College Planning Questions You Should Discuss as a Family
By Haley DeLeon | Last Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Having a productive family discussion during college planning means asking the right questions — as a parent and as a teen.
From settling money matters to creating boundaries, having these conversations can be challenging. Where do you begin?
The following questions can help guide the conversation on both sides.
Questions for Parents to Ask Their College-Bound Kids
Parents or guardians should ask these questions to discover if their kids are ready for college and what their plans are. For questions parents may have about the general college process, check out our parent guide to the college application process.
What’s Your Future Plan, and How Does College Factor Into That?
Asking your child why they want to attend college, what they want to major in, how college fits into their plans — all these questions can help you determine their college readiness and if college is the right choice for their future. The National PTA recommends ensuring that your student sees higher education as a stepping stone to their future career instead of getting into a dream school.
What About College Excites You the Most?
This question also helps assess your child’s college readiness. It helps reveal what’s most important to your child when selecting the colleges to apply to. Having this discussion can help you guide them during the college selection process to ensure the colleges they apply to align with their priorities.
What About College Worries You the Most?
Asking this question will enable you to support your teen in the areas of most stress for them, whether social or academic. For example, have they struggled with mental health issues in the past and are concerned they won’t have the support they need when they go to college? You can help determine if the colleges they are interested in provide adequate mental health services. Together, you can research the resources colleges offer so that they feel confident they’ll have what they need to succeed.
What Information Will We Share When You’re in College?
Creating guidelines for what information your child will share with you when they are in college can be an essential part of their future success. Will they be required to share their GPA with you? How often will you keep in touch? If they change their major, will they tell you? Discussing the communication plan ahead of time can save you stress and heartache down the line.
How Can I Help You During Your Transition to College?
This question can help you figure out how to best prepare your child for college. For example, they may want help learning how to cook healthy meals or stick to a budget. If they will be living on their own for the first time, there are many ways you can prepare them for the transition.
Questions for College-Bound Kids to Ask Their Parents
For high school juniors and seniors interested in attending college, here are some questions you should ask your parents or guardians to foster the college planning process.
Do You Think I’m Ready for College?
Asking this question can be tricky, but it’s important to know if your parents have any reservations about you attending college. For example, your parents might want you to start at a community college instead of attending a university as a freshman. Or they might recommend you take a gap year and work to save money instead of starting college immediately. Knowing what they think at the beginning of the process can help you have an open discussion about the best course of action for the family.
Can You Help Me Pay for College?
Money can be a stressful topic, but it’s better to discuss financial matters early and often in the college planning process. Knowing whether or not your parents plan on contributing to tuition, fees, and other financial needs can help you decide your plans.
To get specific, some additional questions you can ask include:
- What is our budget for college?
- Do you have any money saved to help me with my education?
- Were you thinking about taking out parent loans, or do I need to take out loans?
- Do you have any advice for me about taking out loans?
- Can you help me pay for my books and supplies for my classes?
Remember that many parents help their children pay for college, so asking is not unusual.
What Expenses Will Be My Responsibility?
From books to transportation home for holidays, have a straightforward talk with your parents about who pays for what. Detailing who will be responsible for paying for everything in your budget is critical to avoid confusion later. You may decide to work part-time or obtain a student job on campus to pay for anything extra-curricular, for example, if your parents aren’t giving you spending money.
How Much Are You Going to Help Me in the College Search and Application Process?
Searching for colleges and applying to those that seem like a good fit involves many steps. Whether compiling a list of your reach, match, and safety schools or preparing for the SAT/ACT, you can ask your parents how involved they’ll be in the college search and application process. Will they pay for an SAT tutor or test prep course? Will they create a schedule to keep you on track with your applications? These questions will help you know how much college prep you’ll need to do on your own.
For example, if you want to plan a college visit, ask your parents if they will be able to take time off work and go with you and if they’re willing to pay for the travel expenses. Are they okay with you visiting the college campuses by yourself? For each step of the college planning process, ask how involved they are willing to be and communicate where you most need help.
What Are Your Thoughts on Me Staying at Home vs. Moving Far Away?
Sometimes, parents can have strong feelings one way or the other about their teen staying home or going away to college. If you’re thinking about living at home, you should still talk about boundaries — will your curfew stay the same as it was in high school? Do your parents need to know where you are at all times?
If you want to move out and attend college across the country, your parents need to know this. Out-of-state tuition, transportation, and living expenses will probably be higher if you go to an out-of-state school, and your parents won’t be able to see you as often. How do they feel about the distance? Will they be able to help you pay for these added expenses? Will they pay for your transportation so you can visit during the holidays? How often will you be expected to visit? Again, setting some expectations here can help you know what they have in mind and what’s reasonable.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions Throughout the Process
These questions are just a jumping-off point when preparing the whole family for college. When you’re having these discussions, which should be frequent and ongoing, consider these tips:
- Stay honest: This is key on both sides. As a student, if you really want to schedule campus visits, share this with your parents. Even if you think what you want is unattainable, share your goals and preferences so they can help. As a parent, being truthful is also important, especially regarding financial matters.
- Listen: This one’s mainly for parents. It’s tempting to voice your opinions and expectations in the college process, but actively listening and keeping an open mind is important since this is one of the first “adult” decisions your teen will ever make. By asking questions and listening to their answers, you can help guide them effectively throughout the college planning process to ensure the best outcome.
- Be willing to compromise: This tip applies to parents and students. As a student, you may want to attend a private, out-of-state school. As a parent, you may want your teen to attend an in-state, public university. Instead of butting heads, parents should ask their teens why they feel this way and share their reasoning. You may find some overlap and be able to come up with a compromise.
For more tips on the college application process, subscribe to our blog to get regular advice in your inbox. Parents and teens can also reach out to the USF Office of Admissions with any specific questions.
About Haley DeLeon
Haley DeLeon is a content developer with extensive experience in the higher education sector. She is passionate about creating content that helps students and their families throughout the admissions journey.