From ages 5 to 10, my mother made me take swimming lessons. I hated it and I fought against going, but she took me every summer. You might be thinking that my mother was an Olympic swimmer or at least a water aerobics enthusiast, but you’d be wrong. In fact, my mother is scared of the water, but she knew that she shouldn’t allow her fears to limit my development. I never became a good swimmer, but knowing the basics has allowed me to scuba dive in the Red Sea and float on an inflatable mattress down the Missouri River like a pro.

Just like swimming for my mother, the college transition can be scary for the adults in our lives, yet they are an incredibly important part of the process. Read below for a list of conversations you should have with your family about college.

You need them along for the ride.

Our families aren’t mind readers, so we need to tell them that we want them involved. They may assume that you get everything done at school and that they can’t offer much help; yet even if they haven’t been to college themselves, they have things you need.

  • Expertise: Our families have years of experience making difficult decisions. Ask them how they made those decisions and discuss how that wisdom can help you in making your college decisions.
  • Information: From the FAFSA to college applications, you will need information only your family can provide. Make a list of the information including: guardians’ full names, occupation, military status, level of education, estimated family income, etc.
  • Support: Sometimes our family doesn’t know how or that they can support us. Let them know by telling them, “I need someone to listen” or “I need your opinion about …

Finding what fits.

From deciding where we apply to where to attend, our families have certain expectations and you have yours. Be sure to discuss your preferences about your college experience such as:

  • Desistance from home
  • Majors/careers that interest you
  • Size of town/city you feel comfortable in

Money, money, money.

Different expectations about who is paying for school and misunderstandings about college costs can cause tension. Don’t let it!

  • Award Letter: Review the award letters you receive with your family and compare financial aid packages. Call the Financial Aid offices at the college if you don’t understand something or were hoping for a bigger financial award.
  • Who pays for what: Talk about who is going to pay for tuition and living costs as well as who will accept the loans if you need them.
  • How many Loans you’ll accept: You don’t have to accept ALL of the loan money offered to you. Discuss with your parents how much you’ll need per semester and build a budget together.

Hopes and Fears.

We and our families probably have concerns about our safety, health, and financial security as well as hopes for what a college degree/certificate will help us accomplish. Ask your family what their hopes and fears around your college experience are. This conversation can help build trust.

99 Problems.

Our difficult decisions don’t end after we choose a college. Adapting to classes and campus life can have its challenges. It’s important that you and your family know that this will happen and talk about what you’ll do when it does. Be ready with a list of campus resources and agree together that even when things get tough, you won’t allow yourself to quit.