“Help! My Son Says We’re Too Involved in the College Process, But He’s Dragging His Feet”

Teen son and middle-aged mother arguing

“Help! My Son Says We’re Too Involved in the College Process, But He’s Dragging His Feet”

Published January 24, 2024

Teen son and middle-aged mother arguing

When it comes to helping your children apply to college, it’s hard to know how big (or small) a role you should play. On the one hand, they’re still kids and limited by both maturity and experience. On the other, it’s their college journey, not yours, and they need to be held accountable for any choices they make (or don’t make).

Recently a parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group shared this anonymous post, and hundreds of parents weighed in with their thoughts:

My son has been accepted to nine colleges so far, which is amazing. My husband and I have been very involved in the process. We told our son upfront how much money we could give him and that we didn’t want to take out any loans, either for him or for us. However, he’s upset that his top choices are the most expensive colleges, and the colleges he’s least excited about are the ones that are in our price range. He feels resentful that he can’t go wherever he wants. 

Students Need to Work For What They Want Out of College

We’ve told him that if he wants to go to one of the more expensive places, we need him to have some skin in the game and save money from his job, and apply for scholarships like it’s his full-time job. He’s saved some money but isn’t super driven and he’s barely applied for scholarships. 

This led to a big blow-up. I was encouraging him to apply for a full-tuition scholarship that’s due soon. He said that I was pressuring him about college — that I’ve been pressuring him since freshman year in high school. I told him it’s because I want what’s best for him and he said that I’m doing it for myself. I asked if he really believed that and if he wanted my help at all. He said he didn’t know. 

Finding The Right Balance is Key When Helping Students

I feel very hurt by this. I know that I can over-step in this process, especially since he’s not super driven and self-motivated. I want to completely step back and it’s probably what I should do, but part of me knows that if I do, he probably won’t end up applying for any scholarships and limit his choices and may even end up going to community college. My husband and I are totally fine with community college, but I think for him that would be the worst thing in the world. 

How do you find the balance between not being involved at all and letting them figure it out on their own? I realize that he’s almost 18, so part of me thinks if he doesn’t want my help, I should completely step back.

Should Students Pay The Consequences of Their Decisions?

The parents in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group didn’t shy away from sharing their experiences — and their advice.

“They’re just kids,” said Adrienne R. J. “I have no shame about being the driver. Kids have an extremely limited perspective. That’s why they have parents.”

Parents like Freya M. think tough love is best in situations like these. “Give him advice and step back,” she said. “If he fails to listen and follow through, he’ll have to live with the decision of going to a community college or the other schools at the bottom of his list. Remember, he can’t take you with him to college to be his project manager.”

Jeani H.M. agrees. “It sounds like it’s time to teach him an important life lesson: ‘Don’t count other people’s money.’”

Another parent, Angie T. H., said her son had zero idea what he wanted to do when he graduated high school.

“I had repeatedly asked him what the plan was, but he did nothing,” she said. “Graduation came and still no plan, which drove me crazy, so I required him to get a job, and pay his car insurance and cell phone. Six months in, he managed to find a way to attend community college for free for a two-year computer science degree. One semester in, he decided that after two years he would transfer to a university. Maybe it’s time to put your child in the driver’s seat, too.”

Taking Some of The Pressure Off — But Not Completely — May Be The Best Strategy

Shana J.R. shared this great idea for keeping the stress level when applying for college under control: 

“We instituted a rule where we would only talk about college stuff on Sundays. That’s when we would sit down and talk through what he had done the prior week and what was needed in the coming week. If he needed help, he could ask in between or on Sunday. But it helped me learn to bite my tongue when a random thought came up and put some of the ownership back on him to get things done on time during the week.”

Want to join this conversation — and others like it? Join our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group for free and access discussions, tips, and more from parents just like you.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

Community College Changed My Life

The Pros and Cons of Attending a Community College Before a University

How to Motivate Juniors to Start the College Process




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