Get the Most Bang Out of Your College Buck

Father: So what are you going to use college for?

Son: Would you get off my back! Can’t I just go there to discover who I am and what I want to do?

Father: We didn’t save up all this money for you to “find” yourself. We’re not going to waste all that money just so you can have a four year vacation from responsibility and one big prolonged party.

Son: Well maybe I just shouldn’t go then!

Father: Well maybe you shouldn’t!

Mother: Will you both stop acting so childish. Both of you just be quiet and give it a rest!

This may not overtly be the conversation that goes on in a family of a high school graduate bound for college, but it could certainly be going on in their minds.

The situation is made even more difficult given the current economy, the high cost of an education, and the need to pay for it with largely after tax dollars.

Is there any way that there can be a meeting of the minds between parents and college bound children that won’t suck the thrills and excitement out of this rite (vs. right) of passage as children go to college?

When the friction over an argument such as the one described above becomes unbearable, it’s often a good idea to take the lead of what the mother above suggested, i.e. “Give it a rest.”  One of the ways to “give it a rest” and much more is to have a conversation focused on the future that neither child has messed up or parent then has a reason to be critical of.

It’s what we call Outcome Based College Planning (see resource below). The difference between a goal and outcome is that a goal is like throwing an arrow into the future, built on a wing and a prayer and hoping it lands on something you can achieve. Few people, especially those heading off to college can do that unless they are among the lucky few who have known what they wanted to do since grade school.

An outcome is much more focused and we intuitively know that it is preceded by actions. Lousy, ineffective actions lead to lousy outcomes. Terrific, effective actions lead to terrific outcomes.

 Therefore when you have that conversation focus on outcomes vs. goals.

If you’re a parent ask your child if you can sit down to try a different conversation with them and state the obvious right out of the of the gate by saying, “And yes, it is about your going to college.” Let them be resistant at first, don’t get angry or escalate. Instead say, “That’s OK. It can keep, but when you’re open to it, I have an idea about how we can talk about it without our ending up in a fight and would like to try it with you.”

Hopefully, just their curiosity (if not paranoia) will cause them to say, “OK.”

When you sit down talk about outcomes by saying to them, “I would like you to imagine that it’s four years from now and you have graduated from college and when you do, you look out at the life in front of you and everywhere you look i.e. friendships, girl friend or boy friend, job or career options, how you feel about yourself and us you say to yourself, ‘It’s as close to perfect as possible.’ What do you see as you look at each direction? I mean be as specific as possible and make it as close to something that we can both see together. Then let’s talk about how to make each of those things happen. Go ahead, pick one and let’s give it a shot.”

So for instance if they pick, “A job where I love to go to work and feel energized as opposed to being bored and negative.”

You as the parent can say, “OK, cool. Think about anything you have done in the last four years in high school that put a real smile on your face either when you started it, when you were going through it, when you finished it or maybe not even until much later. Tell me everything you remember about it.”

Try to keep in mind something from the Bible that says a parent’s most important responsibility is to help their child identify what they’re most interested in and can be great at and then help them become it. If a parent pushes a child towards what the parent wants, the child might go along with it (to avoid an unending argument in high school), but then will turn away from it when they go away to college. That may explain why so many high schoolers who played this or that sport or instrument, but were never into it, drop them as soon as they go to college.


  • Outcome Based Strategic Execution
  • “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone – this is something both parent and child should learn to do if they want to get through to each other.
  • Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating behaviour – there are few things that make you or your child feel worse about yourselves than engaging in self-defeating behaviour and few things that will make you feel better about yourself then overcoming it.