What to Do When Your Dreams for College Conflict with Your Parents'

Making plans for college is never easy, but it can be even harder when your parents disagree with your goals. If your parents are active participants in your high school life, it can be especially hard to ask them to step back when it comes to making choices for your future. Your parents may have supported you financially throughout high school, and if they intend to do so – at least partially – in college, they'll certainly expect to then have a say in the matter. However, when you’re dead set on a certain college – or a certain major – it’s hard to convince your parents that you’re making the best choice for you. Here are five steps to take when your college plans conflict with your parents’ vision.

1. Communicate

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Communication is perhaps the most important aspect of discussing your future college plans with your parents. It’s important to be open and honest with your parents about why you’re choosing a certain path, as well as understanding of their own thoughts on the matter. If your parents are worried about you attending college in a city far from home, talk to them about why they feel this way. Are they worried something will happen to you if you’re too far away? Do they not like the area you want to live in? Finding out your parents’ reasoning behind disliking a certain aspect of your college career is fundamental to crafting your own argument about your plans. 

Being open to discussing your college plans with your parents can sound intimidating, but it’s important to approach the discussion calmly and rationally. Your parents are much less likely to understand your reasoning behind your college plans if you are extremely argumentative or lash out at them, so be sure to listen to what they have to say, perhaps even asking questions along the way.

Remember: your parents probably have an opinion about your college plans because they want you to have the best possible future. Your parents’ vision for you is one created out of love and care, so even if you disagree with them, it’s important to communicate that you recognize this and that you’d like to explain why, as good as their intentions are, you disagree with them. While all families have different dynamics, generally speaking, you are much more likely to convince your parents to accept your college plans if you approach the situation maturely and are willing to have an open discussion with them.

Communicating really helped Arianna, a senior at Emory University, as she looked at colleges. “My dad liked Boston College, but I liked Emory more,” she says. “I explained to him that although both schools were high on my list, in terms of the departments I was interested in, I felt more excited to go to Emory due its unique qualities and friendly atmosphere. We eventually were on the same page, as he understood how passionate I was about spending my college years at Emory." All it took was a calm, rational conversation! 

2. Do your research

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The best weapon in a discussion is knowledge, and this is certainly something you should utilize when talking about your college plans with your parents. So, do your research! If your parents don’t want you going to college in New York City, pull up some articles on why NYC is the best place for aspiring writers, like yourself, to attend college. If your parents don’t believe being an anthropology major is right for you, bring up statistics on future careers for anthropology majors and starting salaries out of college. The more research you’ve done, the easier it will be to explain to your parents why your college plans are perfectly reasonable. 

It’s also very possible your parents don’t understand how important your college plans are to you. Be ready and willing to emphasize how important a certain location, school, or major is to you. By emphasizing your goals and doing research about your college plans, your parents may discover that your dreams are not so unrealistic after all, or that your plans are ones they are willing to throw their support behind. For example, if you love history and want to be a history major, research job outcomes for history majors and then show your parents how much you’d love to be a history major. Similarly, if you’re from the east coast and want to go to school on the west coast, explain to your parents how you will thrive in a new environment and discover plenty of future job prospects.

If your parents don’t understand how important your college plans are to you, they may be more likely to dismiss them, so showing them how strong of a connection you have to your plans is essential.

3. Consider your financial options

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When it comes to choosing a college or a major, finances can play a huge part in you and your parents’ decision-making. If your parents are willing to pay for the entirety of your college education, they may see it as only fair that you attend an institution they deem fit for you. Along the same vein, your parents may not be willing to finance any of your education if you deviate from their plans. This is a tricky case because a college education is pricey, but you do want to feel free to pursue your own dreams without a large amount of student loans hanging over your head.

If finances are an issue for you, consider speaking with your parents about why your desired college path will prove to be worth the money. Doing research, as stated above, about your preferred path will be helpful in this case, as you’ll be able to prove to your parents that funding your education will pay off.

If you cannot convince your parents to pay for your dream school, try speaking with a financial advisor at your desired college about your options. An expert may be able to help you determine the kinds of grants and scholarships you will receive, as well as how much in loans you may have to take out. Remember, though, that student loans are a serious commitment; think carefully before you decide to take out any loans. Also, remember to scour the internet for scholarships whenever possible; there are thousands of available scholarships that you can apply for online. Check out websites like collegescholarships.org for a wide range of scholarship opportunities based on age, location, major and more.

4. Be willing to compromise

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Sometimes, compromise is the only way to get what you want, especially when it comes to your parents. So, be open to meeting their opinions halfway. For instance, if you would like to be an English major, and your parents want you to be a business major, tell them you’d be willing to double major in these fields. Or, ask if you can pick your own major but also take courses in the major your parents prefer. 

Stella, a senior at Emory University, says compromise worked in her favor when she began college. “When I entered college as a freshman, my plan was to take as few math-based classes as possible,” she says. “However, pressure from my parents influenced me to become an economics major. Fortunately, I ended up enjoying my economics classes at Emory, and I was still able to pursue some of my own interests by double majoring in economics and political science.”

While this may not be the most ideal scenario for you, Stella’s story shows how compromising with your parents will not only show how important your college plans are to you, but also illustrate your willingness to listen to your parents’ opinions.

5. Understand that your college plans do not determine the trajectory of the rest of your life

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We’ve all heard the saying before: “College is the best four years of your life.” However, this is simply not true. College, as fun and exciting as it can be, takes up a very small portion of your life. So, don’t worry if you’re not attending the school or majoring in the exact field you want. As wonderful as it can be to attend your dream school, there’s no shame in attending a school your parents prefer, since you can often still find similar, if not the same, opportunities at another school. Additionally, many people don’t work in a field related to their major, so if you feel stuck because of your major, you can always take courses you enjoy on the side and use your experience in those side courses to find a job. Finally, no matter where you attend school or what you major in, you can still make great friends, join cool activities and work toward good grades. Your college plans do not determine your success later in life; only you, and your ability to use the opportunities given to you, can do that.

It’s disheartening when your college plans clash with your parents’ vision, but there are plenty of ways to convince your parents that you are making the right choice. Doing so may not be easy: it will require a lot of communication, research, exploration of financial capabilities and potential compromising. However, if you are willing to put in the work to prove you belong in a certain location, school, or major, your parents will be much more likely to support your dreams.