Leaving high school

5 Tips for Talking to Your Child Realistically About College

By Melissa A. Kay

27Found this helpful
27Found this helpful

The move from high school to college can be one of the most complex transitions of a teenager’s life. The more self-awareness she has, the easier the process will be. Here’s how to help your child think realistically about college and her future.

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Fit matters more than location.

Your child may have dreams of going to school in a big city. Or maybe she wants to stay close to home. Location isn’t nearly as important as fit, however. Explain that for her to succeed and grow, the school must have majors that fit her interests, career goals and abilities. It also must offer support services appropriate to her needs, and an environment that’s comfortable. You can look for colleges that have it all, but fit has to come first.

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A four-year program may not be the best route.

Your child may have her heart set on going to a four-year college right away, especially if her friends are. But if you believe that starting in a two-year program will give her the best chance for long-term success, tell her. Start by acknowledging her wishes. Then point out the options and advantages of transferring once she shows she can do college-level work. An associate’s degree on her way to a bachelor’s degree is a good thing to have in her back pocket.

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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 involvement in non-academic areas. Schools also want to see independence from family and home. To increase her chances of getting into a school of her choice, explain to your child that she needs to get more involved in out-of-school and extracurricular activities. These can include clubs, camps, youth groups, sports, volunteer work, community service or a paying job. Let her know her worth is seen in more than just her GPA.

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Being social is more important than ever.

How does your child manage in social situations? If she tends to avoid them, she may have a tough time adjusting to college. Talk to her about the importance of building a social life, and the value of having people to hang out with. Remind her that teams, clubs, campus activities and sororities provide a natural way to meet people. Your child doesn’t have to wait until college, either. Suggest that she join new groups now to build social skills and develop social confidence.

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

Your child may love painting, but is it a realistic career choice? Even if she’s talented, could she make a living at it? Rather than argue about it, help her understand the realities. Suggest that she research the field to find out what qualifications and experience she’d need, and how much fine artists might earn. At the same time, remind her that there are other ways to work in the field. She can always take painting classes or volunteer at a museum while she explores.

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About the Author

Portrait of Melissa Kay

Melissa A. Kay is a writer, editor and content strategist in the areas of family, health, employment, beauty, lifestyle and more.

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Portrait of Jim Rein

Jim Rein, M.A., has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and attention issues.

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