Going to college is one of the biggest milestones in your life. Between the decisions on where to go, how to pay for it, what courses to take, and where to live, a number of huge, life-changing decisions hang in the balance.
It’s only natural that you and your parents are feeling the pressure ... and that, perhaps, you're driving each other a little nuts. How you handle the process with your parents can mean the difference between smooth sailing or a huge stress bomb that’s just waiting to explode.
Here are some ways to ease the tension.
The biggest thing you can do to ease stress is to keep the communication lines open. Your parents may view this as their last opportunity to help steer the course of your life before you leave their nest — and they want to give you, their baby bird, the greatest chance of success. (Aww!)
What that means to you: The more you discuss the process with them, the less likely they’ll be to worry and hound you with questions.
It’s also important to remember that college is a huge financial investment. If your parents are helping to pay for your education, they’re going to want to know that you’re making smart decisions.
2. Have a plan
At the beginning of the college process, develop a plan for how you’re going to attack the search process and choose a school.
Keep your materials organized and know what’s next on your agenda. A calendar or timeline for important deadlines is especially helpful to keep you on track. It will also demonstrate maturity and signal to your parents that you are in control of your search.
3. Be honest and realistic
Always be up-front with your parents. Explain your choices and decisions to them and address any concerns they might have.
If you and your parents have different schools in mind, tell them why you believe your choice is the best one for you.
Also remind your parents that it’s not just about wanting autonomy; picking the major that you’re most passionate may give you the greatest chance of future success, too.
As much as you want your parents to listen to you, make sure that you hear them out, too.
If they suggest a smaller college because they think it’s a better deal, explore the idea with an open mind and give it serious consideration. You may find out they're right after all.
And if they’re wrong, at least you’ll have a better explanation for why you disagree. Use these conversations as an opportunity to set tone for how you and your parents will communicate as you become more autonomous and enter the adult world.
5. Share the work
Keep your parents involved, but set expectations about their role. They will feel more assured if they have a hand in everything going on.
They can also lighten the load on you by helping with things like filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
But, to a certain extent, they also need to let you call the shots on how they can help with your search. Some parents may not realize that doing things like contacting an admissions officer after your application has been sent may be more hurtful than helpful.
6. Put things in perspective
Know what your worst-case scenario is and make a plan for it. More than likely, it’s still a manageable option and not the end of the world.
For example, what if you don’t get in to any of your desired schools? You could try taking classes at a local community college and raise your grades with the hopes of transferring to your preferred school later.
What if you can only afford to attend college on a part-time basis? Remember that as long as you're taking classes and making progress towards a degree, you are heading in the right direction.
Lastly, though the process is stressful, remember that nothing is forever. College is going to be a lot of fun and you will be there before you know it. But don’t forget to enjoy your time with family and friends right now, too.
Bear in mind that it’s not just you — going to college is a big deal and it’s stressful for almost everyone. Stress is a sign that you’re working hard to accomplish something worthwhile. Manage it instead of letting it conquer you.
Make sure both you and your parents have someone to express your frustrations, worries and overall feelings about the process to —be that a family member, friend, therapist or trusted religious figure.
If your family isn’t the talking kind, try going for a nature walk, taking a relaxing bath, doing yoga or going to a movie.
Bottom line: try to remember that you’re all on the same team and you all want the best for your future. Working with your parents and including them in the process will go a long way towards reducing tensions and helping you to keep your eye on the prize.
What's your next step?
Figuring out how to pay for college is often a hot-button topic for parents and students.
Use our NitroScore tool as a springboard to discuss college costs with your parents. Having real-world numbers in front of you can help you and your parents make more-strategic decisions about which college to go to and how to pay for it.