Fostering connections with your high school student can be difficult—between busy schedules, the stress of the college application process, and students becoming increasingly independent, dedicated time for conversations with your student can easily fall by the wayside.
Despite the challenges, it is important to prioritize these moments of connection. One of the best ways to provide guidance in this season of transition is to approach your student with curiosity, encouraging an open dialogue. Asking intentional questions about your student’s interests, ambitions, and hopes for the coming four years of their educational journey will not only allow you to meet your student where they are in the process, championing their progress toward their goals, but it will also encourage your student to think critically about how they intend to pursue their passions in the coming years.
Don’t make the only topic of conversation when asking specifically about college—this is part of life, but it’s not all there is—this is not the only thing they’re thinking about. Reserving specific times to discuss and times to take time away from the discussion.
As you seek to connect with your student and help them navigate the college admissions landscape, here are questions to kickstart your discussions:
Questions About Students’ Interests and Goals:
These questions are designed to help you connect with your student more deeply and eventually kickstart the college admissions process. Before even starting to create a list of colleges or setting goals about test scores and GPAs, step back and help your student think about what is important to them and who they are as a person. Identifying their hopes for the coming four years of their life will help them to create a clear mission that drives the entirety of their college application process.
While questions about the college admissions process are best reserved for dedicated times so as not to overwhelm every discussion, these questions help you connect with your student and discover more about who they are and are often best woven into everyday conversations. These topics can sometimes feel intimidating and heavy for students who are still figuring out their interests and goals. To prevent them from feeling as though they are on the spot, consider posing these questions as you do an activity together. Whether going for a hike, doing a puzzle, or cooking dinner, sharing an experience can help the conversation to flow more naturally and with less perceived pressure.
What are your interests/passions? What do you love to do?
What is your favorite class? Why?
What career do you see yourself in after college?
Have you thought about what you would want to major in? How do you think that major will help you reach your future goals?
Questions About Students’ College Lists:
As students begin to compile their college list, they may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of options available to them. Developing a balanced college list suited to your student’s needs requires both research and introspection—students should have a clear sense of what they want in a school and how the various schools they are researching might align with their desires and goals.
What do you value most in a college—do you first notice location, size, culture, or academic programs?
Why do you think that specific characteristic is important to you?
Have you thought about what it would be like to attend a school in xyz region? Does that area appeal to you? Why?
What is your dream school? If money, grades, and test scores were not a factor, where would you dream of going? Why?
What types of things do you imagine yourself being involved in on campus?
Which schools would you like to visit in person?
Questions about Students’ Needs and Support System:
The best way to understand what your student needs from you in the college admissions process and in all of their high school endeavors is to simply ask. Rather than simply creating a list of things your student needs from you in the process, ask questions that help them assess their strengths and weaknesses and consider how they will seek support when they are no longer living under your roof.
What class/part of your high school experience are you least confident in? What would it take for you to feel more confident?
How can I help you in the college admissions process?
What intimidates you most about applying to college?
What do you think you need in order to feel confident as you complete your applications?
What types of additional supports do you hope a college or university will offer you?
Questions to Ask While Waiting:
The time spent awaiting college decisions can feel agonizing. It is a season of uncertainty and anticipation, and for that reason it is important to check in with your student and encourage open dialogue. Time to develop “soft skills,” express gratitude – time for reflection on their achievements.
When you think about living away from home, what makes you nervous/excited?
What did you learn about yourself in the college application process?
What surprised you about the process? Was there anything that turned out to be easier / harder than you thought it would be?
Questions About Decision Outcomes:
Decision season can elicit intense emotions—anxiety, elation, despair, uncertainty. Giving your student a space for honest conversation about their feelings regarding the decision they received will help them navigate the stress of decision season and manage their emotions in healthy and productive ways.