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For nearly one-third of high school students, word of mouth from friends and family is the most trusted source of information about colleges (2019 Eduventures Student Sentiment Survey). So how can we engage students’ families in the conversations about their students’ plans after high school – whether it’s college, work, or otherwise?

Start Engaging Students’ Families as Early as Possible

Connecting with the family early on in a student’s high school career can help get everyone thinking ahead to create a solid plan and support system. This will help your student have the most options and allow more room for exploration. It’s important that, while starting early, flexibility is encouraged and families don’t feel confined to a plan that may be proposed far before graduation.

Find the Best Method of Communication for Family

Since each family has a different schedule and access to different resources, it’s important to meet them where they are. Find out if family members have work or other commitments that limit the time they are available to engage with you about their student’s future. Consider which methods of communication (email, phone, mail, etc) may work best based off of their schedule and access to technology. Also, make information available in other languages when possible to engage students’ families that aren’t comfortable communicating in English. Many necessary resources can be found online already translated in certain languages, such as on the FAFSA website.

Find out What Matters the Most to the Family

Families and students have different priorities when thinking about post-secondary life. This will affect if they are considering work, gap-year, college, or another option. If considering college, families will most likely be focused on finances, academic program details, and the health and safety of students on campus. Students differ based on their mindset, but may care more about campus environment, fit, and student life. It is important to provide both groups the information that matters most to them.

Encourage Families and Students to Work Together

While some families will try to take over, others may be at the other extreme and less able or willing to engage. Similarly, students may have different ideas about how involved they want their families in planning their post-secondary lives. It is helpful to talk to the student first about what their experience and expectations are with their family’s involvement in the process. From there, you can encourage and equip their family to become more involved, if needed, or to step back and support their student’s exploration. Likewise, you may need to encourage your student to share their planning process with their family.

Reaching out early and working through the post-secondary planning process with your student’s family will help everyone be on the same page and open communication for them to make unified, well-informed decisions. Feel free to check out myoptions.org/educators-mentors/ to stay updated on your student’s progress and help your student and their family along the way!