How to Get Into & Pay for College


What if my parents are too involved in my decisions about college?

QUESTION: I'm 16-years old and a high school junior. My question is actually in regards to my best friend. You see, my mother and I have gone through all the counselor meetings and have even read one of your books, and we have a firm grasp on choosing and applying for colleges. However, in the case of my friend, his parents are relentless and unyielding, asserting themselves as the "foremost and only" authoritative decision-makers in the matter of his education. They're smothering him and his dreams without meaning to by forcing themselves upon the process. What can be done to help them see what their place is so that my friend can finally do the work needed to get where he wants to go? Signed, Parental Pressure

Dear Parental Pressure: We know of a student who was pressured by his parents to become a doctor. He endured four years as an undergraduate pre-medical student and four years as a medical student and graduated from medical school. After many years of education and tens of thousands of dollars of debt, he finally informed his parents that he did not want to become a doctor and would never practice. This is an extreme example of parental pressure gone wrong but is surprisingly not that uncommon.

Parents have a difficult role when it comes to college decisions. On the one hand, they want to give their children the freedom to become adults and make decisions to determine their future. On the other hand, they want to be involved in their children's decisions and help them to avoid mistakes. Since most parents are contributing financially to their child's education, some feel that they have the right to decide their children's futures. It is a difficult balance to provide guidance while allowing their children freedom.

Your friend will need to work with his parents to gain their trust and thus some freedom to make decisions regarding his college future. First, he should explain to his parents his future goals and interests. What does he want to study in college? What kind of college environment would he like? What would he like to do after graduating from college? Often parents are worried because they do not believe that their child has a plan. But if your friend can communicate his plan, that will soothe his parents' anxiety.

Next, your friend should outline his ideal plan for achieving his goals, asking for input from his parents. He should explain in a gentle but firm way that his parents' experience applying to and attending college was very different than his own will be. College admission has become increasingly competitive. This means that his parents and he need to get as much information as possible about the process from as many sources as possible. His guidance counselor and teachers are a great start. The more information you get and the more sources you seek out the better informed you will be.

It is clear that your friend will need to include his parents in the process. But he needs to be in control of the process while still giving his parents the opportunity to provide input. Your friend should also recognize why his parents are trying to dominate his college decisions. The bottom line is that they care and want to see him succeed. His job is to demonstrate to them that he has a plan for doing so and that while he needs their guidance, he needs to make his own decisions.


Gen & Kelly Tanabe
Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the founders of SuperCollege and the award-winning authors of 11 books on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. Together they were accepted to all of the Ivy League colleges and won more than $100,000 in merit-based scholarships to graduate from Harvard debt-free.

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