8 Great Tips for Parents Planning College

Preparing your kids for college. Four teens walking to college class with backpacks on.

Navigating the Transition: Parents’ Guide to College Planning for Graduating Seniors

As parents, watching your child transition from high school to college is a momentous occasion filled with mixed emotions. It’s a time of excitement, anticipation, and a touch of apprehension. You want to provide the best support possible, but you might also wonder how involved you should be in this new phase of your life, and theirs. In this blog post, we’ll explore considerations for parents as they guide their graduating seniors through the college preparation journey, striking the balance between support and independence.

1. Encourage Self-Discovery During College Preparation:

One of the most valuable gifts you can give your child is the opportunity to explore their passions and interests. Encourage them to reflect on what they want to study and why. Help them identify their strengths, values, and goals. This self-discovery process will empower them to make informed decisions about their college path.

What the Professionals Say

Remember to watch for signs that your teen is done listening for the time being. You’ll have other chances to impart your wisdom, and they will be more likely to listen if they feel you can respect their implied boundaries like changing the subject (or explicit spoken boundaries like, “Can we talk about something else?”).

2. Open Communication:

Maintaining open and honest communication is key. Create an environment where your child feels comfortable discussing their hopes and concerns about college. Listen actively and without judgment. Understand that their priorities and aspirations may evolve over time.

What the Professionals Say

Your teenager is facing becoming an adult. Some anxiety (from them) about this is normal. Keep this in mind if they seem irritable when you are offering them coaching on their choices. Let them dream and explore their own ideas about college. If you try to control them, then they are more likely to pull away once they are on campus and out from under your direct control. However, if you show them the proper respect as young adults, they are likely to see you as an ally and coach that they can count on for sound advice.

3. Research Colleges Together:

Explore college options together. Research institutions that align with your child’s academic and personal preferences. Attend college fairs, campus tours, and information sessions. Encourage your child to take the lead in these activities, but offer guidance and support when needed.

What the Professionals Say.

A common source of conflict between graduating seniors and parents is the cost of education and what parents are willing to provide. Your child may be interested in an expensive out-of-state college or university (out-of-state is usually more expensive). If it is out of your budget, simply talk with your child about options. A common option is that parents pay what they had planned on, and then the student gets financial aid (scholarships, grants, loans) to make up the difference; some parents even offer to help pay those loans down over time, but this is not necessary.

4. Financial Planning:

College can be a significant financial commitment. Discuss the costs and available financial aid options early on. Explore scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. While it’s essential for your child to understand financial responsibility, your guidance in navigating these waters can be invaluable.

What the Professionals Say

Continuing from number 3 above: Should you agree that your graduating senior will take on some loans, a big selling point on this is the fact that it will give them an amazing head-start on establishing a solid credit history. Explain that a large factor in their credit score is the average age of their credit. Starting their credit history at 18 or 19 will pay dividends later in life when they are ready to buy a house (assuming they make responsible decisions about credit and payments, etc.).

5. Encourage Independence in Preparation for College Life:

As the college application process unfolds, empower your child to take the reins. Encourage them to complete applications, write essays, and manage deadlines. Offer assistance when requested, but allow them to take ownership of this important journey. Of course, you are still their parent! You can stay on them a bit to be sure that the ‘ol “Senioritis” doesn’t extend into procrastination of their applications!

What the Professionals Say

Your graduating senior’s school counselor can provide you with referrals for coaches who specialize in helping students complete college applications. They provide insight, support, deadlines, and action plans for manageable steps. Don’t hesitate to use this resource. If this is out of the budget, that is okay, there are plenty of resources, like the school counselor and academic advisors at colleges who can offer support as well.

6. Foster Resilience:

College life brings new challenges and opportunities for growth. Prepare your child for potential setbacks and teach them resilience. Emphasize that it’s okay to seek help when needed, whether academically or emotionally. Encourage a growth mindset that embraces learning from both successes and failures.

What the Professionals Say

Do you remember your early college or career experiences? While times are different now, the general experience is the same: Your graduating senior is facing what feels like a freight train of responsibility barreling at them at light speed. Offer them some stories of how you handled things, BUT be sure to ask them if they think there is a related method they can use in the world of cyber-technology.

The important thing is that you DO NOT imply that you KNOW what they are going through and that they should do exactly as you did. This will often drive young adults away. However, when you ask them what they think, and then praise their thought process (assuming it is in the right direction), they are likely to see you as that coach and ally they can trust and rely upon for guidance.

7. Supportive Presence:

While encouraging independence is essential, let your child know that your support remains unwavering. Be a source of encouragement, a listening ear, and a shoulder to lean on. Attend important milestones like college visits or orientation together to show your commitment.

What the Professionals Say

This is especially true when they make mistakes. Perhaps they miss an application deadline for admission or for a scholarship, or perhaps they submit an essay full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. While it is certainly okay to point out the problem, QUICKLY shift to offering support and options for getting back on track. For example, if they miss an application for admission deadline, encourage them to think of a solution, but if they are overwhelmed, step in and ask ASK them what they think about contacting the dean’s office to ask for an extension.

You can also remind them that they can go to a local community college (which is cheaper) and knock out some core classes. They’ll just need to get a certain GPA, and then transfer into their preferred college or university. The lesson is that there are always options. Remember, watch for that Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light concept. . . if they seem receptive (Green Light), then keep chatting with them. But as they move to Yellow and certainly Red, back off and give them space to consider their options.

8. Trust Their College Choices:

Ultimately, trust your child’s decisions regarding college selection. Remember that their journey may take unexpected turns, and that’s okay. Trust in their ability to navigate these twists and turns and to find their unique path.

What the Professionals Say

Some parents dream of their children attending the same university that they attended. While this is a wonderful treat when your son or daughter picks this path, it is important that you not pressure them about it. Even joking too much about it can feel like pressure. Of course, talking with them about how great the University of Texas at Austin is (Hook ’em Horns!!), be sure that you let them know there are plenty of amazing options out there for them to explore and that you are proud no matter what they decide.


Preparing your graduating senior for college is a journey of growth for both parent and child. It’s about finding the delicate balance between providing guidance and fostering independence. By nurturing self-discovery, maintaining open communication, and offering unwavering support, you empower your child to embark on this exciting adventure with confidence and resilience. Together, you’ll navigate this transition, ensuring that your child’s college experience is filled with opportunities for growth, learning, and personal development.

A Final Note from Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s

Not all students need to attend college

Please remember that not all people need to attend college. Increasingly, we are realizing that people can get on-the-job training and have very successful lives that are no less lucrative than college-educated people. Some young adults need to work for a couple of years before attending college, others have different ideas that involve becoming an apprentice or starting their own business. Be sure to allow your kids to talk through these ideas. It is better that they talk with you about this than somebody who you don’t know what they are going to say.

When college grades suffer

Many parents dread what to do when their kids struggle in college. Be supportive! Offer to help them get tutoring to get caught up. Let them come home over the weekend to clear their minds. But if the struggles continue and you see that it is a result of them not being responsible (partying too much, not studying, not turning in work, etc.) then your options change. If you are paying for their college, one option is the require them to get student loans in their name for their education. Then you can reimburse them based on performance. For example, you can pay a percentage of their semester’s expenses based on GPA:

  • 4.0 = You pay 100% of tuition, books, room, and food expenses.
  • 3.0 = You pay 80%
  • 2.0 = You pay 50%
  • Anything under a 2.0 they pay their entire bill

Their loans will not come due as long as they continue with full-time classes (there are exceptions for this, just check with lenders). When they have this “in-school deferment” they are not accruing interest.

You may be asking, what if they get 3 A’s and an F. Technically this would be around a 3.0 GPA. I tend to suggest that you include a provision that no failing grades will be reimbursed at the above rates. Naturally, for the first F, you can offer a freebie as they will have to take the class again anyway. Another way to deal with this is to offer reimbursement per class (in other words, you pay a percent of their fees for each class); this is a little more work but does have the advantage of treating each class as its own benchmark.


Learn more about how we can help you find balance in your family life.

Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level 2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.

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