Maintaining 6 Degrees of Separation

Maintaining 6 Degrees of Separation: A parent’s guide to college planning

Soon your teen will be at college, and you won’t be there to make decisions for them. In this case, the path to choosing a college is a perfect learning ground for them to gain skills in making informed decisions – and an opportunity for you to choose the appropriate degree of involvement in their lives. Here at PrepMatters, we are familiar with the anxiety associated with “the college search,” so we have put together 6 points to help you choose when to connect and give your teen space to grow.

1. Be their trusted advisor. Offering your teen the space to think and process independently supports their growing sense of individuality. Communicate openly and talk honestly about the transition to college, but set clear boundaries on when you will step in to help. Resist the urge to micromanage because a complete shutdown is a counterforce to absolute control.

However, we do know that teens need guidance in places they are not ready to tackle – in the form of travel planning when visiting campus. But, on the other hand, there isn’t a “we” when writing a college essay. Encourage conversations about college with the idea that they will be the ones ultimately attending and doing the hard work for four years!

2. Be an active spectator. These days, there are many college application myths floating about, so stay centered and clear-headed. Assure your teen that you are open to their possibilities and not firmly entrenched in the cheering section of one or two particular colleges you choose. You don’t want your child to experience stress associated with meeting your goals for them. Rather than being overbearing, be a sounding board for their ideas.

3. Model Informed Decision-making. Help students evaluate various academic opportunities before choosing the best fit. Talk about location or distance from home, size, experiential opportunities such as internships, study abroad options, research opportunities, and all the criteria associated with college options. The parental insight here can lend perspective and information that teens lack about living in the world on their own. Research and explore colleges and help your teen to build a list of preferences that are personal to them.

Once properly informed, kids can make good decisions for themselves. Supporting your child’s decision-making will also benefit your relationship because it teaches problem-solving skills and encourages autonomy.

4. Engage the process. Choosing a college is a process, not an event; it’s an opportunity for teens to better understand themselves and their goals. Take it personally. In other words, don’t compare your child to others. Every teen is unique, and the goal is to find the best fit for them– a college that supports, challenges, and inspires your teen to grow—one step at a time.

5. Honor your teen’s story. Kids are capable and benefit from support, guidance, and honesty. Remember that they are not extensions of their parents, and parents don’t always know best. When given the room to make their own decisions, teens feel in charge and exercise a sense of control over their choices. You’ll see your child’s interest, motivation, and autonomy fostered as you recognize the independent path they are creating for themselves. Be there to celebrate and to nudge when needed.

6. Consider Stepping Back. What does the right degree of involvement look like? Primarily, it means that you should not be deciding things that they can decide for themselves. Show your confidence in them by helping them learn what they need to know to make good decisions. If you are working too hard on your child’s plan, it may be time to step aside and listen. Some kids may need more time to jump into the college plan, so be prepared to discuss alternative paths, such as a gap year.

Understanding the six degrees of separation and creating the environment for them are entirely different. That is why our Educational Planning team at PrepMatters works with families to navigate the college admissions landscape.


Whether it is 2, 3, or 6 degrees of separation that you need, an independent educational counselor can relieve family stress by offering –to you and your child — as you investigate the road ahead.

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