Burn The Ships!

Listen to the audio version here.

Last week I drove my family back from Florida after spring break. On the way, they watched the movie Hitch. Yes, you heard that correctly. I was driving and my two kids (ages 8 and 10) were watching a movie about a date doctor in New York. Yes, my wife was in the back with them eating chips and Capri Suns and laughing hysterically, having made an exception to her very stringent no PG-13 movie rule. Yes, I understand this is only because she has a huge crush on Will Smith. Yes, it’s a mini-van. Yes, I know I was the sucker on basically every level in this scenario. Can we please move on?!

Fast forward to yesterday when I picked my son up from soccer practice. “How’d it go?”

Hitched“I yelled at her. I screamed at my boss! I quit my job!” I literally spit my drink out. The kid’s recall on movie quotes is hysterical.  It’s particularly funny when he busts out quotes first thing in the morning or when I’m talking to him through the bathroom door. Yes, I realize our relationship is… interesting.

This started a back and forth pseudo quote war. While I usually get the gist, it’s amazing how he can recall quotes verbatim in both words and inflection.

Me: “You don’t need no pizza, they got food there.”

Him: “I had a… great time, too, Allegra… with a beard.”

Me: “I’m a guy. Since when do we get anything right the first time?”

But I conceded defeat (plus I was basically out of lines) when he nailed an Albert Brennaman classic from the movie: “I’ve waited my whole life to feel miserable.”

Decision Time

Later, I was thinking about that line a little bit more. “I’ve waited my whole life to feel miserable.” It got me thinking about conversations I’ve had with a lot of high school seniors over the last month. A LOT. Some of these conversations were in person on campus or in high schools. Others were over the phone or email. A few were kids from my neighborhood and surrounding community who I know personally, while others were in states around the country, and several occurred abroad (it’s been a busy April!).

DecisionsBottom line—these students had precious little in common except they were all in their final months of high school and on the precipice of making a final college decision.  When it came to making a decision, the most common words they used to describe how they were feeling were uncertain, stressed, and confused. It was almost like they’d “waited their whole life (or at least the last year or so) to feel this miserable.”

If you are still weighing your college options, I hope I can alleviate some of your uncertainty, stress, and confusion with these quick thoughts.

You Get To Choose!

Options and choices can feel overwhelming, but don’t forget that THIS WAS THE GOAL! This decision is not a burden—it is a privilege. It is a blessing. THIS is why you visited schools, researched colleges, and applied to more than just one place. THIS is why you took tough classes, studied, worked hard, and sat through multi-hour standardized tests—to have choices, to have options. You are EXACTLY where you wanted to be! You did this to yourself—and that is a great thing!

If you are still weighing your options this week, you don’t have to decide—you get to decide! You get to think about the place you will thrive and create a lifelong network. You get to talk through your options with your family who loves you, are proud of you, and are excited about this next chapter of your life. You get to do this while finishing high school alongside peers who want to excel and teachers who have always wanted you to learn, grow, and succeed. Don’t be uncertain—you get to do this!

Trust Your Gut

Adam Grant (organizational psychologist/ great follow on Twitter/ Ted Talker/ brilliant dude) said recently, “When people come to you for advice on a decision, resist the urge to give them an answer. People rarely need to hear your conclusion. They benefit from hearing your thought process and your perspective on the relevant criteria for making the choice.” Well, I’ve given you mine over the last few years (see basically all blog entries, specifically Ask GOOD Questions and Ask the Same Questions, Again and Again).

Here is the simultaneously beautiful and disconcerting reality (life in a nutshell) – in the end, only you can make this decision. This is a big deal, for sure. But it is not life or death. This is not about being right or wrong. At the risk of sounding trite: you know you.

As life goes on, you will continue to find closing other doors is never easy. If no one has told you before, I consider it a privilege to be the one to tell you this is the first of many times you will experience these types of choices: relationships, jobs, graduate school, or moving to a new city,  state, or country. Sometimes the hardest part about being talented and wanted, and the most difficult part about having options, is there is not a definitively right answer.

Perhaps Steve Jobs said it best in his 2005 Stanford Commencement address, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Your goal is to be confident in and excited about your college decision.

Ultimately, the best advice is to trust your gut. That is not a cop out—it’s the truth. You can do this; you need to do this. YOU got this!

Burn the ships!

In 1519, Hernán Cortés sailed to Veracruz, Mexico upon the direction of the King and Queen of Spain, in order to find gold, silver, and a new place to settle. When they arrived, his crew talked incessantly about returning home. They were thinking about home, family, their known life, other places, and an easier path. As they came ashore, Cortes ordered them to “Burn the ships!” Why? So they could not look back, and instead would be fully committed to the expedition.

Once you put down your deposit, that is your job as well. Be all in—buy the t-shirt, put the window decal on the car, start following student groups on social media, donate or trade the shirts you have from other school (don’t go all Cortes here and burn them), close/cancel your applications from other colleges, and start planning on  orientation in the summer.

Don’t look back. You made the right choice. Embrace it. Enjoy the end of your senior year and a well-earned summer. Too many students second guess themselves and spend their summer in angst. Burn. The. Ships!

Final Note: You may find you need to go for a walk, a drive, a run, a treadmill (bear with me), or just sit in the dark as you come to your final choice. To assist our staff put together a “Decision Time” playlist. This is unedited and unfiltered, so enjoy. Good luck! We are excited for you!

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Which Activities Will Make Me Competitive?

This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Admission Katie Mattli to the blog. Welcome, Katie!

After reading Samantha’s blog on finding joy in your college search, I realized we were on to a theme. This particular post is not about making your college list, but the same case can be built to reframe how parents and students tackle college admission questions. Maybe it’s because it’s April–the time when countless admission professionals find themselves behind a table at a college fair, standing in the welcome center lobby, or on the phone answering, quite often, some version of the same questions.

Today we’re going to wrestle with this notorious inquiry: “I am (or, my child is) a junior/sophomore/seventh grader/eight years old (I’m not kidding), what extracurriculars should we be doing right now to be competitive?” I answer the same way every time. “To be competitive, you should choose activities that make you happy.” The vast majority of students and parents think I’ve dodged the question. I haven’t. I’ve given the same answer for well over a decade and I’m sticking to it.

Find What Makes You HappyFind what makes you happy and do it.

Maybe that answer is deceptively simple, which is why it’s often dismissed as hedging.  I’m not dodging the question—I’m giving you a framework. Perhaps a “re-framework” as you make big decisions, like should you try out for the travel team, spend the summer in an internship or mission trip, stay a third year in robotics or take that new advanced class offering. Instead, high school students everywhere (and their parents) should ask the same question: does this activity make me happy?

If you are about to dismiss this advice as soft, overly codifying, or unrealistic, wait!  I’m about to let you in on the secret of why admission officers think students who enjoy their activities are more successful in the college application process (and probably life in general).

1 – If you love it, you naturally become more competitive.

The byproducts of doing something you love (in high school or in your professional life) are surprisingly positive.  You don’t have to believe me because there is science to back that up.  Check out Shawn Achor’s research in his book, the Happiness Advantage (no time to read the book? Check out this quick Ted Talk). What he says about business success is also true in the college application process. Joyful participation in high school endeavors has a ripple effect, leading to things such as increasing a club’s membership, finding ways to lead or innovate on projects, resiliency from year to year, providing access to others—essentially all the attributes that stand out to an admission committee when they are reviewing applications. Look at your resume. What activities make you happy?  Do more of those things! Competitiveness will follow.

2 – If you are interested, I’ll be more interested.

Nothing deflates a conversation more than a student trained to rattle off their 4-10 resume activities and then ask me if they are “good.”  Nothing engages me more than a student who tells me, “I love XYZ! I saw online that your college has WXY, do you think that’s a good fit?” This engagement translates to the application itself. Applications fall flat when you are checking off boxes, trying to craft a summary of undertakings that you really don’t enjoy.  Applications have a life and an energy when a student is trying to use every available space to expound on a passion project.  Telling your activities story is more authentic and believable. When seen through this framework, your activities list is no longer a bureaucratic hurdle to get to college, but a written conversation retelling the most meaningful parts of your high school career.

3 – Activities that are difficult can still make you happy.

I said this was not a softball answer and I meant it.  I don’t mean that everything you do in high school should be easy.  Easy and happy are not the same thing. Some of the hardest situations can result in a new-found strength, a renewed focus, a sense that what you are doing has great value because it came at great cost.  That’s when being happy graduates to the big leagues: joy. I am not advising you to quit all your extracurricular activities because binge watching Netflix makes you happy.  Critically look at how you spend your time and ask yourself some serious questions. I have some thoughts below.

As an ode to the KonMari method, this is a KatMattli approved checklist for whether you should or should not keep an activity:

  • Do you feel excited about going to the meeting/practice/session/class?
  • Do you have moments of inspiration about it (Eureka moments!) before you go to sleep at night?
  • Do you talk about what you could do in this club/team next year?
  • Do you try to get appointments with teachers/coaches/sponsors to talk more about it?
  • Are you plotting ways to lead this group next year?
  • Do you want to teach or coach other people who have had less training than you have?
  • Is this project really difficult/challenging, but you are excited to see the finished product?
  • Would you still want do this activity if you couldn’t list it on your college application?

On the flip side…

  • Do you forget about that meeting each week?
  • Do you feel icky walking down the hallway to this meeting/tournament/locker room/classroom?
  • Does it keep you up at night in a bad way?
  • Are you thinking of other activities while you are there?
  • If you didn’t have to fill out a college application, would this club ever see your face again?

I’m holding fast to my original answer: you want your extracurriculars to be competitive? You need to enjoy the activities on your resume.  Are you a freshman in high school and anxious about what clubs to join (which ones colleges will view as “good”)?  Forget about us.  Go enjoy your game/fan group/club/meeting. We will see you in a few years when you are thriving in something you love. Are you a junior in high school? Double down on the activities that bring you the most enjoyment. You will need that stress relief and balance as you hit tougher classes, and I can’t wait to hear about your journey.

And if you are eight years old?  (Where is that astonishment emoji with the big eyes?) I am not discounting you, as it takes maturity to talk to college representatives at your age. But my answer to you is still the same, maybe even more so: Go enjoy yourself.

Katie Mattli has worked in college admission for over 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2014 where she works with underrepresented minority recruitment focusing on female, first generation, African American and Hispanic recruitment efforts. Her previous years at a private liberal arts college for women fueled her love of student leadership and advocacy.

 

 

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Owning YOUR Campus Visit

I had the opportunity to visit Munich, Germany last week. It was a beautiful town. Rich history, amazingly friendly people, and extremely walk-able.

In advance of my trip I got lots of recommendations from friends and colleagues who had visited before. “Definitely go to the Hofbrauhaus;” “Climb the 299 stairs to the top of St. Peter’s;” “Go to the public bathhouse right in the center of town;” “Just be sure you get a pretzel… from anywhere.”

I also asked my e-friends, Siri and Google for “Top Things to do in Munich.” In the end, I hit a few of the “must dos” but also picked the experiences and sites that most interested me. However, some of the most enjoyable moments were actually sitting in the train station, eating in the restaurants, and riding the trams downtown, and going into local grocery stores. Granted I only half understood every fifth word (yes, that’s another way to say roughly 10%), but it was still a great way to observe and appreciate the city’s culture and personality.

I share this with you partly to talk up Bavaria as a possible future vacation or study abroad destination, but more so because April is one of the heaviest campus visit months of the year— as are the summer months that follow.

If you are planning a trip to a college campus soon, I hope you’ll follow these tips:

It’s not all about the Hofbrauhaus

Every person and site listed the Hofbrauhaus. I get it- remarkable place— and definitely a classic city trademark. But if you were to only go there, you’d miss the real heartbeat of the city.

Same thing with campus visits. Yes, you should go to the admission info session and tour. Not for the big brother element of whether they’re going to count it or track it, but because this is where you will get the highlights, hear the key messages, learn some history, understand their unique mission and goals, and see the key iconic buildings and top destinations on campus.

Wander, listen, engage

St. Peter's
View from the top of St. Peter’s (after I caught my breath).

Unfortunately, too many people visit campuses and cities the same way. They hit the highlights and follow the crowds or lists. I’m imploring you to break away from the well-traveled path to dig a bit deeper and really feel, see, experience the places students (aka- the locals) spend time.

During my three days in Munich I probably covered a good 20 miles on foot just meandering down the river on trails, taking random turns on city streets, or walking to meetings. Yes, I got a little turned around (my wife insists there’s a difference between that and lost), but it was totally worth it because I was able to stumble on stuff I’d otherwise never have seen. And while my German is what you’d politely label “nicht gut,” walking so much led to some pretty interesting and memorable interactions.

Here is the good news— people on campus want to answer your questions. They want to help you understand what makes their school so great. Make time to wander around, loiter (in a non- threatening way), talk to students, peak in on a class, eavesdrop (we’ve covered this before as a critical life skill).

Listen the conversations around you; observe what students are wearing, discussing, and doing; sit in the student center and pretend to look at your phone or a student newspaper while really glancing about. If you will extend each of your campus visits by just an hour or two and make time for this, you’ll walk away with a much better feel for the place than simply running and gunning from one canned admission talk to the next.

This is YOUR visit

I have read a good bit about the 1972 Olympics and really wanted to see that area. It wasn’t what most people listed and it was not as convenient to my hotel, but it was important to me.

You’ll be spending time, money, and energy to go see these schools. Make the time to see what specifically interests you- the places you think will make up your experience. Get a feel for those areas of campus. A tour guide may simply point out the business school from 200 yards away, but if that’s going to be your major, you need to get there.

The bottom line is you should not simply take what they give you. Own YOUR visit. Are you thinking about playing on the rugby or participating in robotics or doing research or singing in the a cappella group (if all of the above, you are a truly unique individual, my friend)? Get over to the IM fields, reach out to a department advisor, or contact out to the club or group’s advisor in advance of your visit.

Ask YOUR questions

Tour guides are awesome people. They are involved, passionate, and volunteering their time. They are taking you around a place they love, which means they can absolutely wax poetic about campus history or spin yarns about classmates or friends and their adventures in college.

They’ll go into lots of detail on history, facts and interesting information, but they also love to hear and answer your questions. Be proactive and bold enough to ask. Don’t want to interrupt the tour guide or ask publicly? Totally fine. Wait until you’re walking between points or hold your questions until the end and ask privately. Questions and Answers

Think about it this way- you are making a decision about where to spend the next four or five years of your life (a time span representing a solid 20-25% of your life to this point). If you are serious about applying to or attending that college, you need to hear first- hand from as many people on that campus as possible about the things that matter to you (students, advisors, faculty, admission reps, etc.) Are their answers similar? What can you learn about the college’s culture based on commonalities?

Too often we hear students say, “Yea. I didn’t apply there because it was raining on my visit.” Or “I just didn’t like what my tour guide was wearing, so I didn’t apply.” Come on, people! You would not want someone to judge your high school or hometown based on one person they met from there, right? Don’t do that to a college that has 5000 or 50,000 on campus. YES, this means working a little harder. Sorry. That’s college, my friends.

I’m challenging you to go with 3-5 questions you really care about and be sure to get those answered while you are there. Can’t think of unique or helpful questions? Here are a few:

  • What has surprised you or disappointed you about this place?
  • What do you wish were different here?
  • What do most people not realize this college is really good at?
  • What makes this place different (not better) than other schools?
  • How has this school changed or shaped you?
  • What has not been asked today that you think is important for everyone to know?

Document, document, document (this is also a good HR lesson, but we’ll save that life advice for another time).

If you are barnstorming through 8 campuses (or 18 campuses) in a week, they’re going to start to blur together:

Where did we see that library that didn’t have any books?

Who was it that said they were adding a program in artificial intelligence?

Was that in Illinois or Indiana where we met the kid who held the national jump roping title?

Take the time during or right after each visit to write (type, bullet point, take pictures, voice record, etc) down your impressions. More of a spreadsheeter? Go ahead and quantify or rate things that matter to you: academic program, quality of food, campus feel, style of tour guide, surrounding community, access to internships. Just get this stuff recorded in some organized manner, so that you can revisit it later.

  • What impressed you about the students?
  • What did you not like about the size or layout of campus?
  • How was the food or coffee?
  • What did the labs look like if you are going to be a bio major?
  • What did they say about internships or co-op opportunities?

Yes, I’m jet lagged and spit balling here (a dangerous combo). Again, you need to have your questions answered and focus on the elements of campus that matter to you.

Last thing

Be nice to the people at the front desk when you are checking in for tours. Sometimes this is a student (could be you in a year or two), sometimes this is the admission counselor who will be reading your file (and they have great memories and a powerful note taking CRM at the ready), sometimes this the director of admission just taking her/his shift at the desk. Bottom line- Don’t be jerk. This can also be applied to baristas, hotel clerks, airline gate agents (bear with me), etc. Golden rule, my friends. Embrace it.

Have fun and travel safe. Enjoy the adventure!

 

College Bound… But Where?

This week Georgia Tech’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Paul Kohn, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Dr. Kohn!

If you’re a high school senior, it’s almost time to commit to the college or university you’ll be attending in the fall.  As you go through this process, it may seem daunting to have multiple options to choose from… confusing to figure out finances… and confounding that your friends appear to know exactly where they are headed and the reasons why.  Meanwhile, you can’t decide whether you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or pizza for dinner, much less decide where to go to college.College just ahead

You probably have some concerns, doubts, and fears. Is this really the best school for me?  Am I good enough to succeed there? Will I fit in? Who will I live with and where?  Then others, maybe family, add: is it going to pay off?  Aren’t you going to miss home?  How will you deal with the cold, or the snow? Will you be safe? Are you really going to borrow that much money? You may have friends who are choosing to stay home and either skip going to college or start out at the more affordable and familiar local junior college—and by their example, your concerns just loom larger.

If you weren’t already worried, you might be now! Before you get overwhelmed, here are a few tips to help you get through this process and make the best decision for your future.

STOP!  First and foremost, if you haven’t congratulated yourself on reaching this milestone where you stand upon the threshold of attending college, then do it now! Stop and remember all you have accomplished, how fortunate you are to have choices and how blessed you are to be facing such possibilities. Believe it or not, relatively few people graduating high school this year will go to college next. What may seem like problems are really gifts.

REFLECT upon how you reached this point in your life.  You worked hard.  You asked lots of good questions.  You learned to make good choices.  Others have likely helped and supported you on this journey.  Your skills, your intuition, and your mentors are with you and they will help guide you to make a good choice.  You got yourself to this point in time. Trust your instincts, but also be practical.

MAKE A LIST of the pros and cons of the final choices you are considering.  Review your list with friends, relatives, and teachers.  Listen to the thoughts that come to mind as these guides point out details about you or about the schools.  Distinguish between your past actions versus your thoughts of the future.  I personally think our past actions and choices provide much more insight into who we truly are than the way we think we should be.

You are what you do, not what you say you'll doFor example, I have a friend who says he loves going to concerts, but his actual behavior reveals he hasn’t been to a live show in years.  When he told me he was thinking about moving to Austin to enjoy the thriving live music scene, I challenged him, and he recalled the 101 excuses he routinely has for not going to any shows—and  he lives in New York City!  What do your actions tell you about yourself, and are they more telling than your beliefs?  Now go back and rewrite your list. Narrow things down to two options.

If you can afford the time and expense, go visit the finalists one last time.  If you cannot, watch some YouTube videos about life at each school.  Read about the accomplishments of current students, recent grads and professors.  Get inspired.  Transform your quandary into: which of these two great schools would be perfect for me?

Then accept that the answer is neither—there is no perfect place! Come October, you will second guess whichever choice you made because you’ll be one month (or more) into the semester. You may have no idea what grades you are achieving, you’ll face more exams, papers, problem sets and group projects, and life overall will feel stressful.

When you go on social media, it will look like your friends at other schools are having the times of their lives, while you’re mired in stress from making a bad choice.  Don’t let social media be your barometer for relative happiness. You’ll get through the assignments. You’ll survive the stress.  You’ll learn how to succeed in a new environment, make friends from distinctly different backgrounds, and see how the power of a positive attitude can make an enormous difference in how you experience the stress of decision-making, the stress of uncertainty, the stress of the unfamiliar.  If you truly hone these skills, you may begin to see all the stress as part of the adventure. For that is what is truly ahead of you–one of life’s most remarkable adventures, in which you will build memories, skills, relationships and goals you may have never dreamed of.

TRUST that you’re where you are because of your ability to make good choices, and send in your deposit. Stop agonizing over where to go, and start picturing yourself in your new school colors, cheering for the team, pranking your roommates, talking with professors, and deciding if it matters which side of the bread you put the peanut butter on and which side you put the jelly.  Either way, it’ll still be a PB&J and if you believe it’s good, it will be.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Money Talks

Listen to the audio version here.

(No…It’s not about that.)

I spent some time with a good friend in Charlotte, NC last week. The first thing he said when we sat down was, “Been adulting hard lately, brother.” He went on to tell me about dealing with some incredibly tough and delicate HR issues at work. This week he’s staring down the barrel of another round of necessarily honest and inevitably uncomfortable meetings with a few employees.

After I left his house, I was thinking about a conversation I have coming up. I’m calling it The Three P’s: puberty, pornography, and pregnancy. Before my son turns 11 in May, I’m going to take him for a hike and then a meal at Waffle House and cover these topics.

I’m still debating and continually second guessing myself on the order, analogies, anecdotes, and appropriate amount of detail. Regardless, it’s going to be a rip-the-Band-Aid-off experience. I’ve heard a million ways to broach all of these topics. I’ve read articles and books on “raising boys” or transitioning to adolescence. I’m not sure if my plan is the right or best way to do this, but I am sure it has to be done.Now is the right time

Undoubtedly, some of you are wincing as you read this. Others (those who enjoy watching people trip on the sidewalk or take punishing hits in sports) would probably enjoy a Go Pro view on that day to witness in real-time the train wreck of awkwardness and bemusement. Others (not putting any wagers on percentages) are likely nodding in support or considering what you did/ should have done/ wish you’d said differently/earlier/ more directly.

Whether at work, at home, or in our community, life inevitably presents us with these critical but cringe-worthy moments and conversations. While incredibly tough, it is so much better to have them than to put them off or completely avoid them. When it comes to the college search and selection experience, the topic most families unfortunately do not discuss early or thoroughly is finances.

The Timing of the Talk

Any admission or financial aid director can share countless painful stories about families in April of the senior year who come to their office in tears. Having received a financial package, the reality of paying for college is upon them, and they have not had earnest conversations along the way.

Now, after the student has been offered admission, bought the college hoodie, and changed all online profile pictures to indicate they’re enrolling, financial lines are being drawn and emotions are running high.

If you are the parent of a junior, now is the time to start having these discussions. While you do not need to itemize all of your expenditures or accounts, you will be so much better off if you are willing to honestly and openly discuss your overall financial situation and how it relates to paying for college.

The truth is most students have no idea how much you pay in taxes, or what percentage of monthly or annual income goes to your mortgage. Understandably, they have not given any real thought to how adding college tuition may impact your family’s life and other financial obligations or goals.

“Opening the books” shifts the financing college conversation to a partnership and a collective investment. As a student’s first significant adult decision, they should be privy to the expense and implications of their college choice. These talks will help you have better discussions about opportunities to offset costs through jobs, co-ops, or internships. They will inform the questions you ask  about return on investment, careers, salaries, and how the school helps students pursue employment opportunities during and after college.

Yes, I understand this feels uncomfortable. Again, you are talking to someone who is about to discuss the darkest recesses of the interwebs with a 10-year-old. So let’s do this together!

Set Limitations

How much are you willing to invest in your son or daughter’s college education? Particularly in states with strong public university systems, we often hear parents say, “I am willing to pay for any of our state schools or the equivalent price, if my daughter chooses to go to an out-of-state public or private school.”  Consider and honestly discuss what limitations you want to establish. I’m not saying these should keep you from visiting or applying to a school that looks like it will cost more than your determined threshold, but setting limitations early will prevent feeling “gut punched” in April of the senior year when financial aid packages show up.

Set Conditions

“My parents will not pay for a school south of Virginia,” or “They have already told me I’m on my own if I look at schools west of Colorado,” or “We will pay for $40,000 a year for College X, but we are simply not paying that for Y University,” or (though short-sighted and not recommended) “we will only pay for a college that is ranked in the top 50.”

What are your family’s conditions, and why? College is an investment. Your family’s goal is to be confident in the dollars you spend. If you talk about why you are putting conditions in place, they will not come across as irrational or arbitrary, but rather instructive and rooted in love.

Talk about money
Photo credit: CNW Group/Credit Counselling Canada

Set Expectations

What role will/should your student have in paying for their own college education? Is there a flat amount or percentage you expect them to contribute? Setting clear expectations before applying to college allows them to consider how they can work and save money during high school, as well as ask colleges about opportunities for on-campus jobs, or the prospects for (and salaries associated with) internships or co-ops while in college. Instead of being divisive, setting expectations can unify your family because “the problem” of paying for college becomes a joint effort—one to solve together.

Discuss Loans

Last year, the average loan amount for students graduating from four-year colleges was approximately $30,000. Their average starting salary was approximately $50,000. Take some time to discuss the concept of loan tolerance and repayment. Check out our mock budget from The Money Blog and put some real numbers on paper.

I get you would rather be talking about The Voice or debating which Marvel movie should come out next, but having these honest, open,  and important discussions early is essential. Again, critical but cringe-worthy.

If you want to trade topics, let me know. I’ll come to your house and talk finances. You can go hiking with my son and walk him through what’s about to happen to his body. Just promise me you won’t be that family in April of the senior year in some college dean’s office passing the tissues, pointing fingers, and yelling things like, “I wish you’d told me!”

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.