Working as a college counselor, I have experienced some incredible moments with students. I get to listen to their dreams and aspirations. I love watching their growth; when suddenly the lightbulb goes on and they understand what learning really is, or they try something new and discover just how much they love it. I have the privilege of celebrating with students when they get into their “dream” school and have witnessed them crying tears of joy because they were taken off the waitlist and admitted.
Then there are the moments that I would rather forget. Some of them catch me off guard. Maybe they shouldn’t, but they still do. One moment, in particular, occurred during a phone conversation I had with a parent several years ago. The conversation went something like this:
Parent: Mrs. Loo? I’m calling because I have a question about the Common Application.
Me: Sure, what’s your question?
Parent: Well, I’m on page 4 of my child’s Common Application and I was wondering what they mean by…
Me: I’m sorry, did you just say that you’re filling out your son’s Common Application?
Parent: Well, yes. It’s not easy being a teen these days. My child goes to school, plays baseball, and he has to do homework, eat and sleep. You can’t expect him to be filling out his college application too, on top of all he has to do?
Me (what I actually said): I see. Well, let me answer that question for you….
Me (what I wish I had said): Well, yes, I do expect him to fill out his college applications, because the applications are HIS applications. And if he can’t manage his time to fill them out, I’m wondering if he’s really ready to go to college. College will expect a lot more of him than what is expected of him now.
We live in an age of the renowned helicopter parent. Our children have come to expect us to manage their lives and to help them do what they are able to do for themselves. However, research concludes that teenagers are able to do a lot more than we think they can, given the opportunity and the expectation. When we set high expectations for them, dole out responsibilities without the promise of material reward, and only help them when asked, our children will respond to the challenge, even in stressful situations.
Is the college application process stressful? Yes, it can be, especially going through it for the first time. When my first child was applying for college, I found parts of the process to be extremely stressful, even though I am a college counselor. What I found stressful was not whether she COULD fill out the application, keep on top of testing deadlines, or write a cohesive essay. She was, after all, my first-born, and highly responsible. It was whether I THOUGHT she could do all that was required of her.
I had forgotten that she was a perfectly capable and responsible young woman. What became increasingly difficult to manage were my own emotions, my expectations of “what should be” and the temptation to jump in and rescue her, especially because I worked as a college counselor. But I learned a lot about myself. My second daughter’s college application process went much smoother from what I was able to learn through the process.
So what advice can I offer to you, parents of rising seniors, as you step into the world of college applications? Here are 12 suggestions to help you and your child survive the college application process and grow through it.
- Remember that you are your child’s greatest cheerleader. It is important for you to be there to help, support and listen to your child. However, if you find yourself saying things like “we’re signing up for the SAT” or “we’re filling out the application”, that may be an indication that you’re too invested in the process.
- Give guidance when appropriate. It’s great to suggest colleges to the student, but don’t base it solely on rankings. And don’t suggest only schools that you are interested in having the student apply to. Suggest schools that might really be of interest to your child.
- Have an honest conversation about finances. This is important to do early on in the process to manage expectations. College can be expensive and your ability to pay may be limited. Keep on top of financial aid requirements and deadlines. Each school has different requirements.
- Work with your child in setting up and going on college visits. Plan on trips during school breaks.
- Remind your child of deadlines, but don’t nag.
- Help your child set up an organization system that works for him/her. Some children prefer to keep all of their application material in file folders; others need a physical chart with testing requirements/deadlines. Still others will do better with an electronic organizer. You and your child know what is best.
- Make good use of your college counselor. Maintain communication and feel free to ask any questions that you may have or make an appointment. I am here to walk through this process with you.
- Resist the temptation to fill out your children’s application or write their essay. They can do it. Trust them.
- Be available to provide all necessary information that your children need for the application and proofread their essays.
- Maintain perspective on the process. Remember that it is about “fit”, not about getting into the big name school. Too much pressure and unrealistic expectations will cause undue stress.
- Celebrate each success along the way, no matter how big or small.
- Enjoy the application process alongside your child. It can be a tremendous time of learning, both for you and your child. It can be a wonderful time of discovery, if it is infused with healthy, honest, and supportive discussion.
I’m really looking forward to working with the rising seniors and you, their parents, as we begin the college application process. Your child has a unique story to share with colleges about who they are, what they are interested in and what makes them unique. Together we can find where they fit.
What a fantastic article, Christine. As a parent and as a colleague, THANK YOU for taking the time to write this. Outstanding.