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What to Do When You Don't Want to Go to Your Parents' Alma Mater


A lot of people’s parents, grandparents, or even a whole line of family members attended a college they passionately advocate for. We’ve all seen the family that has school stickers on the back of each car and a plethora of attire with the university’s name on it. Perhaps this is your family, and there is already a shirt waiting for you in your size—even if you have your sights set on other schools. If so, how do you say no? Here are the factors to consider before making your college decision.

1. Treat the application like every other one

In reality, it is not uncommon to attend a college you didn’t intend on going to originally, so even if you’re set on attending a school other than your parents’ alma maters from the start, you still have to go through the applications with equal care. When it comes to college applications, it is always better to be safe than sorry; apply to plenty of schools, but not too many so that you can’t put adequate effort into each application. Before ruling out schools where other family members attended, it’s important to know that, depending on your test scores and your overall application, you may have a pretty good chance of being accepted.

Related: 7 Ways to Get a Head Start On College Apps the Summer Before Senior Year

2. Your acceptance may come with an exception

Your family may be more excited than you are upon your acceptance to one of their long-standing alma maters. A study done by Princeton University graduate, Thomas Espenshade, “found that the legacy advantage was equivalent to a 160-point swing on an SAT score.” You would be just as more likely to get into Princeton or get a scholarship by having a parent who graduated, as you would by scoring 160 points higher on the SAT—a pretty definitive factor. This has proven to be the case at other exclusive Ivy Leagues; Harvard’s legacy admissions rate was about 30 percent in 2011, while their overall acceptance rate is 5.4 percent.

While the nation’s universities with the most challenging admissions processes favor the applicants related to an alumni, it’s safe to say it plays a role in most colleges’ decisions. Keeping this in mind will allow you to forecast the probability of your acceptance in advance, and plan your reaction accordingly. Be sure it’s a positive one regardless of whether or not you want to attend!

Refraining from hurting your family’s feelings isn’t the only thing to be cautious of, of course. College is getting more and more expensive, so you want to refrain from hurting their pockets as well. Most colleges offer a sort of legacy fund or scholarship, money toward the price of tuition given to students’ whose family members graduated from the school.

3. You might not be able to avoid the awkward, but you can be prepared for it

It seems to turn out this way for a lot of people. You end up getting the most money offered from the schools that are toward the bottom of your list of preference, commonly a parent’s alma mater.

An admissions assistant at Pace University’s NYC campus says they regard the applicants related to alumni as “promising students,” meaning they’re positive they’ll graduate. For this reason, “every student related to an alumni receives an extra amount of tuition aid.”

A deducted tuition is great news, but can make it more difficult to convince your family to let you attend the school you really want to attend if they didn’t give you as much.

Jacob Howie, now a sophomore at George Washington University, was one of these people; he was offered a full ride to Temple University, which happens to be the alma mater of several of his family members. He recalls being “super proud and ecstatic” upon his offer, but remembers it as “nothing compared to the feeling of opening his acceptance from GW.” He was fortunate that he knew what he wanted his political career path to look like, and that GW had to ability to assist it in ways Temple could not. This was the premise upon which his family allowed him to attend.

So, if it’s been proven possible to convince your family to let you turn down not only an acceptance to their alma mater, but one that would allow you to go for free, it’s not as hard as you think to get out of. A free ride is most likely not a factor in most situations (a win and lose in this case), so you just have to make sure you have the one key argument down pat.

Related: 7 Ways to Get a Head Start on College Apps the Summer Before Senior Year

4. Know yourself best

Don’t get too flustered. The transition to college is a milestone in not only the lives of those of us actually going, but just as much in the lives of our parents. The newfound freedom is exciting for the new high school graduate, but scary for parents. They would feel much better if you were going to a college they knew the in and outs of themselves.

Breaking free from an alma mater may seem stressful, but the real stress is in knowing that it really isn’t the school for you. None of us go into college knowing exactly what we want to do, but you should have an idea of it to be certain of which schools will help you get there.

Being able to list the ways in which your preferred school will benefit you as a person and enhance your career, more specifically in ways your undesired school will not, is essential.

No matter where your decision lands you, it is important to remember that even though family members may enjoy the idea of you following their footsteps and may be comforted by the thought of you attending a college in a familiar setting, above all else, they want you to be happy. You have to know what makes you happy first, and that wearing the university shirt they have waiting for you isn't on the list.

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