How involved should your parents be?
When Nancy Rodriguez began planning for college, she quickly noticed that her parents’ involvement in the process was limited.
“They just knew about where I wanted to go,” says Rodriguez, a senior at the University of Southern California who grew up in Los Angeles’s inner-city community of Southgate.
With two parents who worked constantly and viewed education differently than other parents she knew, Rodriguez says she sometimes felt disappointed at her family’s lack of involvement in her college planning.
“My parents even said, ‘You could just find a job’ [instead of going to college],” she says. “At times, it could be really disappointing to hear that.”
Many students face less parental involvement in their college planning process than they’d like. Why is that?
“Some parents may feel like they are not sure how much they can contribute,” says William Vela, Director of El Centro Chicano at the University of Southern California.
Here’s how both students and parents can involve each other in the process more:
• Students: Realize that your parents’ educational process may have been much different than yours.
• Parents: Recognize your own feelings about education, and discuss how they differ from your teen's.
Though your parents certainly want what’s best for you, they may not know how things work when it comes to applying to college in this day and age. Today there is more competition, more pressure to find a good institution and the fear of paying for college with the skyrocketing costs. Weigh both the positives and negatives when it comes to talking about college with your parents.
• Students: Translate when necessary.
• Parents: Ask for clarification if needed.
Rodriguez recalls telling her parents about grants she would receive — and being unable to allay her parents’ fears that those grants would not have to be paid back.
If your parents are having difficulty understanding certain terminology, explain to them as best you can what they mean. Show them that you've done your research to help ease their fears or misunderstanding.
• Students: Take the responsibility for gathering information about colleges.
• Parents: Set aside time to talk about college specifically with your teen.
Parents may be prevented by economic reasons and hectic work schedules from taking time off to help you with your college planning. Rodriguez acknowledges that what initially seemed like disinterest from her parents was actually attributable to their jobs.
“That’s a big factor that I didn’t realize, and thought they just didn’t care,” Rodriguez says. “Sometimes they want to be involved but can’t because of their difficult schedules.”
• Students: Ask about, and take advantage of, college Q&A sessions for new students and parents.
• Parents: If you see an opportunity in the college-planning process to make it more accessible to parents, share your ideas with high school or college staff.
Vela says colleges and universities aren’t necessarily making things easier for parents, especially those of multicultural students.
For example, Vela would like to see colleges present materials in dual languages and have question-and-answer sessions for parents of multicultural students.
“If the school’s showing that effort, then parents are able to more freely ask questions and feel like they can get involved,” Vela says. “Parents sometimes need to speak to other parents and form support groups. They may be able to find out about some amazing opportunities.”
• Students: Share your college experience with your parents before they ask.
• Parents: Show interest in your student’s postsecondary adventures.
Rodriguez says something as simple as parents talking to their kids in college can help both the parents and students feel more involved.
“Ask your kids what they’re doing,” Rodriguez advises parents. That helps students “realize that school is important to [you].”
Rodriguez says she makes a point to call her parents about upcoming activities in which she’s involved.
“If I’m having an event, I tell them and try to bring them in a little bit,” she says. “They came once and really liked it, so they’re getting more involved with the [collegiate] community.”
“I think sometimes you almost have to take the lead in certain conversations," says Vela, "but still need to involve your parents,” Vela says.
Both students and parents benefit when Mom and Dad are involved in the college-planning process.
“It takes an effort on both sides,” says Rodriguez. “But once you get it going, the results are good.”