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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

How to Get Your Student to Take the Lead in their College Search

I imagine that it would be an important day for a father, who is also a professional chef, to be asked by his son about the best way to slice a tomato. Or perhaps a financial planner mom who gets asked by her daughter about investment advice. Perhaps you’ve experienced this. A kind of signaling from your child that you are more than the person who wakes them up, makes the dinners, and cleans the clothes - that you actually have a professional acumen to contribute to the world, and specifically, their world.

Yesterday, my oldest son, who is also going to be a freshman in high school this fall, asked me for advice on how he can start learning more about college and specifically his potential major of interest, marine biology. He was very quick to add a codicil onto the request: that he can decide when we’re talking about college and when we are not.

“Agreed,” I said.

For some context, this is the same child that, if we let him, would wear the same t-shirt for 72 hours straight. Perhaps like any parent, Bridget and I feel like we are in a constant state of prodding for him to do something, anything related to self-care and hygienic preservation. And while he insists he doesn’t care for the needling, he none-the-less relies on it, if we’re being honest. It’s not that he’s lazy. Just really laid back.

So the notion that he is putting up boundaries meant to limit any college-related prodding is so welcomed it’s almost too good to be true. He has heard Bridget and I talk to families and students on zoom calls that college is a family goal, and a team sport, with the student as the captain of the team. He seems to have been listening when we push students to be proactive in having “must haves - can’t haves” conversations with their parents about the types of colleges they are considering. He’s heard us talk about the importance of parents giving their children college budgets for them to work toward in the college and scholarship process - because it is empowering and formative for them to genuinely wrestle with the real-life balancing act between quality, value, and what someone can afford.

As you are thinking ahead to your student’s upcoming college search, perhaps you are worrying about how proactive your son or daughter is going to be. To put it more bluntly, how much are you going to have to do for them? Are they really going to take the lead and engage in the process? In my view, there’s only one way to find out:

Step one: set early and clear expectations, rules of the road, and a division of labor (who does what)

Step two: be consistent and unambiguous about sticking to those expectations

It may be hard, but it's not complicated. It may take time, but it will stick eventually. Difficult lessons often do.

In a way, take a page from my 14-year old and set boundaries with your family from the offset about how you’ll work together in the college process. And yes, I am fully aware that I never thought I would ever write that sentence.

Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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