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Ouachita Stories


7 ways parents and students can team up in the college search

Student and parents at Move InNovember 16, 2017 - Rachel Bruton

Parents, this one’s for you. Students, feel free to listen in, as well. If your student's finding the college that is the best fit seems like a looming cloud overhead, keep reading!

It may feel like there are so many questions to ask, and you and your student are on two different pages about what to look for in “a good college experience.” Such a big decision may be difficult to talk through for some families, but deciding on the best college for your student should be a family decision that is met with open communication and an understanding of each other’s perspectives.

Ouachita’s director of admissions counseling, Lori Motl, offers advice. Lori is not only an admissions professional, she also is the parent of a high schooler and two college students, so she has navigated these waters in her own family. Here are insights she’s gained on how parents and students can work together to ease the tension of this process and work towards a conclusion that leaves both you and your student feeling excited about the future ahead.

  1. List out what things are important and what aren’t. For some students, it may be important to be able to be involved in extracurricular activities. While for others it may be all about the quality of education or social life at the school. Talk as a family about what is important for your student’s college experience, and then ask questions about these things when you visit.
  2. Acknowledge and utilize parental wisdom and experience. For some parents – you’ve been in this exact spot before. You’ve been to college and you know what mattered while you were in school, and what mattered after you graduated. For those who didn’t go to college, you still have years of life experience and wisdom to rely on. Don’t be shy about sharing your perspective. (Students, try to appreciate the experience your parents bring to bear here and give them a fair hearing.)
  3. Allow and encourage your student to take ownership of the decision. Remember, they are the ones going to college and spending the next four years of their life there. Help them rule schools out when they don’t feel right, and invest in learning more about the ones that do. Help them make an informed decision that they can feel confident in.
  4. Don’t be afraid to talk about the big things. For a lot of families, it can be uncomfortable to discuss finances and to address how college can affect the family’s situation. “If finances are a big concern, then go through the process. Do the work, and you’ll find that a lot of colleges are within your reach,” Motl said. “If loans are a part of that, that’s okay. I think loans can be a really good tool if you use them carefully; you really have to use all the tools in that financial aid toolbox.”
  5. Don’t stress over the little things. Choosing a major may seem like a make or break decision. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of students change their major at least once in college. Be careful to look at the entire academic experience that a school has to offer rather than a single major you think you have your heart set on.
  6. Put in the work. “Visit lots of campuses, apply to your dream schools,” Motl said. “Walk through the financial aid process – walk all the way through that process – do your homework, and ask a lot of questions.” Sure, the college search process can be time consuming, but the results will be worth it. Doing due diligence will help temper any sadness you feel about the transition with confidence that you’ve found the best home away from home for your student.
  7. Give grace. “There are a lot of emotions on both the parents’ side and the student’s side; you just have to give each other room and give each other grace,” Motl said. “Students need to understand why it’s such a difficult time for parents. Just like parents have to understand what the kids want and what they’re looking for, but also guide them with a gentle hand.”

Keep the lines of communication open, maybe schedule a college tour, make a list of questions for your admissions counselor or go ahead and get your application in. (Ouachita’s application has no fee and no essay, so there’s nothing to lose!) Some colleges have a priority scholarship deadlines, so now is your best chance to secure the best possible financial aid package.

You’ve got plenty of time to work together as a family on deciding what college is the best for your student! 


Rachel BrutonBy Rachel Bruton, a 2018 mass communications graduate from Mountain Home, Ark.