Start Here – How to Help Your Kids Choose an Education Program

There are many ways to tackle the discussion on college program research with your kids. Given the importance of this step, it warrants reflection and preparation. Read on for some recommendations and first steps in helping your kids choose their college major and prepare their career.

1. Preparation

There are several questions you can ask yourself as a parent before broaching the subject with your child. Start with the following: What would a successful outcome of the discussion look like? What potential challenges will we face and how will we overcome them? Who else can help us in this process? What are some best practices that could help the process be as smooth, enjoyable and productive as possible? What role would I like to play as a parent (Coach, co-leader, mentor, guide, researcher, fact finder, organizer, project manager, etc.)?

In addition to reflecting on the questions above, it is useful to prepare a discussion outline beforehand. You should also plan to leverage key communication principles that can help you get your message across. Finally, you should prepare several open-ended questions (vs close ended questions) to ensure that the conversation is as collaborative as possible. This preparation will give you more clarity around your desired outcome, potential challenges, your role, opportunities for questions and your major talking points.

2. Book the first meeting

Before sitting down for a formal working session, there should a short conversation to set things up. This is when you can sell the purpose, value and importance of choosing a college program and building a process to do this effectively. Even in this short conversation, there will be opportunities to pause for reactions and ask questions. This could also be your chance to tell your child about the role you would like to have. Ask for their reaction, check for understanding and listen to their concerns.

3. At the first meeting – Start with the right frame/context

This college research process is an opportunity for them to develop the independence they will need to be successful in college and in their careers. Therefore, you can structure the college research process with that in mind by empowering them to take the lead. Some questions you can ask them to get started: What ideas do you have about how you will pick a major? How do you want to do this? How can I help? (See importance of use of open-ended questions vs close ended questions.)

Once you have gathered some of their ideas and identified gaps in their knowledge, there will be an opportunity to ask for permission to suggest ideas about the process. As a parent, you will have a lot of knowledge and experience to contribute to the discussion. After having gained permission to contribute ideas, you will have created the right environment for this sharing to occur.  The discussion should now shift to a joint brainstorm session. Give each other the right to be creative and make sure you capture your ideas on paper.

Finally, explain the stakes of the discussion: Why are we building a process to choose your college major and career? What are the benefits? What could happen if they didn’t invest the right amount of time and energy here?

The format of this conversation will help you convey the message that choosing a college program and a career is about them and what they want, and that you are there to empower them.

4. Share best practices in choosing a college major

During your brainstorm, you will have an opportunity to share ideas on how they go about choosing their major and what tools and research they can leverage.  Some topics to cover include: What people could they connect with to help them (mentor, relative, resources, coach, guidance counsellor, etc.)? What psychometrics could help them develop self-awareness?  How will they learn about 21st century careers? What are the best sources to research different colleges?

5. Cooperatively build a timeline

In order to structure the great ideas that came from your brainstorm, an execution plan with a timeline needs to be established. Some questions to ask: How will they get organized over time? What tools will they use to keep track of their progress? What steps will they commit to and by when?

There is an opportunity here to create a timeline to keep track of all the moving pieces. It could be a low-tech solution (posted on fridge with weekly updates) or an online tool (Google documents or Outlook-type of calendar). After building in major milestones, you should set up times to formally check in with each other. These recurring, agreed upon meetings will be more effective than spontaneous progress updates.

This 5 step process summarizes a collaborative approach that defines the role of the parent, empowers the student and creates accountabilities. What else have you done to help your kids choose a college program? What has worked and what hasn’t worked? Please share your thoughts so that other parents can benefit from your insights.

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