Dealing with Your Parents' Pearls of College Wisdom

By Irene Starygina
07/13/2018
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When it comes to picking where you’ll spend four years of your life, should you actually tune into what seems like endless lecturing from those people who know it all--your parents? Here’s some handy advice on dealing with difficult parents during the college application process and how to make them work for you.

Explain delicately that times have changed. 

School rankings and programs are constantly changing, and a college that was considered the best in the nation for a certain field 20 years ago might have a lot more (or less) to offer now. Parents sometimes don’t realize that it’s more than twice as hard to get into Harvard now as it was when they were applying, simply because there are a lot more qualified high school seniors these days getting degrees. What your parents might once have considered “backup schools” are now as selective as the Ivies. However, this means there are also several schools out there with English professors as good as Harvard’s. Sit them down by the computer and make a case for your top choice.

Put your parents to work. 

If your parents are popping their head into your room more and more around decision time, assign them simple but tedious tasks that will keep them busy. They’re itching to feel involved, so why not ease your stress by putting some of the scheduling on their shoulders? While your parents should never write your admission essays (feel free to let them proofread) or contact admissions offices for you, they can serve as your research and planning interns. They can make a calendar with application deadlines, request financial aid information from each school, and find out the dates of college tours. Make them do research on how much travel, food and entertainment will cost each month. It might feel weird discussing how much spending money you’ll need, but at least they’ll stop assuming that you can get by on that $100 a month (kudos to you if you can, though).

Whatever you do, make sure to discourage them from calling and harassing admissions offices and your guidance counselors. This can seriously hurt your chances of acceptance. Your college counselor might have hundreds of students to take care of, but they often forge close bonds with college administrations and can put in a good word for you. Pissing them off won’t do any good. If your parents insist on consulting with an admissions officer to get general information about the college, remember to explain to them that it’s only useful until December, when they get swamped with applications—the ideal time to contact an admissions officer is September - November.

Say no to bribes. 

If your parents are really extreme and try to threaten you by playing the “I’m going to cut you off and not do your laundry anymore” card, you can be really obnoxious and quote Andrew Allen, author of College Admissions Trade Secrets and renowned private college counselor: “Your parents should help you weigh the pros and cons of each college, but they should not actually choose a college for you.” Let’s face it, if you go to a college because your parents bribed you with a new car, you’ll probably be parking it somewhere else just a year later. While tricking your parents might seem like a great idea now, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble first by doing thorough research, then following your heart.

But don't count out their advice altogether.

Don’t completely write off what your parents say, no matter how annoying they seem. It’s true, sometimes it’s in your best interest to look further than first impressions. That uptight college that gives you the creeps might very well have a smaller department that you’re going to love and get lots of personal attention. For example, someone who majors in journalism at a predominantly business school gets great choices when it comes to internships and jobs from the department secretary and the career center.

Here are some parents’ pearls of wisdom you may want to take to heart: Be realistic about a school’s reputation. Will employers always hire Harvard grads over someone with ample experience who graduated from a state school? That all depends on what your major. If you plan on going to law or med school in the future, your alma mater’s reputation will heavily influence your chances. However, if you’re not sure what you want to do, but suspect that you would be happy at a smaller, local liberal arts college, go for it. And if you can plan on staying in you college’s area after graduation, you’ll have local appeal to employers there. You can easily find out what percent of grads get a full-time job soon after graduation by calling the school’s career office or a particular department. If it seems kind of low, or they don’t have any information on the subject, you might consider other options. But if you find out that the college your parents are raising their noses at has excellent placement rates and great professors in a particular department, take a closer look.

Be honest with yourself. 

If you have an addictive personality but still care about your GPA, a party/sports school may not be a wise choice. It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll confine the partying to weekends, but before you know it you might be taking five-day weekends. Take some time to research schools that have a good balance of academic and social life—one place to start is Unigo’s student-written college reviews.

Some colleges are like sushi – you thought you would hate it until you tried it. And if your parents are covering at least part of the cost, they deserve your undivided attention for at least a few minutes. Go on as many college visits with them as possible. Make sure to sound sincere when you tell them that you’re taking everything they say into consideration. Talk to people who go to both the schools you want to apply to, and those that your parents recommend. And if you don’t know anyone at a particular school, or can’t find information on it? That’s where Unigo could come in.

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