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Helping Families Research Colleges

Connecting with your students' parents and relatives

Your students' parents and families have varying experience with and attitudes about college. Some students are under family pressure to apply to a parent's alma mater or a certain high-prestige institution, while others will be in the first generation of their family to go to college ("first-generation students"). You'll work with parents and families on every point on the spectrum of college experience and awareness.

Start with the student

College choice ideally is about the best fit of student and college. To find this fit, students need both self-awareness and information about colleges. Students should consider which special talents they have, what they are looking for in a college experience and how they best think and learn.

You can meet with students to help focus their college choice deliberations. Some students overwhelm themselves with options and information, while others assume they'll attend the local university or a parent's alma mater without having asked themselves what they really want. Tailor your meetings to moderate such extremes, and try asking open-ended questions that engage the student.

Involve parents

Some families have been discussing potential college choices for years. Those parents are already involved, perhaps overly so, and your role in these cases may be to gently remind family members to give the student some space and not confuse their own wishes or desires with what's best for the student.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are families who have tacitly ruled out college for their children, often believing it to be financially out of reach. Some families may not believe that their child needs higher education — perhaps there's a family business or trade, or perhaps the child is seen as underachieving or unmotivated within the family.

While it's difficult and sensitive to challenge family assumptions, you as a counselor may be in the best position to advocate for higher education on the student's behalf and to provide information and facts that counter family assumptions.

Include the basics

You may need to cover material that is obvious to some families, but new information to others. For example, you may have to explain that:

  • Students must often take college admission tests.
  • Different colleges have different admission criteria and offerings.
  • Colleges in the United States may differ from those in other countries.
  • There are advantages and disadvantages to living at or away from home.
  • Colleges offer support — counseling, tutoring, academic advisors, residence hall advisors — at no extra cost.

Read about the factors to consider when working with students who will be the first in their family to go to college.

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