Starting the College Discussion With Your Child? Here’s What to Cover

By Sam Coren Staff

college discussion childIf you have a child who just started high school, one thing is for sure:  college is the last thing on their minds. As they start acclimating to high school life, it can be easy for them to forget that preparing for college starts in 9th grade. While it’s not necessary to be a “Tiger Mom” and stress them out about every little detail, it is important to begin the discussion about college early. When both you and your child are on the same page about expectations, there will be less drama when application time rolls around.

Here are a few ideas to get the conversation started:

1. Explain the importance of keeping grades up.

Some students experience difficulty making the transition to high school coursework. When it comes to admissions, GPA is one of the most important factors in acceptance. Even if your child isn’t pining for the Ivy League or other highly selective schools, many well-regarded public colleges have strict GPA cut-offs in their admissions requirements.

Course selection is another big factor. While many competitive students will try to bite their teeth on all Honors-level or AP coursework, not all students can handle the workload. If your child is struggling in a certain subject and seems overly stressed by the demanding course load, it may be wise to tell them to take a lower level course to prevent them from burning out.

2. Be open about how much you can financially contribute to college expenses.

As tuition costs continue to climb, you may find that you haven’t saved as much as you should’ve. It’s not easy for every parent to talk to their child about money, but it’s important. If your family makes over $150,000 gross income, your child is unlikely to receive financial aid or need-based scholarships. Finances can be tight even for more well-off families, especially if you’re going to have more than one child in college at the same time.

I had the good fortune of starting college before the “great recession,” however when I graduated in 2009 I couldn’t help but feel guilty about the high tuition bills my parents paid on my behalf. If life had a “reset” button, I would have chosen a less expensive school. While I managed to graduate debt-free (barely), not all students are as lucky. Even if you think you’ve got all your bases covered financially, you should still talk about college costs before your child starts applying to schools.

3. Make sure they know it’s “okay” to not know what they want to do after high school yet.

During the college application process I had a tough time figuring out what I really wanted to do for a living. While many of my high school classmates had it in their heads that they wanted to be doctors, lawyers, teachers or Wall Street tycoons, I was left juggling a million ideas and feeling very discouraged. The thing I didn’t realize at the time was that college is an excellent place for self-exploration – even if it means changing your major a few times and working a few internships to find your path.

If your child hasn’t figured out their passion yet, encourage them to keep exposing themselves to new learning opportunities. Many colleges offer summer programs for high school students based on a wide variety of fields of study. Not only does this expose your child to a taste of college life, but it also helps them determine if any of their interests could lead into a possible career.

Talking to your child about college doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking as long as you start the conversation early and keep the lines of communication open. And don’t forget that when you and your child are ready to start looking into schools together, StudentAdvisor’s free college comparison tool is an excellent way to evaluate college costs and admissions requirements.


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