The college process is a source of frustration and stress for parents and students not only because it is complicated and ever-changing but also because the role of the parent and the student and their relationship is changing at the same time.
The student and parent both want good outcomes for the student but may not agree on the definition of a good outcome. This requires some discussion and research. Both of them are facing unfamiliar territory in terms of decisions about which college to choose and how to navigate the admission application process.
The student is keely aware that he is 18 or very close to that and often feels pressure to make all the major decisions on his own. The parent is concerned about finances and is trying to help his budding college student get the best education value without scrambling the family nest egg.
The best approach to the college process as a family is for the parent to sit down with the student and listen to what the student would like to accomplish, ask thoughtful questions and encourage the student. When students do not feel pressured by parents and feel that they have some autonomy in the process, they are more likely to want to work with their parent as a team.
In a team environment, parents can candidly explain to students what they are able to contribute to educational costs. In the current economy, sometimes that amount is zero. Parents and students can compare what they can contribute with actual costs and potential financal aid and scholarship assistance. The earlier this discussion takes place, the more lead time students have to realize the need to consider college costs in college choice and to begin early to look for scholarships.
Early discussions about the process, costs and family assistance can also give the student time to earn money (or at least spend less of what they will earn) to help with costs. It also allows time for them to enter contests and otherwise take a key role in making sure there is enough money available to pay college costs.
Parent involvement in the college process is critical to student success. Parents know students best and can be their best ally in the process. Parents know whether their children are ready to leave home or should begin college near home. Parents are aware of the level of maturity of their children with regard to time management and financial literacy.
It is critical however that the student sit in the driver's seat for this process. Students are more likely to be successful if they are not waiting on parents to take care of all the details of applying to college and for scholarship assistance. Keep in mind that when they get to college, students will be facing decisions and will do a better job if decision making is not new to them.
Parents can add support, encouragement and gently remind their children, but the process itself is a growth opportunity for teens about to go off to college. And once students are in college, it is very helpful to them to have already shouldered responsibility for their success and to know how to advocate for themselves.