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Dealing with the 'Rents: Tips for Talking with Mom and Dad about College

By Risa Lewak
Independent Educational Consultant

You need to accept certain things in life: Britney Spears is crazy, the New York Yankees are going to make the playoffs, and you will fight with your parents about college. Because parents are more involved in their children's college application process than ever before, there's a lot more tension between

Risa Lewak, MSEd, is the author of Don't Stalk the Admissions Officer, which offers both a practical and humorous look at applying to college. She also runs the website Because she still has nightmares about the college admissions process, Risa's goal is to alleviate the confusion and fear of those going through it.

children and parents over everything from where to apply to what color socks to wear to the college interview. Below are a few tips that can help make the college journey easier for both you and your parents:

1. The best way to resolve a college-related conflict with your parents is to tell them directly how you're feeling

Your parents are not mind readers (fortunately for you). It's your job to be upfront and honest with them. If you find your parents tuning you out, then try to arrange some alone time with them. Whether it's going out to dinner, taking a drive, or bungee jumping, arranging some activity where you can be alone with your parent or parents is a great opportunity to convey how you feel without any distractions.

2. If you find that your parents are dictating how and where you apply to school, listen to them

Rather than tell your parents to back off, listen to the schools they suggest and the essay topics they bring up... and try not to visibly cringe when they accost that admissions officer at your high school's college fair. The mere act of listening to your parents and not automatically dismissing what they say will go a long way when you tell them that you have a different take on things. It's much easier to have a college dialogue when both parties are open to the other's ideas.

3. Establish what type of school you want to attend early in the process

Whether it's a Big Ten school in the Midwest or a tiny liberal arts school in a town nobody's heard of, let your parents know early on what kind of school you're setting your sights on. This will avoid confusion and conflict down the road.

4. Understand if financial constraints limit your choices

Not everyone has $160,000 or more to shell out for a four-year education. If your parents can't afford to send you to certain schools, try and come up with lower-cost alternatives that will make you just as happy. An expensive school is not necessarily a better school. Have a frank talk with your parents about schools that lie within their financial range. If you still desire a school outside your parents' financial reach, consider options such as student loans, grants, and merit-based scholarships.

5. When you feel that you can't resolve a college issue with your parents, bring in a neutral third party

New York City-based child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Tobkes suggests bringing in a school psychologist or social worker to help resolve a conflict. In cases where you feel that you're coming up against a brick wall, family therapy may be a good solution.

Sometimes all it takes is simple communication. Be clear with your parents, respect their input, but don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. Unfortunately, there's always the remote possibility that your parents might make sense. If this happens, remember that since we've landed men on the moon, anything is possible.

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