How to Survive the College Search with Your Parents


Karen Langley advises teens to work with their parents to get the most out of their college search.

Parents. We know, they sometimes seem like a pain. There's that curfew thing. Then they just don't seem to remember those times you really did take out the garbage without being told. Now it's time to start looking for a college and you've got to put up with their nagging and their unsolicited advice. But trust us, when it comes to the college search, parents aren't all that bad. In fact, you need them big time. They've got experience, wisdom and insights you won't find anywhere else. And they no doubt have a pretty good idea what kind of school would be a good fit for you. After all, who knows you better? You just need to know how to work with them rather than against them. How? Well, we asked Christian college admissions counselors for advice on how you can work together with your parents to get the best results in the college search process. They gave us three big tips.

Be willing to compromise. You're convinced that the best place for you is a college that's 2,000 miles away from home. Your parents are determined to send you to the college down the street. "One of the things that really hinders the college search process is that there's a lot of tension between parents and students," says Rosemary Etter, associate director of admissions at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At those times when opinions clash, you may feel like throwing your hands up in the air and saying, "Forget it!" Don't give up: Compromise is possible. When you and your parents agree to make the search a team effort, things will go much more smoothly.

So, plan a time to sit down and talk. Think about your priorities in regard to size, location, and some of the other main factors listed on the worksheet. You should be able to state the reasons these things are so important to you. Ask your parents about their priorities, and find out why they feel strongly about them. Once you've all shared your feelings, it will help you to come up with a compromise.

Plan a family visit. Visit schools with your parents. When your mom and dad experience a campus firsthand, they're more likely to understand why you like it. That makes it easier for you once the family negotiations begin. "Parents want to feel good about the place they're sending their son or daughter," says Sara Christner, an admissions counselor at Calvin College. Having a parent visit with you also can make the experience less overwhelming. Think of it this way: If you visit alone, you're looking at the campus with two eyes. If you go with Mom and Dad, there are now six eyes to take everything in.

"A successful visit is a visit where there's interaction with all the parties involved—the parent, the student and the admissions counselor," says Adam Wright, director of freshman recruitment at Dallas Baptist University in Dallas, Texas. Eric Jackson, assistant director of admissions at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana, worked with a family last year who planned their college visits well. Both parents came to the campus with their son for a college-sponsored visit during the son's junior year. He applied during the summer and came back by himself in the fall of his senior year. "They were very thorough in the process and got a great perspective on the university,"Jackson says.

School-sponsored visit days give your family a chance to view the campus, with events that are structured for both you and your parents. "One thing I like about those big visit days is that families get to intermingle. They're really good at bouncing ideas off each other," says Jackson. Some students decide the minute they arrive at a campus, This is the school for me! Others decide right away, I hate this place! If you have those instant reactions, it's important to figure out why you feel that way. Jackson encourages families to take notes while on campus and make a list of pros and cons on the ride home. You can use these notes for a family discussion. Talking to your parents might help you to understand what you like or dislike about a school, and then you'll be able to look for—or stay away from—others like it. 

Pray together. One of the best things a family can do throughout the college search process is pray together. Pray for patience with each other, and with the process itself. Jennifer Swanborough, associate director of admissions at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, says her admission staff prays that the right students will choose their college. They especially appreciate families who pray regarding the college decision. As your family prays together, place the decision in God's hands.

This will help your family when those decision letters are delivered—especially if you have to deal with the disappointment of not getting admitted to your first choice. "Sometimes God's way of telling us is by closing the door to one institution and opening the door to another," Wright says. "It doesn't mean you're a failure; it just means God has a different plan for your education." Try to remember that your parents are just as emotionally invested in your decision as you are. They are hoping and praying for the best for you. As you pray with your parents, pray for your parents, too. There will be a lot of changes ahead for them. Ask God to give them strength, encouragement and wisdom—and to remind you all that you're in this together.

Written by Karen Langley


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