Last year, I watched my niece navigate the college search process. Though I have worked in admissions or college counseling for almost 20 years, everything about this moment felt different. I struggled to find the right words to say to my niece, despite my (hopefully) being a calming presence for students as they navigate the highs and lows of a process that has everything and nothing to do with them. I knew I was off-base when I tried to schedule a time to talk and she got upset. She told her mother/my sister that it was too formal and it felt like a business meeting. We were off to a rocky start.
" I share these tips with you so that you can help your child while staying sane in a process that has changed so much in the last decade."
As I thought through the ways in which I have tailored my approach to meet students where they are, I was forced to take a hard look at how things were different this time. My niece did not need or want me to serve as her college counselor. As I often tell parents, I needed to let her “drive the car.” I reread the presentation on the parent’s role in the college process and used that to guide my work. I share these tips with you so that you can help your child while staying sane in a process that has changed so much in the last decade.
Though we want our students to go to the schools of their dreams, we must always remember our fit factors. A school must meet our academic, social and financial expectations in order to be a good fit. As the adults, we can set clear expectations in the process. Since the student is the person who is stepping into adulthood, they have to take the lead. As I learned with my niece, that can be (VERY) challenging, but her grandmother (my mother) stressed to me on more than one occasion that this is her process and she has to do it her way. While they are “driving the car,” we can give clear and thoughtful directions. It is helpful to let students know at the beginning of the process if you want them to stay within a certain driving distance, so that they can understand what you want for them. This is a high school student’s first major decision, so it is understandable that many young people use this moment to dream about taking big steps out of the nest. Looking at colleges on the coasts or out of the country is very exciting, and students can take virtual tours and interact with students from around the world electronically, which makes a big world seem much smaller than it did to many of us. The other important conversation to have at the beginning of the process is about money. The cost for an undergraduate degree varies from school to school, and giving your child an idea of the amount of money you are prepared to spend in support of their college degree is most important.
"Students DO NOT want to talk about college all of the time, so setting aside time lets them have some control."
There are a few other ways in which parents can be helpful in this process. Help your child stay organized. Keep a calendar with the various dates and deadlines in a central location in the house. In addition, remind your student to keep a list of all their usernames, passwords and pin numbers. Update the list by school, so that it is easily searchable. Finally, create a time during the week that you all agree to talk about college. Students DO NOT want to talk about college all of the time, so setting aside time lets them have some control. This is most important during the holidays, when well-meaning family and friends ask about future plans at a time when many students are unsure of what will happen next.
I wish I had used these suggestions with my niece. As her well-meaning uncle/college counselor, I often created stress at a time when she just needed me to be her cheerleader. Thankfully, it all came together and she landed exactly where she is supposed to be. On August 18, 2018 she started her undergraduate career at Cal Poly Pomona.
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