How Well Do You Know Your Teen? 21 Questions to Ask the College-Bound Student

how well do you know your teen

We’ve all seen those surveys on social media. You know, the ones where you answer how you THINK the other person would respond and then you tag that person and see how many you got right? For those old enough to remember, it’s like an updated, more tech-savvy “Newlywed Game.” As many of you enter the college search phase with your high school junior or the intense college selection phase with your high school senior, playing a little “How well do you know your teen?” isn’t a bad idea.

For some parents, there won’t likely be many surprises. Maybe college has always been a popular conversation and you have a pretty clear idea what’s on your teen’s radar. For others, though, something akin to a “Newlywed Game” might be a good barometer for where your teen’s thoughts are versus your own. I’m not talking about expecting sweeping differences on responses to the standard, “Are you looking for a large college or small college?” or “What do you want to study?” Hopefully no one is blindsided by these very standard considerations. What I’m talking about here are the harder questions. The ones that actually require you (and your teen) to give some serious thought to the response.

The Questions

When I assist students with their college search, I ask them to fill out a questionnaire before we even meet for the first time. Yes, it includes the basic questions – but it also includes questions intended to be springboards for eventually helping students find a college that is best suited for their short and long-term goals…one that will be a great “fit” for both socially and academically. By examining your teen’s responses (and maybe how they differ from what you THOUGHT they might be) you can provide that assistance needed to have those tough conversations about which school might ultimately be the best fit – and why.

How to Start the Conversation

Answer these questions as if you’re your teen then share it with your teen and have him/her complete it. Compare and then discuss your answers as a springboard to deeper conversations…

  1. What do you prefer – a large (over 10,000), medium (2,000-9,999), or small college (less than 2,000)?
  2. Do you enjoy rural, suburban, or urban areas more?
  3. Is really hot or really cold weather a problem?
  4. Do you expect to live on-campus in a residence hall?
  5. Do you know what you want to study in college? If so, what?
  6. Is prestige important to you?
  7. Do you have any activities or hobbies that you plan to continue in college?
  8. In rank order, what do you think best describes success in life? Salary, happiness, or contribution to society?
  9. Are you more confident in the classroom or in social situations?
  10. Do you need to be close to your family for support?
  11. Are you more of a risk-seeker or risk-averse?
  12. Do you prefer to work independently or in groups?
  13. What is more important to you: competition or collaboration?
  14. Do you value class discussions with peers?
  15. Academically, is individual recognition for your achievements important to you?
  16. Do you prefer to blend in or stand out?

If you want even more ideas of questions to ask your teen during the college search, try these listed below. Not only will they spark conversation, they’re also good practice for any pending scholarship interviews!

  1. Why do you want to attend college?
  2. What do you consider your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  3. Of what accomplishment during the last 3 years are you most proud?
  4. What book has most shaped the person you’ve become during high school?
  5. Describe what your ideal life might look like 10 years from now.

You Can Be A Fan and Not Attend

I once met with a family who indicated they had already done the college search and their daughter’s top choice was XYZ State University (very large, popular state university located in another state but where family held season football tickets and Dad was an alumnus). They wanted me to help this student compile an application that would be impressive to this school. After all, she had grown up being a fan and loved visiting every time they made the trip.

So, I began the process by giving the student the above questions (along with others). In summary, the student responded that her ideal life included working in the medical field, possibility as a respiratory therapist or in radiology. Prestige was not important to her and 10 years from now she described her ideal life as a Mom with a good husband and a couple of kids. She wanted to be close to her family and hoped she could remain active in her hometown church and in her faith. She valued class discussions and looked forward to conversations with her professors. Importantly, she felt overwhelmed in crowds and liked recognition in the classroom.

RELATED: The College Search… Where Do I Start?

In a nutshell, she had grown up going to XYZ State University and enjoyed cheering on the football team there, but she didn’t need to attend XYZ for college. There were much better “fits” near her hometown where she would be more likely to thrive.

Meaningful Conversations

What I’ve learned over the years is not to make assumptions. Don’t assume you know what your teen is thinking as it relates to the college journey. After playing “how well do you know your teen” you might feel relief or you just might be surprised. In either scenario, it sets the groundwork for some meaningful conversation with your teen – and we could all use a little more of that!

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