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Starting the College Conversation

It was 2001 when I joined the wonderful world of college consulting. Applications were done by paper and pen and I hosted envelope-writing parties. Fast forward a few years into 2005 when I started College Bound Associates, LLC. This month marks 10 years! I’m celebrating with discounts and giveaways on social media throughout October.

As I celebrate the start of my own business, here’s my answer to a common parent question: How should I start the conversation with my child about college?

No matter what, remember: KEEP IT CASUAL. Every family and every child is unique, so the approach will differ. But today’s students typically get a lot of pressure at school from teachers and peers about college choices and selection, so it is important to keep this in mind when chatting with your child about college. An open mind, paired with a casual approach, offers your student the chance to share freely, honestly and without fear.

For most students, sophomore year is a good time to start the college conversation. For those who are highly motivated and interested in college as high school freshmen, then let your child initiate the conversation and encourage their enthusiasm as appropriate. On the other hand, if a student is not quite mature enough to even think about college, I suggest waiting until junior year.

The next question I am asked is how to start the conversation about college. Again, a casual approach is a successful approach! I recommend talking about college when it comes up organically.

One natural setting to start the conversation is while on vacation. As you’re driving to your destination (and your child is captive in your own vehicle!), conveniently stop for a “stretch break” on a college campus. Most campuses have a coffee shop or a scenic view to admire while you’re there. When you get back in the car, you can casually (emphasis on CASUALLY!) ask questions like, “Wow, that was a really big campus. What did you think about the size of that campus?” Try to think of open-ended questions. This will help you get a bit more information.

Another great way to start the conversation is while at the dinner table. While you enjoy a family meal, casually (there’s that word again, CASUALLY!) bring up the topic of careers. I don’t expect any of my students to know for certain what they want to study in college, but an idea can be helpful. So encourage your student to think about what they enjoy doing (i.e., working with children, working with other people, working with their hands, etc.). You want your child to start visiting colleges that DO offer the areas your child might want to study. Students change their minds, and that’s why choosing schools that offer several things a student is interested in studying is wise.

No matter how and no matter what, keep it pressure-free. Undue pressure creates a lot of anxiety for some students and you may reach the point of “teenager shutdown,” which won’t benefit anyone.

It’s also important to not compare your child to your own college choices. Where you attended college (or maybe where you wish you would have attended college) may or may not be the best fit for your child and it’s okay.

No matter when and how you start talking about college, stay focused on what is the best fit for your child academically, socially, and emotionally. Ultimately, students succeed when their unique needs and exciting ambitions stay at the center of every conversation.

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