How to Talk To Your Parents About Applying to College

College application season is in full swing! From Common App essays to what seems like a million supplements to fill in, applying to college is stressful enough without your parents looking over your shoulder. Whether your parents are pressuring you to get into an Ivy or want you to get into their alma mater, the college application process is often full of tension when parents are involved. Here are a few tips on navigating college application talks with your parents.

DO make it clear what you want.

Here’s a scenario: You’re looking at colleges 2,000 miles away on the opposite coast, but your parents expect you to attend a college half an hour away from home. This is just an argument waiting to happen.

Jamie, a senior at Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, says it’s difficult to see eye-to-eye with her mother when it comes to the colleges she wants to apply to. “My mom just seems to want me to get into a college with a big name at this point, whereas I want to go to a school that I feel that I match at least almost perfectly with, which is really difficult to find,” she says.

It’s important to be honest about what you want in a college from the beginning. Be open about your priorities and your must-haves. Don’t waste your time discussing schools that don’t have an engineering program if all you want to be is an engineer. Getting your absolute basic requirements out of the way early on in the process is crucial to lay the groundwork for talking to your parents later. So before talking to your parents, make sure you figure out at least the following in your list:

  • What type of setting do you want your college to be in? Urban or rural?
  • How far away from home do you want to be?
  • What majors or programs are you most interested in?
  • What sort of social life are you looking for?

DO your research.

The most powerful negotiating tool? Research, research, research! If you and your parents are having serious disputes over certain schools, sit down with them armed with facts and numbers about specific programs. Doing this kind of in-depth work will show them that you are responsible and mature enough to make this decision as well.

“I put each of [my parents’] schools' rivals on my list, and they're not happy,” says Brigid Kennedy, a senior at Iron Mountain High School in Michigan. “After I sat down with them and explained why I'd picked the schools (the programs better suited me, the location is better, etc., etc.), they had both calmed down and the crisis was averted. I'm sure that this won't be our only disagreement, but I've definitely realized that it's best to be upfront and honest about what I want.”

So if you already have a few schools picked out that your parents might not be happy with, do make sure you justify your reasons for applying there. Consider the following questions to build your case:

  • Does this school offer the programs I want to study?
  • What sort of social life do students at this school enjoy?
  • Are there particular professors or departments I want to study with?
  • What are the academic requirements for admission and how do they align with my grades, etc.?
  • What aspects of this school distinguish it from others?

DON’T let your parents write your essays for you.

Parental involvement has its limits. Do not, for any reason, let your parents (or anyone else) write your essays for you! Admissions officers want to hear you and your own voice come through, which is something that isn’t possible if you have someone else write your essays for you.

That being said…