5 talking points to get your child thinking realistically about college

At a glance

  • Going from high school to college is a challenging transition for many teens.

  • It’s important for kids to understand their needs as they think about the future.

  • The right college fit is more important than location for most kids.

The move from high school to college can be one of the most challenging of a teen’s life. The more teens know and understand themselves, the easier the transition will be. Here are five talking points to help get your child thinking realistically about college and the future.

1. Fit matters more than location.

Some kids dream of going to school in a big city or in an exciting location. Others want to stay close to home. However, most families find that location isn’t nearly as important as the right college fit.

Explain to kids that to thrive as students, the school they attend must have majors that fit their interests, career goals, and abilities. It should also offer the right support services for their needs, and an environment that’s comfortable. You can look for colleges that have it all but fit has to come first.

2. A four-year program may not be the right path.

Many kids have their heart set on going to a four-year college right away, especially if their friends are. But if you think starting in a two-year program is a better path, tell your child.

Start by acknowledging what your teen wants. Then point out the options and advantages of transferring once your child shows the ability to do college-level work. An associate’s degree on the way to a bachelor’s degree is a good thing to have in the back pocket.

3. Grades matter, but there’s more to making the cut.

Colleges don’t look at grades alone. They want to see that students have interests and are active in non-academic areas. Schools also want to see independence from family and home.

To increase the chances of getting into the school of their choice, kids need to participate in out-of-school and extracurricular activities. Talk to your teen about different opportunities in high school. These include clubs, camps, youth groups, sports, volunteer work, community service, or a paying job. Explain how your child’s worth is seen in more than just a GPA.

4. Being social is more important than ever.

How does your child manage in social situations? Kids who tend to avoid them may have a harder time adjusting to college.

Talk to kids about why it’s important to build a social life, and the value of having people to hang out with. Remind your child that teams, clubs, campus activities, and sororities are a natural way to meet people. They also help create a support network. Your child doesn’t have to wait until college, either. Suggest that your teen join new groups now to build social skills and develop social confidence.

5. Hobbies and passions don’t always make for a career.

Your child may love painting, but is it a realistic career choice? Even if the talent is there, could your teen make a living at it?

Rather than argue about it, help your child understand the realities. Suggest researching the field to find out what qualifications and experience are needed, and how much fine artists might earn. At the same time, remind your child there are other ways to work in the arts. For example, your child could volunteer at a museum or explore a career as a graphic artist.

Learn about common pitfalls when choosing a college. And get tips on how to help your child with common problems in college.

Key takeaways

  • Talking openly about college can help your child make better decisions.

  • Acknowledge your child’s wishes before suggesting alternatives.

  • Encourage your child to be active in social activities outside of school.


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