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How Much Influence Should Your Parents Have On Your College Choice?

College is supposed to be the best time of your life, right? After visiting school after school, filling out application after application, and writing essay after essay, college better be the best time of your life. We’re sure that your hard work paid off, and you have a variety of colleges to choice from, but there’s one problem: you parents have an opinion of their own. Of course, they want what’s best for you; however, it can be extremely overwhelming to have multiple voices trying to weigh in about one of the most important decisions of your life. If you’re not sure how much to take your parents’ perspectives into account, find out what others have to say about conundrum.

The parental perspective

For a good portion of your life, your parents have made decisions for you. You didn’t get to choose what elementary school you went to, but now that you’ve gone through the college application process, it’s your time to make a life-altering choice about your education. During the application process, your parents may have simply driven you to tours and let you take the reins. Now that decision time has come around, they’ve suddenly become extremely eager to share their opinions.

J.D. Rothman, author of the satirical LA Times bestseller, The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions, sarcastically explains that while you have a million different factors to consider, your parents’ opinions are definitely one of the more important ones.

“If you’ve patented a cure for bunions or sold your app to Google, then you might not have to consider your parents’ opinion,” she says. “But if they’re writing the check, listen to their musings, especially because they do have a reasonable idea of what will bring you happiness. If you hear them out now, later you can base your decision on whether there’s a nearby Chipotle, a chance to paint yourself blue, or a roommate with VIP connections at Coachella.”

Rothman has been through the college application and decision process with her son, so she knows what it’s like to watch a child make one of the most important decisions of their lives. It’s understandable that parents would want to guide their 18-year-old away from mistakes they made at that age. Especially if you’re their first-born or only child, it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you’re growing up and moving on with your life.

Steven Goodman, an educational consultant, admissions strategist, author and television talk host, thinks it also comes down to parents trying to recreate their own college experiences for their child.

“I think students need to respect the college experience that their parents had,” he advises. “They are talking about where they went to college because that was their college experience. Even if students want to have their own experience, they need to acknowledge their parents’ experiences…to show that they’re taking the [decision] seriously [and] that they’re not just choosing a place based on where their boyfriend or girlfriend goes.”

It’s important to remember that your parents’ perspectives are valid in some way, but in turn, they have to realize the same thing about yours.

Related: 7 Things That Shouldn’t Affect Your College Decision 

The student perspective

If you have a best friend or a close group of friends, chances are you’ve asked for their advice on pretty much every topic under the sun, from how to settle a dispute with your SO to what color of pumps to buy for prom. Your friends are happy to intervene and solve all your life’s problems. However, college decisions can be a tricky topic to discuss because of a multitude of factors including prestige, cost and distance. Even if you’re confident in your friends’ ability to listen and agree with you, it’s optimal to consider both sides of the issue, so we spoke with two collegiettes with two slightly different philosophies

Julie Plummer, a sophomore at Stanford University, believes it’s important to make your own decision but also to respect your parents’ opinions. “I think the decision should be mainly in the hands of the student. Choosing your college is a really exciting time,” she says. “It’s also a great opportunity to evaluate what’s important to you in terms of academics as well as social and physical environment.”

“That being said, I do think parents can have an important role in the college decision of their kids, just in terms of support and advice while students are making their own decisions.”

Maddie*, a sophomore at Penn State University, completely agrees with Julie. “My parents really wanted me to go to their alma mater, but I wanted to stay in state,” she says. “I sat them down and explained calmly that it was my decision to make and that I appreciated their enthusiasm.”

On the other hand, Erin*, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that her parents’ persistent guidance is the reason for her current happiness and success.

“I remember some of my friends complaining about their parents’ nagging about attending a specific school, but I didn’t say anything in response,” she says. “I have such a strong relationship with my parents that their support for my college decision meant more to me than anything else. Even though I’m thousands of miles away from my home, their pushing me to a school that would challenge me and give me the greatest chance for success is the reason I’m thriving.”

Whether or not you agree with these collegiettes, you know your relationship with the parents best.

The decision

After weighing the perspectives of both experts and students, we want to let you in on a little secret. It’s your decision to choose how much your parents’ opinions mean to your college decision. We can’t deny that it’s pretty #meta, but you have to realize that you know your relationship with your parents best. Will they care if you disregard their input? Will they become angry or disappointed? Will they support any decision you make? Every situation is different, and no matter how many people give you advice, you’re the only who can gauge the outcome of what you decide to do. Whether you’re nervous or confident about your decision, keep the conversation with your parents open and calm. You can’t go wrong with that.

Emily Schmidt

Stanford '20

Emily Schmidt is a junior at Stanford University, studying English and Spanish. Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, she quickly fell in love with the Californian sunshine and warm winter temperatures. Emily writes a hodgepodge of pieces from satiric articles for The Stanford Daily to free-verse poetry to historical fiction. Just like her writing repertoire, her collection of hobbies are widely scattered from speed-crocheting to Irish dancing to practicing calligraphy. When she is not writing or reading, Emily can also be found jamming out to Phil Collins or watching her favorite film, 'Belle.'
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