When to start talking to your kids about college:
Four moms share their experience

When to start talking to your kids about college: Four mom’s share their experiences

College teams make apparel for babies, and kids cheer for college sports teams alongside their parents on game day. Aside from knowing colleges exist, when do parents start talking to their children about attending a college or university? Shannon Wilson Sherman, Karen Kerr, Nne Ragland, and Jessica Forrest share when they started talking with their children about college.  

Shannon Wilson Sherman – Evansville, Indiana

“Around age 10, I started talking to them about short-term and long-term goals and the differences between the two,” said Shannon Wilson Sherman, mother of five from Evansville, Indiana. The conversation about goals evolved into a conversation about college. 

Sherman raised a 23-year-old daughter who recently graduated in spring 2020 from Indiana State University. Her 19-year-old daughter will enter her second year at the same institution this fall. 

Sherman explained that she felt like they could understand the topic around age 10. “They could also start thinking about what they wanted to do in life and learning more about signing up for scholarships.”

Although Sherman did not graduate college, she felt like it was important for her children to attend and graduate. 

“My oldest child was 2-years-old when I found out my mother had three master’s degrees. That information changed the way I saw my mom. It changed the way I saw myself. Up until that point, I didn’t know college was a possibility for someone like me.” Sherman shared. 

“Finding out my mother started working for the government at the age of 22 and worked for over a decade at what we considered a ‘great job,’ changed the possibilities for what my life could have been. I wanted my children to grow up knowing the importance of education from a young age. I wanted to instill ambition and the knowledge that they are intelligent enough to reach all their goals and be successful at whatever they want. 

“If I could rewind time, I would have finished (college), but you have to have the support to help raise children, and I did not have that. I made sure that my first child attended and graduated.”

Sherman continues to have conversations about college with her 17, 14, and 13-year-old children.

Karen Kerr – Hickory, North Carolina

Karen Kerr of Hickory, North Carolina, started talking to her kids, in various degrees, about college when they entered school. 

“When they were younger, it [the conversation about college] was more along the lines of ‘you are in X grade in elementary, and then you’ll have middle and high school,” Kerr explained.  “After that comes college, unless you choose to do something else, like the military or go straight to work.” 

Since she and her husband were both college graduates, Kerr believes their children assumed they had to go that path as well. Kerr’s oldest son just finished his first year at Clemson University, but he earned enough credits in high school to enter college as a second-semester freshman. 

“Our next oldest will be a senior in high school next year and is starting the application process this summer. She will go in [to college] with over 40 hours completed from dual enrollment,” Kerr said. The Kerr children are now ages 19, 17, 13, and 9. 

“The older two haven’t pushed back on going to college, but we’ve (mostly me) changed my approach as far as reminding our younger two that college isn’t the only option and even what type of college,” Kerr said.

Nne Ragland – Bowling Green, Kentucky

Nne Ragland of Bowling Green communicates to her children an “understanding that elementary and secondary school is just the beginning of their academic journey. They are stepping stones to a wide range of knowledge to tap into college.”

She started talking to her children about college at age 8 entering the third grade. They are now ages 20, 19, and 18, and 17.

“To me, third grade is a mature age in learning. Kids are reading more and also more aware of subjects they respond well to and the ones they struggle with,” Ragland said. 

Ragland explained that she talks about college all the time because she does not want her kids to be afraid of academia at any level. She wants them to see it as a place to thrive, gain knowledge, find out new things, and see the world.

“I talked about college all the time, my life experiences, friends from all walks of life. My mantra is ‘It’s a big world out there.’ College will unleash that world to you,” Ragland said. 

Ragland’s oldest children are current students at Cornell University, University of Louisville, and the University of Kentucky.

“Their father and I took them to almost every homecoming at Kentucky State University (my husband’s alma mater) at a very young age. It allowed them over the years to see friendships formed from college years.”

Jessica Forrest – Fishers, Indiana

Different from Ragland, Kerr, and Sherman, Jessica Forrest of Fishers, Indiana talked to her oldest children when they reached high school, around age 16. 

“These are the years that lead to college. That is what counts when applying for college,” Forrest said.

Her children are ages 22, 19, 16, and 9. The oldest two currently attend the University of Kentucky and Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. 

“I would express the importance of getting good grades and SAT scores in order to get accepted into a certain school,” Forrest said. 

Although she started with her older children in high school, Forrest has already begun talking to her 9-year-old about college in general. 

Talking About College

Each parent or guardian that chooses to discuss college with their child(ren) will decide the appropriate time to talk to them along with how to approach the topic. Below you will find a few takeaways from these mothers’ stories on addressing the conversation.

  1. Incorporate a discussion about short term and long term goals.
  2. Share the progression of school from pre-k through college.
  3. Discuss multiple options for college, career, or public service after high school to prepare for a future career.
  4. When possible, take your child to visit a college for a tour or attend an educational, cultural, or athletic event on campus.
  5. Consider conversations that connect their academic performance in high school to their impact on college admissions.

For a Real Change, Inc. is located in Bowling Green, KY where Western Kentucky University and Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College have campuses. Learn more about their institutions online. General information about higher education can be found at USA.gov