A writer with the Washington Post asked me and other college admission pros what we wish we “could say to parents and students about education, parenting, life and college but cannot, either because [we] want to keep [our] jobs or [we] think parents/kids are not ready to hear it.” We were assured our responses would be anonymous.
Here is my advice, no anonymity needed. I recommend a few things that parents and students need to do together, and some to do separately.
If parents and students do these two things together, the college search just might not be full of stress and anxiety:
First, listen to the “Getting In” Podcast. The podcast follows a diverse group of high school seniors through the exhilarating and harrowing process of applying to college. Over the course of a school year, the show chronicles all the important steps along the way, from applications to acceptances. Be sure to start with episode 1 and listen to them in order. Why not listen in the car while you visit colleges this spring and summer?
Second, read Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, by Frank Bruni. Read it at the same time, pausing every chapter or two to discuss what Bruni has to say. The college search and application process can be terrifying, wrought with anxiety and stress. It doesn’t have to be. Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, gives students and their parents a new perspective on this brutal, deeply flawed system and a path out of the anxiety that it provokes.
Advice for Parents:
1) No later than the fall of your child’s senior year, go to the web site of every school to which your child plans to apply and complete the Net Price Calculator. If you do not have at least one affordable option that your child is likely to be admitted to, then you need to have a frank conversation about adding more affordable schools to your child’s list. The additions might be state schools, community colleges or private schools known for offering generous merit scholarships to students with your child’s academic profile. Don’t let May 1st arrive without knowing your child can afford college.
2) In your child’s junior and senior years, be sure to have many conversations with him or her about something other than the college search and application process. Many families fall into a vortex of all-college-all-the-time, and that’s not healthy. Here’s a simple guideline: for everyone one college chat, have two about something else.
3) Don’t do for your children what they can do for themselves. Don’t create their Common Application accounts. Don’t call the admissions office to check on the status of your child’s application. Don’t ask all the questions at the on-campus information session. Don’t register for the SAT/ACT. Certainly don’t write the application essay. Support your children with these tasks, but don’t do them. Applying to college – and everything that goes into it – is a developmentally-appropriate set of tasks for high school seniors to do. Your children can do it! When you do it for them, you deprive them the opportunity to build important life skills. At the end of the college search and application process, your children will not only have several college options, but they will have also built valuable life skills and self-awareness that will help them be successful in college and beyond.
Advice for Students:
1) If at all possible, visit colleges you are interested in before senior year begins.
2) I encourage you to have a top group of colleges – not a “top choice.” When someone asks where you want to go to college, tell them “I don’t know, but if I’m admitted to any of these five I know I’ll be happy…” Announcing to the world your one dream school before you’ve been admitted raises the stakes to an unhealthy height. If it’s a “reach” school, the chances of you being admitted might be slim, and you risk characterizing the school you do end up attending – one you’ll probably love – as a disappointment. Also: resist strutting around school wearing a college t-shirt before you’ve been admitted. Wait for the fat envelope before you wear the colors of your future school.
3) During the college search and application process, you should gain self-awareness and build your skills. Applying to college is not just about filling out forms and marketing yourself to admissions officers at selective schools. By the time you decide on a school, you should know more about why you want to study your future major, and how you learn best, and why you think a certain career might be best for you. The true prize after a successful college search isn’t a fancy window sticker on your parent’s car. When it’s all said and done, you’ll be more mature, skilled and self-aware and ready to thrive in college.
It is possible that everything you have heard about the college search depicts this adventure as full of stress, anxiety and dread. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Update: here is the article from The Washington Post.