Anyone who has sent a child to college – or who is in the process of helping their child choose where to go to college – knows the process is full of emotions and tension. But what do you do when your child chooses a college that you don’t think is the right fit?
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
It’s important to remember that the choice of a college is about your child’s needs – not yours. While it is important to keep in mind factors such as cost of attendance, the financial aid package and scholarships offered, and living arrangements, the goal is for your child to get a quality education in the major they’re interested in (and hopefully one that will be in demand when they graduate and allow them to be self-supporting!).
Considerations for ANY college:
Here some things to think about when considering any college:
- What is your child interested in? Has he/she chosen a major?
- How much does this particular college cost? Is financial aid available? Does your child qualify for any scholarships? Believe it or not, costs vary from school to school and finances do play a part. College is a financial investment in your child’s future.
- What type of living arrangements are you considering? Will your child live in a dorm or an apartment? Have you visited the campus and dorms in order to get a feel for what would be a good fit for your child? How will your child do with a roommate he’s never met before?
- How far away is the college? Have you discussed and agreed upon frequency of visits or how holidays will be handled if the college is too far away?
- Have you looked into what other living arrangements are available should the time come when dorm life is no longer appropriate or desirable?
But what happens when your child ends up selecting a college that you (his wise parent) didn’t like? What then? Do you forbid your child to attend? Do you refuse to offer any financial support? Do you capitulate and let your child make this decision on his own despite your best input?
What do you do when they pick a college you don’t like?
I’ve been in this situation and let me tell you, it’s a hard pill to swallow. There is no guide book and if you ask ten different parents for advice, you’ll get ten different answers. Because here’s the thing – every child, and every child-parent relationship, is different. What works in one family isn’t necessarily what will work for yours.
While one child will accept ‘no’ for answer, another won’t (this is my child, by the way). And it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘I’m a bad parent’ when your child doesn’t take your advice – trust me. But choosing a college is a bit like choosing a spouse: no matter how much input we parents think we deserve, the ultimate choice needs to rest with the child who is now a young adult. We’ve raised them to (hopefully) be independent and make their own decisions. And it stings when they make a decision that doesn’t line up with our wishes.
So my advice is this – try to remove your own ego and needs from the equation as much as possible, try to ignore the voices of other parents telling that you ‘need to put your foot down’, and try to support your child in what is one of the biggest decisions they’ll ever make. Even if it turns out that this IS the wrong choice, they’ll learn from it. And who knows, your input might be more valuable the next time advice is sought.
When your child make a different choice
So in the spirit of of lending moral support to your child, here are some to things to keep in mind when your child chooses a college that’s not your choice:
- It’s not all about you. I know, this one is tough. You feel like you know what’s best for your child and you only have their best interests at heart. But sometimes we have to let our child make their own decisions whether we like them or not.
- Try to find out what about this college appeals to your child. Discovering why they want to attend this particular school may open your eyes to interests and/or needs your child has that you may have been unaware of. At the very least you’ll gain an understanding of your child’s decision-making process.
- Talk about the pros and cons of the choice. You’re still involved and nothing says you have to rubber stamp every decision without at least weighing in and offering your perspective as well. This is the time for you and your child to talk together like adults and try to reach an understanding even if it’s not complete agreement.
- Once the decision has been made, support your child. Recognize what a huge step this is and enjoy their excitement. Don’t squelch their enthusiasm simply because you don’t love where they’re going to school – unless you want to make further communication more complicated. Whatever the outcome, you want your child to know that they can talk to you and that they won’t get recriminations with every conversation – nothing is a bigger impediment to your relationship.
One of the hardest things we parents have to do is let go. But this is a test of how well your child is going to launch out into the ‘real world’. Whether they sink or swim is scary for them, and it’s terrifying for you as their parent. But if you can remember that you’re still on the shore and you’ve got a life preserver to toss out should they need it, the experience is a little less frightening. Notice that I said ‘a little’ – the truth is that you’re still going to be scared. But with support, communication, and understanding, you may find out that your child picked a school that met his needs after all.
Here are some resources that may help you and your child deal with these decisions and to survive this difficult period in their lives.
Update as of Spring 2018: Now that Butterfly is about to finish her junior year in college, I have to admit that she’s thriving, happy, loving school, and on track to graduate despite a change in major. I didn’t love her college choice – okay, I was REALLY opposed to her choice – but in retrospect, I think she made the choice that was right for her. She’s happy, healthy, works 2 jobs and has a good GPA (much better than mine was!). Sometimes it’s hard to admit that a mom doesn’t always know best. However, it is good to know that you’ve raised a child who is capable of making good decisions – even without your approval.
Has anyone else been through a similar experience?