My daughter will be a high school junior this year, which means the college planning process is now in full swing. It’s been about eight years since her brother traveled down this path, so although I am familiar with what’s to come, a few things have certainly changed. When my son was researching schools, he didn’t have Pinterest or Twitter to connect with admissions officers or current students. I don’t even remember him using Facebook as part of his college search process. He still relied heavily on marketing materials that were mailed to our home, or those he picked up at local college fairs, to help him make a decision. Now, social media has become a major player in the college planning process.
The influx of available information can be both a blessing and a burden. My daughter can easily connect with others who have similar ideals and goals, but it seems to have heightened competition among her peers. I find that even her friend’s parents are now more aware of what other students are doing, making them push even harder to keep their kids at the front of the pack. Every day, there’s some post about what grades or test scores they need to achieve in order to be accepted into college. The news about student loan debt doesn’t help, either. It’s enough to make any parent worry about their child’s future, or worse, turn them into one of those dreaded helicopter parents.
The college admission process is overwhelming enough for students without having to deal with psychotic parents. If your child is getting ready to go to college in the next year or two, here are a few tips on how you can help without adding any additional stress to the situation.
1. Remember, It’s Not About You
It can be hard to step back and not impart your wisdom from your days at college, but remember this journey is not about you. Resist the temptation to push your child into applying to your alma mater or to colleges you think should be on her list. Instead, listen to what your child has to say and encourage her to pursue colleges that are right for her. Another thing to avoid is making comparisons, such as, ‘I hear your friend Jennifer is applying to Yale. Her GPA is lower than yours, you should apply, too.’ Every child is different, so what works for one may not work for another.
2. Discuss Money Early
If you know that you will not be able to contribute much money to your child’s college education or you are only willing to pay up to a certain amount, let her know that now and not at graduation. Although you should never discourage your child from applying to a college based on tuition prices (financial aid and scholarships can often level the field), she does need to know that some of her choices may require extra work on her part. Try to avoid bribing your child to attend the college you like by offering to pay more for that school, as it may not be the best choice for her (remember tip #1?).
3. Learn About the Process
As I stated earlier, things have changed quite a bit since we were in school. It’s a good idea for you to brush up on the college admissions process. Visit a few college websites to see what documentation and other items are required for admission, research the upcoming college entrance exam testing dates, review the Common Application and the new essay prompts, and find out how to schedule a campus visit. You can learn a lot from following a few college blogs or Twitter accounts, too. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to help when your child has questions.
4. Offer to Help
Notice that I did not say, ‘Help your child.’ Do not assume that your child wants or needs your help during this process. Some are very self-sufficient and want to handle everything on their own, which is totally fine. Some, however, may actually welcome your help. In the meantime, you can help to lighten the load in little ways. For example, you can organize folders for each college application and include a ‘to-do’ list for outstanding items. You can also register her for the ACT or SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and complete basic information on her college applications, such as contact information. I also put together a college calendar for my daughter with important dates that she could post on her bedroom wall. It included reminders about scholarship deadlines, test dates and upcoming college visits. The point is to ask your child how much or how little she wants you to be involved.
Most importantly, trust that you have provided your child with a good foundation and that she has the tools she needs to make the best decisions. It can be difficult letting go and handing over the reins to your child, but eventually she will need to learn to be on her own. Hovering over her or taking away her freedom to choose her own college will not help her to become a successful and independent student. It’s perfectly fine to have a discussion about why she chose a certain college or how she plans to pay for her expenses, but resist the urge to lecture; she will have enough stress at school and from her peers. By following these simple suggestions, you’ll keep the lines of communication open and allow your child to blossom into a healthy, happy college student.
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