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The 8 Most Important Pre-College Conversations To Have With Your Teen


Your child is nearing the end of their high school years. With an eye on the future and what is yet to come, there is quite a bit of excitement flowing throughout the household.

As a parent, you should be proud of yourself and your child for what they have accomplished thus far. But, before you let the excitement reach a fever pitch, take a moment and refocus because your work as a parent is not entirely done yet! There’s just one more rung on the ladder of life that you can help your child climb. That rung is helping them prepare for college.

Caution: Don’t take for granted that the college admissions process will be easy on your child. Remember when it was your turn? That time leading up to college and how much stress that created in your life? Things aren’t much different today. If anything, the process is even more demanding.

Getting your teen prepared for college and the extensive admissions process gives you another chance to make real difference in their life before they reach adulthood. To help you embrace this opportunity, here are eight crucial pre-college conversations you should consider having with your teen.

1. Discussion About “Why College?”

Before your child fully commits to college and the admissions process, you should take a moment and ask them questions like:

  • Do you really want to go to college?
  • Where would you like to attend college?
  • What expectations do you have regarding a career choice?
  • Do you have a clear understanding of the steps and time it takes to get there?
  • How much independence do you believe you should have while away from home?
  • In your words, why is it important to you to attend college?

These are big-picture questions that you can use to understand how committed your child is to the overall college experience. You need these answers because it’s likely that you will be helping take on the financial burden of their college education. Although, as a parent, you will always support your child through any trial and error, you want to ensure they are heading into this process with the proper goals, motivation, and mindset to see it through to the end.

2. Discussion About College Financing

Yes, money is an important part of the college discussion.

In your discussion about college financing, start by letting your child know what you are able and willing to contribute. Then touch on the possibility that your child may have to work a part-time job or summers on campus to help foot the bill. This will lift some of your financial burdens, but it will also teach them essential life skills. Studies show that students who work are often more confident and possess better time-management skills than those who are unemployed. Not to mention, it offers a paycheck, some sense of independence, and satisfaction.

Some other sources of financing to discuss include grants and scholarships. Every year, billions of dollars in grant money go unused because people don’t know about all of their resources. Talk to your child about applying for grants or scholarships through as many programs as possible, and remember, this money does not need to be repaid as a loan does!

Finally, talk about loans with your teen. When discussing college loans, tell them how you feel about amassing debt without having a job in hand first. The discussion should also center on the impact debt can have on a young adult’s life. It’s ultimately their decision because it will be their debt, but they will definitely need your advice. If you are unwilling to cosign college loans on your teen’s behalf, you should let them know that upfront and run through other options together.

3. Parental and Family Expectations

Going to college will likely be your child’s first experience living away from home. In this case, you will want to set expectations. The focus of the conversation should start with communication between the child and parents. How often and by which method?

As far as grade expectations, there is no need for that discussion. Your child has been in school for 11 or 12 years, and they understand the correlation between effort and results. You may even be to thank for that sense of responsibility! But it’s certainly okay to remind them how much you’d appreciate hearing about their progress and experiences as a student and now an adult away from home. So set up a routine to chat and catch up!

4. Discussion About Staying Safe

Throughout their life, your child has been protected by you, other family members, friends, and a community with which they are very familiar, and for the most part, they have been safe.

As they head off to college, they are no longer within arms reach of you, and they are going to an environment completely foreign to them. For this reason, you should discuss the importance of safety. While campus crimes may occur few and far between, they happen nonetheless, so try to emphasize the importance of being vigilant when walking alone or late at night and taking steps to protect their belongings and personal information.

5. Focusing on Academics

The fun, campus life is something many teenagers look forward to as they get a taste of real freedom. It’s not reasonable to tell your teen to keep their nose in their books and forgo all of the excitement that surrounds them. But certainly, bring the conversation of safety and responsibility back into play.

You don’t want to scare your child out of getting the true college experience. Still, as a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that they’re keeping their eye on the prize and staying on track in between all of the extracurriculars. Remind them that their decisions in college determine the trajectory of their lives well into the future and that good study habits, discipline, and school/life balance are critical components to getting the grades they need to land the career they most desire.

6. Staying Healthy

When teens go off to college, they get busy. It takes time for them to adapt to a new environment. It’s your job to remind them that it’s now their responsibility to look after their health. That should include trying to eat right, getting exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep (at least during the school week).

As far as medical health, remind them to look into a campus health insurance program that will help provide for their medical needs. Even college students get sick or hurt and need medical attention. If your child takes prescription medications regularly, remind them to set up their prescriptions with a local pharmacy for easy access. It will help if you can pull together your child’s medical records so they can take them along for reference.

This is also the right time to have a conversation about drugs and alcohol. With the territory comes the fact that your child is going to be out of your range of control. Forbidding behaviors only make them more appealing, so practice patience and understanding, discuss safety and moderation, and encourage them to use good judgment.

7. Encouraging Extracurricular Activities

Prospective employers will emphasize an applicant’s academic records, especially if the applicant is applying for their first “adult” job. However, many prospective employers also show interest in the ways that applicants get involved in extracurricular activities.

As part of a conversation about getting involved in things outside of academics, it’s okay to remind your teen that the college experience encompasses more than schooling. College also provides students with a chance to learn about life and ways to live a full one. It’s okay to encourage your child to join Greek Life, get involved in clubs, try out for athletic organizations or teams, or pursue something they are passionate about.

While encouraging involvement in campus life, you can share with them that good time management will make it possible to focus on studying while still having time for other adventures.

8. Relationships In College

Your child will meet people from different cultures and walks of life for the first time. The conversation should focus on your child being kind and respectful to all, no matter what. Remind them that in the instance of any disagreement, everything can be worked out with a conversation, and should never, ever reach a physical point.

Note: One of the top reasons students don’t return for their second year of college is the relationship and interaction problems that occurred during the first year. Sharing this information with your teen might be enough to help them consider how and with whom they decide to interact.

Parents, you have a lot of work to do to help your teen prepare for college! While it might cause a bit of stress and worry for you and them, remember this is an exciting time for everyone! You can take solace in the fact your little one is all grown up and getting ready to take on the world. They might even walk in your shoes at some point in the future—preparing to have these very same conversations with kids of their own. You’ve done well!

Interested in more information about Midland University? Contact us today and we’ll talk you through next steps. 

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