“Of course you’ll go to Old State U—I did, after all.”
“Little Big School? I’ve never even heard of that college. It can’t be any good.”
“Don’t worry about your SAT. When I went to college 20 years ago, they didn’t care too much about that.”
Are you getting lots of “helpful” advice about colleges?
It’s normal. In fact, a recent study by the College Board showed that the opinions of friends and family are the most important factors for most students during the college search process.
Yet your friends and family may not be very informed about colleges. How can you tactfully let them know that you don’t really need to hear any more about Old State U, Frisbee golf, or that major in sub-nuclear physics? Chances are your college counselor is a better source than Great Uncle Fred.
On the other hand, you may have some friends and family whose advice you could really use. How can you get your friends and family involved in a more productive way? With a little care, they can be turned into valuable resources to help you with your search. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the people-power around you.
It’s important to get a good idea about what you want out of college—not what others think you should want.
That doesn’t mean you need to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life, or even have picked a major. It does mean you should know what activities you enjoy, what subjects interest you, and what experiences you think you might like out of college.
Would you like to study abroad? Do you live for football? Are you a mathematical genius? Dream big—think of everything you might like to do, even if it’s not all possible at one place.
Let others know you too
Once you know what you want, don’t be shy about telling your friends and family.
You’ve probably changed a lot over the years, and your family may not be caught up. Ballet? Rugby? Advanced conversational Japanese? Whatever your current interests, let others know what you’re doing now, and what you think you would like to try in college.
Be ready to answer when people ask about your college search. Never say, “Oh, I don’t know.” Have at least three things that interest you—even if they seem trivial. It’s a place to start, and some of your relatives might well enjoy helping you research your interests.
Carefully evaluate where other people get their information
Face it—not everybody who offers you advice knows what they are talking about!
Just because you really like Uncle Wilbur doesn’t mean he knows much about colleges.
Everyone is going to have an opinion, but everyone’s information is not equally useful.
It’s up to you to sort it out. If someone says that they just read this “great book” about colleges, ask for the name of the book. Then read it yourself. Do the same with websites, pamphlets, and other materials.
Seek out those with expertise and special information
Someone in your circle of friends and acquaintances may well have some genuine expert advice or inside information.
If it happens that Aunt Edna is a professor, ask her about the kind of college classroom you would enjoy. Uncle Jervis is a guidance counselor–he might be able to help you assess the strength of your application package. What about your cousin, who just went through the college search process last year? Ask her about how she organized her search.
If you’re lucky enough to know someone with this kind of experience, don’t be shy about seeking them out. The have valuable pieces of information that can really help you put the puzzle together.
Be polite – and remember to thank everyone
No matter the quality of their advice, these are people who care about you. Being nice is the right thing to do, and it’s also practical—that “interfering” relative could become a helpful investigator with just a little guidance.
Here are some useful phrases:
“Right now, I don’t know if that’s the career path (or major, or interest) I want to take, but I will definitely keep an open mind—thank you.”
“It sounds like you really enjoyed going to X College. Do you know anyone who has gone there recently that I might talk to?”
“One thing I know I’m interested in is X. Do you know who I might talk to about that?”
“Thanks for telling me about (other person’s interest). I’m always interested in more information, especially about (your interest).”
“That’s an interesting piece of information. Can you tell me more about the book (or website, or TV program)? I’d like to look it up online and learn more.”
Your friends and family can be truly helpful to you in your search. With only a little effort and tact on your part, you can make sharing this experience more valuable to you and more enjoyable for everyone.