College & Career

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How to talk to mom and dad about college

By Danah Atassi
Hinsdale Central
and Fatima Farha
Niles West

Applying for college is never just about you. Before you know it, your friends, parents and distant relatives get involved. They all have opinions about where you should go, how much you should pay and where you should live.

Sometimes your parents are the toughest crowd to please—especially when they’re stressing out more than you are. We chatted with Elizabeth Heaton, the senior director of educational consulting for College Coach ( about the most common parental problems students encounter while applying for college.

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My parents aren’t happy about me looking out of state for college. What can I do to make them feel more comfortable with the idea?

”The first thing you want to understand (is) why they don’t want you to go out of state. Is it more expensive? Is it about you being so far away from home on your own? … When you can identify those (reasons), then I think helping them see while it may seem cheaper to go to your local state institution, there are colleges that may give you quite a bit of financial aid or merit scholarships that could make that option actually cheaper than your local option. One other last thing would be to see what transportation options are (available) … if they are concerned about your ability to get home without them coming to drive and pick you up. A lot times on college campuses they have buses … from campus to major cities, so it might be easier than they think for you to get home.”

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How do I prove to my parents that I can live on campus rather than staying at home?

”You want to understand why you think it would be a good idea, and come up with a list of reasons of why it would be better to live on campus than to live at home. Maybe there are organizations you would like to be involved in and it would be easier to do that if you were right there living on campus. It would be easier for you to get to class on time, and take all the classes you want, so if you’re living right there on campus, it might be easier to take a class that meets early in the morning four days a week. … Is it your goal to live on your own with support before you’re living completely on your own when you get a job when you graduate from college? You may talk to them about the benefits of growing up a little bit with a support system around you so that you’re independent, but not so independent that you wouldn’t have anyone to return to.”

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I was rejected from the school my parents had been pushing for the most. How can I help them get over it?

”I think helping them understand that you still have a number of different applications out there (and) that there are a lot of different places you could go to and be happy. Help them see that you’re so excited about your other options. I think parents are really upset because they feel badly that this is maybe one of the first times in their lives they couldn’t make something happen for you … and that’s a tough thing for them sometimes. So helping them to understand that you’re OK can be really useful.”

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Paying for tuition is going to be difficult. How can I help my parents out?

”You want to make sure that you are applying for financial aid. … One of the first rules of thumb with anything is to make sure you get things in (on) time because (at) a lot of places, if you don’t, you’re automatically not going to be considered because you missed the deadline. Another really great thing is looking for outside scholarships. One of the websites I would recommend is I would start looking for scholarships as early as ninth or 10th grade. When you are looking at your schools, it’s really easy to fall in love with the “reaches.” … It’s the schools that are your “safeties” where they are much more likely to offer you merit scholarships or a particularly good financial aid (package). Make sure you have a nice balanced list of schools.”

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About The Mash

The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free every other Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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