How to Avoid Family Disagreements When Choosing a College

Parents and students should keep the lines of communication open.

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When it comes to choosing a college, parents and students are sometimes on totally different pages. Perhaps one favors a college close to home and another a college far away. Or maybe one puts finances over dream schools and the other weighs them equally.

Whether your differences are large or small, there are ways to avoid ongoing tension about choosing a school.

JULIE:

The process of choosing a college can be an extremely stressful time for both students and parents; disagreements are bound to happen. Here are some of the ways my husband and I coped with those disagreements and moved forward.

1. Get on the same page as the other parent: Even if your expectations are somewhat different, it's best to present a united front where your child is concerned. You can still leave the door open to other choices, but disagreeing about big college choices in front of your child can create confusion and unnecessary anxiety on his or her part.

Have those conversations with the other parent in private so that both of you are communicating the same message to your child.

[Get tips on narrowing college options.]

2. Start communicating early: The time to start expressing your thoughts and opinions about college choices is not the week that college applications are due.

Start talking early—well before your child's senior year—so that expectations are set.

3. Keep an open mind: You may think you know the perfect college fit for your child, but be willing to listen to his or her preferences and consider what's behind them. Maybe your desire to have your child nearby, for example, is more about you than about your student.

Be honest with yourself and your child and be willing to explore lots of options with an open mind.

[Use these 10 steps to pick the right college.]

LINDSEY:

Choosing a college can be a difficult process for students for a couple reasons. First, what a student looks for in a college can be very different than what a parent looks for. And second, there is the question of who should make final decisions about which colleges to apply to: the student who will be attending school or the parents who may be paying for it?

[Find out how to pay for college.]

1. Respect your parents' stake: One mistake I saw many of my friends make in high school was to not consider their parents' opinions whatsoever in their college choice.

If your parents are paying for any of your college expenses, they deserve to have a say in your decision-making process. How much sway they should have will differ within each family.

2. Establish your role: Do your parents get veto power over a school they can't afford? If there's a school you disagree on, how will you decide whether or not to apply? Who gets the final decision if a disagreement occurs?

The answers to these questions will likely all be compromises between you and your parents. Decide before these situations arise how you will handle them in order to avoid tension along the way.