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Teach Your Kids the Good Kind of Entitlement (and 2 More E-words for College Prep)

These three words give you a great roadmap for coaching your kids through their college prep experiences.

There are three goals that College Prep Parents do well to aim for as they journey with their kid on the road to college: Entitled, Empowered, and Encouraged. The key is understanding each one’s role in college prep.


Yes, you want your kid to feel entitled… in the right way, about the right things.

The term “entitlement” throws up a red flag when it describes the attitude of a person that expects to receive something because of who they think they are, rather than what they have earned. But what about things they have earned?

I have a diploma on display in my office. It clearly states that because I “satisfactorily pursued the required studies,” my degree entitles me to “all the rights, privileges and honors pertaining thereto.” While that diploma happens to be the coveted “Bachelor of Rhymes” from my kindergarten class, you get the idea. (And it certainly has opened a lot of doors for me since then!)

The truth is, high school and college diplomas reflect the same sort of “entitlement” for a job well done. So when it comes to school, it is good for students to see the benefits of working hard. If they make good grades, they are entitled to certain things. Maybe that’s inclusion in an honor roll, an exemption from final exams, or admission into an honors program. Realizing that certain entitlements come with academic success can motivate a student.

So how can a College Prep Parent provide this healthy kind of “entitlement”? You might…

  • Compare the academic stats of colleges’ incoming freshman classes (found on their websites) and the grades/scores your student currently has
  • Encourage them to search online for “scholarships for a [insert their GPA]
  • Do the same using their actual (or projected) ACT or SAT scores
  • Pointing out what “entitlements” they’ve already earned along the way in life
  • Do the math to help your student realize how a semester or year of better grades could positively impact their GPA
  • Look together at some of your kid’s favorite colleges to see what GPAs are required for in-house scholarships and other programs
  • Use a college search tool like College Board’s Big Future site to help generate lists of colleges that fit the stats of your student

Interestingly enough, the normal, bad kind of “entitlement” gets in the way of great college prep, because students think they deserve something without earning it. But once they realize that the earning leads to the deserving, they’ve understood what “entitled” can really mean. Our students take a big step toward college when they experience the satisfaction of becoming entitled to rewards that they earn. When they do, those tend to be the accomplishments that mean the most and can set them on the path to future success.


Empowerment is a popular topic these days. Empowerment is defined as “authority or power given to someone to do something.” Empowerment lies at the heart of education. A student is empowered by a teacher – or parent – when they are given the skills and the opportunities to learn something valuable. As parents, we observe this happen many times as our children grow up.

For example, before high school you might have empowered your kids when you:

  • Let them enjoy Six Flags on their own and meet you at the fountain in two hours
  • Had them go into the dentist’s office by themselves
  • Let them go without lunch when they left their lunch at home
  • Had them do the talking when you returned something to the store

But as kids get older and become college shoppers, you can empower them by letting them / encouraging them to:

  • take rigorous classes that require great effort
  • be their own advocate with teachers and coaches
  • set their own alarms to wake up for school
  • operate on a budget
  • visit a college admissions office on their own
  • carry out commitments regardless of a lack of sleep
  • write out goals – and a strategy to accomplish them

When my own children were small, I tried to remember that it was not always kind to do for them the things that they were able to do for themselves. As kids get ready for college, that is still true. When confronted with a “life situation,” a student only knows that they can figure it out if they have experienced similar stresses in the past and have been allowed to learn from them. If they have been empowered at home and at school to be responsible and resourceful, then they need to thank their College Prep Parent!


Encouragement is one of the greatest tasks that a College Prep Parent can perform. (This may be even more important as you push them with the first two “E-words” above!) When a student is extremely busy preparing for life beyond high school, they need a lot of things – but nothing more than encouragement. When a student is “stuck” and not busy doing anything but worrying, they also need encouragement. And anywhere in between those extremes!

Encouragement comes in many forms. In past years I have seen College Prep Parents encourage their kids in some really great ways:

  • celebrating the study strategy initiated by the student – this encouraged the student that they were capable
  • collaborating with their student on scheduling family events, to enable studying and other activities – this encouraged the student that the parent wanted to help them succeed
  • asking kids their opinions about prepping for college – a student is more encouraged to prepare if they have a say in how to go about it
  • reminding their student about past accomplishments and reflecting on how those had earned them their present position – it’s encouraging to realize someone is “entitled” to be where they are
  • reviewing the appropriate goals that the student set and letting them know the parent believed in their ability to reach those goals – this helps anyone feel they have been “empowered”
  • praying with their children about what was important to them – we can always encourage our kids with reminders of where real encouragement is found

These three words – Entitle, Empower, and Encourage – are helpful for a College Prep Parent to remember and repeat, over and over. “Entitle” because our students are entitled to what they earn, “Empower” because our student’s education can give them power to achieve, and “Encourage” because that is the special role of those who care for a student.

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