How to Talk to Your Reluctant Teen About Going to College

Every teen takes a different path to college, and some may just take longer than others. But you have to support them along the way.

Two years ago in spring of 2014, I graduated from college, decorated with honors cords from graduating cum laude and student leadership cords for being an officer in a prominent school club. You would think with such success and involvement, I’d always wanted to go to college – that is not the case. In fact, when I was in high school, college was the last thing I ever wanted to do.

As a teenager, I absolutely hated school. I constantly did the bare minimum to pass my classes, and the thought of continuing my education after high school, and paying to do it, was horrible. I honestly didn’t even want to finish high school, but knowing that high school diplomas are held in higher regard than GEDs, I knew I had to graduate. I was lucky that my parents never pressured me to go to college – and you shouldn’t pressure your kids either.

You may think your insistence that your kid go to college is pushing them towards future success, but it may just be stressing them out to the point of anxiety and depression. While you shouldn’t pressure your teen, there are ways to encourage them to explore their post-high school options.

Have a conversation with your teen.

It seems like a simple suggestion, but anyone who has a teen knows how difficult it can be to talk with a teen sometimes. Ask your teen why he or she doesn’t want to go to college. It could be that high school is causing too much stress and anxiety, and the pressure of college level classes will be too much.

Help your student tackle stress and mental health before you start pushing for college. Once your teen feels that he or she can has the stress under control, you can start exploring different options for the future.

Suggest taking some time off.

I remember hearing all the time that if I didn’t go straight to college after high school, I would never go at all. On the contrary, taking time off is the only thing that made going to college feasible for me. Taking a break from being formally educated helped me gain an appreciation for it.

It also gave me time to figure out what I loved and was passionate about – something I couldn’t figure out while hating every second that I was in school. Many teens likely feel this way, and taking a break from sitting in a classroom to gain some real life experience in the working world could be just what they need to appreciate school again.

Suggest a test run.

With all the pressure from everyone in my life (excluding my parents), I did actually attend a semester of college right after high school. I wanted to see what college was like – it did not go well.

Some schools offer the opportunity to try college without enrolling. Arizona State University recently started a program called Global Freshman Academy that allows anyone to try a handful of freshmen level classes completely free. If the student decides that he or she doesn’t like the classes, or if the student is failing the classes, there’s is no penalty. If the student does like the class and the overall experience, and decides to enroll, he or she pays for the credits and the class is counted toward requirements. It’s a great chance for newly graduated teens, or anyone wondering about college, to check it out with no commitment.

Having a conversation with your teen about college is important, but remember that the reluctance doesn’t mean he or she won’t eventually go. Every teen takes a different path to college, and some may just take longer than others.

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