Do you have a soon-to-be senior? Maybe a rising junior? Is the “whole college thing” frequenting your radar screen more often than ever? If so, keep reading.
If you think that this “college stuff” is intrusive, let me tell you that your college-bound teen is probably way more stressed about this transition than you are. Without the perspective that comes with experience (read age), teens can feel that college admissions decisions determine their chance for future success and are judgements on their personal worth.
This is where you come in. How you handle the college search and application process can have a huge impact on how they handle things. Although your teens may kindly (or not so much) ask you to keep out of their college search, you do have a significant role.
Summer, with its more relaxed schedule, is a great time to rethink how you view the college search and admission process and catch up with your teen about his/her thoughts about college. That being said, many students dread the “college talk”. Here are some suggestions for connecting with your teen.
1. Tell your teen that you’d like to catch up about the whole college thing and ask for a time
when he/she would be ready to chat.
Then, listen, listen, listen! The college search process is often a time of personal reflection, change and growth. Share your thoughts and opinions only after you’ve heard what is important to your teen. You could learn some interesting things.
2. Be honest about restrictions and needs. If there are financial, geographical or other factors that restrict college options, communicate them early in the process. Once you’ve established college search parameters, allow your teen to have as much independence as possible.
3. Communicate your optimism and confidence. Your teens, though they may not show it, need
cheerleaders. When their self-esteem waivers, as it may, they need you, more than ever, to remind them of their worth, their skills, their talents, and that where they attend college is not the final verdict on their happiness or success in life.
4. Consult an expert. Whether you have questions about what colleges might be most suitable for your teen, want to better understand financial aid, or are ready to pull your hair out because your rising senior hasn’t taken any standardized tests, there are professionals to provide guidance.
Independent college counselors are experienced in working with high schoolers and their parents. They can give you and your student information, perspective, support and strategies. Further, most know of top notch test prep professionals, college financial planners, psychologists who specialize in working with teens, and learning specialists, and can make excellent referrals based on your needs.
5. Consider a road trip. Although ideally college campus visits take place when classes are in session, summer may offer the flexibility you need. A college visit can be as quick and informal as walking through a campus to get a feel for size and location, or more structured as offered through the admission office.
More on campus visits in another post.
6. Honor your teen’s uniqueness. Don’t compare your teen to others, especially siblings. There is so much about the college admission process that is evaluative and comparative: grades, test scores, the list of activities and leadership positions. Teens need a break. Make home a “judgement free” zone.
7. Keep your need for information and control in check. Although it’s reasonable to want your
teen to keep you apprised of his/her thinking about college, frequent college talks stress some teens, making them really closed lipped. Try to refrain from frequent inquiring and micro-managing. Make mealtimes “college free”.
8. Take college rankings with a grain of salt. The best college for your teen may not be the most competitive to get into or the highest on some college list.
9. Don’t confuse selectivity with quality. Selectivity is a function of popularity, nothing more. Price to some extent is also a function of popularity. Quality is something else entirely. To make matters more confusing, quality is not objective. What makes one college great for a particular student may be irrelevant to another. Your teen is an individual and should evaluate colleges based on his/her own carefully thought out priorities.
10. Let your teen be a teen. If you’re anxious, have heard horror stories from other parents, or
are worried about financing, your teen’s procrastination or the impending empty (or emptier) nest, handling it without your teen is usually best. If you need counsel, seek out a professional.
Books on parenting teens through the transition from high school to college
Bruni, Frank, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2016.
Kastner, Laura, Ph.D. & Wyatt, Jennifer, Ph.D., The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2002.
Lythcott-Haims, Julie, How To Raise An Adult, Henry Holt, New York, 2016.
Springer, Sally & Reider, Jon, Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting into College 3rd Edition, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2017.