Talking to kids about college is an important part of every parent-child relationship. As with other parenting topics, talking with your child about college should be done early, often and in age-appropriate ways. Because children can begin thinking about what they want to do with their lives at early ages, college should be a natural part of an ongoing conversation, rather than be left until a young person’s junior and senior year of college.
College Talks for the Very Young
Children can become curious about college at very young ages. This is especially true if older brothers and sisters are beginning their college search. When young children ask about what college is, talk to them on terms they can understand. For example, “College is a school for big kids,” or “College is where you go to learn when you grow up.” Using terms they can understand helps young minds wrap themselves around big concepts at a level that is appropriate for them.
College Talks on an Elementary Level
Elementary-aged children are ready to begin dreaming about what they want to be. Some children start talking about careers as early as age 5. It is not usual for a kindergarten or first-grade student to talk about becoming a doctor, fire fighter or veterinarian. When your children begin talking about what they want to be, take the cue and talk about college. For example, if your child says, “I want to be a doctor,” respond with, “That is wonderful. Doctors help people. You will need to go to college to become a doctor. That’s where people learn how to care for those who are sick.”
Crazy Middle School Years
As your children grow and mature, their ability to talk intelligently about going to college and what that means increases. By middle school, they should have a good idea of the kinds of classes they needs to excel in so they can have choices when it comes to going to college. Conversations at this age need to focus on getting good grades and developing good study habits so they have the foundation to do well in high school, when colleges start paying attention. But do not be surprised at struggles during the middle school years. This is a time of tremendous growth and development for students, and your children need a chance to grow at their own pace to be ready for high school. Too much pressure and college talk at this age can backfire and lead to high levels of frustration. Finding a balance will help children do their best and be able to look forward to what is ahead, rather than be overwhelmed by it.
High School Fear Factor
In high school, college conversations take on a whole new meaning. And with this new meaning comes fear about the future, growing up and leaving home. At this stage of the game, college conversations are all about reassuring children that they are up to the task at hand. Part of college conversations during these years includes preparing to take college entrance exams, deciding on a major, maintaining the highest grade point average possible, and staying focused until graduation. Colleges are looking for students who continue to achieve until the end and who do not slack off during their senior years. College visits will happen during junior and senior year, and then conversations should turn to choosing a school that is a good fit, that offers appropriate financial aid, and that has a program or programs of study your child is interested in pursuing.
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