So you want to go to college. Your parents want you to go to college. Great! Sounds like everybody should be happy! Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. College application season tends to be fraught with parental pressure. Mom always breathing down your neck? Dad constantly name-dropping his alma-mater at dinner? Don’t worry. It gets better.
The first thing to do when it comes to dealing with your parents’ not-so-subtle strategies is take a step back. Try to relax. When Mom asks you for the 50th time whether you’ve started your Common App, and for the 50th time you explain that you’re going to start Sunday morning because you have a piano recital Friday night and your cousin’s wedding Saturday, but Mom says “you should really start soon. I heard Betsy’s son already sent in five of his applications, and he’s a very smart boy. He’ll probably get into Princeton. Speaking of Princeton, I was reading their essay question and it reminded me of that time you won the Kindness Award at your overnight camp…”
Before you sigh loudly and storm off, or yell at her to “stop comparing you to Betsy’s son,” take a deep breath. Consider where she’s coming from.
As much stress as you’re under, your parents are under almost as much (if not more). For a lot of parents, getting their kids into a “good college” is the measurement of how well they raised you. They want to know that they’ve given you the tools to set yourself up for a successful life.
There’s also immense social pressure in some communities to send students to top-tier colleges. Even now my mom tells me stories about conversations she overhears in which groups of parents brag about their children’s SAT scores and scholarship offers. On top of that there’s financial pressure, as your parents consider the impact that ever-increasing tuition will have on their savings, and there’s the stress of adjusting to a new lifestyle once you’re gone, particularly if your parents will become empty-nesters.
Most of all, though, your parents are probably stressed because they want what’s best for you. They want to know that you’ll be happy and healthy in school, that you’ll make friends and learn new skills, that four years down the road you’ll graduate into a financially-secure job that utilizes your skills and makes you feel valued. And all of that, it seems, comes down to choosing THE SCHOOL that’s right for YOU.
You both want the same thing: what’s best for you. The problem is, you may have very different ideas of what that looks like. The best way to overcome that discrepancy is through communication.
When your mom brings up Betsy’s son and Princeton, but you know you want to go to school on the West coast, take a deep breath and talk to her. Speak calmly and explain why you have the preferences that you have. Then listen to her perspective. If she insists that Princeton is the ideal school for you, ask her why she feels so strongly. Try to determine the true root of her pressure. Is she concerned about the cost of airfare? Is she scared that you’ll move out to California and join a punk-rock band and dye your hair pink? Is she just really going to miss you?
Remember that although your college choice is first and foremost your own, whatever decision you make will inevitably have a profound impact on your parents. Whether you agree with your mother’s concern or not, try to let her know that you understand where she’s coming from and that you’ll do what you can to make the decision that’s best for your whole family, as long as it doesn’t compromise your own wellbeing.
The other important thing to do to minimize parental pressure is to stay on top of your pre-college work. If you show your parents that you’re self-motivated and organized, then there will be no reason for them to ask you day after day “so, how bout those college apps?”
The best way to earn independence is to act independently. Then, keep your parents informed on your progress. Let them know when you finish your Common App. Give them a heads up that you’re taking a practice SAT next weekend so you’ll need the house to be quiet for a few hours. If you do the work yourself, there’s no reason for your parents to pester you about it.
At the end of the day, there may be some insurmountable differences between your choice and your parents’. Keep talking to them. Consider their opinions seriously. They may have some insight that you hadn’t thought of.
That being said, it is ultimately your college experience. Don’t let your parents’ preferences dictate how you spend the next four years of your life. As long as you communicate calmly and reasonably, show that you are seriously considering your parents’ perspectives, and maintain steady, self-motivated progress on your college applications, the pressure from your parents should subside and hopefully they’ll come to respect your decision.