent.  Certainly teachers, coaches, Boy Scout/Girl Scout troop leaders, etc. have had their own collegiate experiences.  Have your child talk with other adults he admires and respects about how they came to their own decisions about college.

Let your child know you’re saving for college.  These days, it’s hard to escape news stories, debates and discussions about the rising cost of higher education.  And it’s likely your child is (at least somewhat) aware of how expensive college truly is.  Perhaps he fears the price tag is prohibitive.  Or maybe he’s uncertain if you’ll be able to help him out.  Tell him you’ve begun setting aside some money should he have a desire to attend.  Having a financial plan in motion shows your child you value education and that you will gladly invest in his future.        

Of course, while it’s certainly important to start a dialogue with your children, it’s also crucial you don’t go overboard. You don’t want your child stressing out, fearing that every academic misstep from now until high school graduation could dash his collegiate hopes.  You don’t want him thinking his life will be over if he doesn’t get into a specific school, say, your alma mater.  And you don’t want him so focused on the future that he doesn’t enjoy or appreciate the present.

Instead, what you’re doing (or should be doing ideally) is simply planting a seed.  You want college to be on his radar so he slowly begins to consider the prospect of higher education and that it is an option for him.


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