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3 Ways Families Can Manage College List Disagreements

Kevin McMullin

Money, Jobs, & College

Students often want different things in a college than their parents want—close to home vs. far from home, big vs. small, liberal arts vs. pre-professional.   If your family is having some disagreements about just exactly which schools should be on the college list, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Understand that some level of disagreement is normal.
There’s nothing wrong with students and parents being on different pages in the college search.  Sometimes you might feel like you’re in different universes.  But you can manage the disagreement a lot better if you acknowledge that nobody is doing anything wrong.  Recognize that college disagreements are normal, and try to listen to each other’s opinions even if you disagree with them.

2. Remember that for now, students are just applying. 
Deciding where to apply is completely different from deciding where to attend. This is one of those seemingly obvious facts that can completely change your mindset when you consider it.  I would never suggest that a student apply to any college that her parents will never, ever allow her to attend.  But students apply to college in the fall of the senior year and typically don’t decide which college to attend until the end of their senior year.  A lot can happen in those 5-8 months.  So for now, pick your battles and consider managing your disagreements by allowing some schools you might not agree on to earn a place on the list.

3. Students have to earn the right to take the lead.
Parents aren’t going to college—the student is.  And the most effective college processes happen when parents back off and let the student take the lead.  But students have to earn that right by being engaged in the process, researching schools, and giving this choice the time and attention it deserves.  When a student takes an active role in investigating, visiting and discussing colleges, her parents will be less likely to step in and make the choices for her.

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Kevin McMullin

Kevin McMullin is the Founder of Collegewise, a national college admissions counseling company, co-founder of The Princeton Review and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. He also writes a daily college admissions blog,, and has given over 500 presentations to discuss smarter, saner college planning.