Of all the moments where we have to let go, watching him climb the stairs onto the kindergarten bus, listening to that middle school violin solo, handing over the keys for her first solo car ride, few are fraught with more bittersweet emotion than helping our seniors muddle through the college application process.
We know in one year our high school seniors will be heading off on a new and exciting adventure, on their own, and we want to do everything we can to help them decide where that adventure will be. But they’re still in their last year of high school, often taking three or four of their hardest classes, prepping for the SATS, going from practice, to auditions, to student council forums. How do we as parents support our seniors but also give them the independence to explore the many possibilities opening up for them?
It’s a Balance – After all, “WE” are not applying to college, the student is!
Next year they will be navigating everything themselves, so we want to encourage them to research colleges that interest them, make their own introductions, email admissions offices with their own questions, fill out their own common applications, and pick their own essay topics to write about. But we can, and we should, help our seniors navigate through this process.
1. Selecting Colleges
- There are so many colleges where our children can be happy and successful. It’s important to help them pick a college where they can be “happy eating English muffins.” Whatever college our seniors choose will become a second home for the next four years
- We want to try to make it fun to discuss career options and college choices, brainstorm ideas, and share college application information together. It’s a good idea to arrange established relaxed times around the table with a pizza or out in a restaurant where we can do that every so often. Have faith that your child will have choices
- Paying attention to how colleges handle housing, freshmen orientation, financial aid, and admissions can give everyone a good indication of what it might be like to live at that school
- If parents want to research colleges and make suggestions, that can be helpful, but then we have to let seniors explore each school on their own
- It’s better not to make assumptions about logistics or finances before we look at everything that’s available, and even to encourage our seniors to look beyond their comfort zones, and ours
- Knowing it’s a good idea to apply to somewhere between six and ten colleges, including at least two “safety schools” and two “reach” schools, we want to encourage our seniors to only apply to colleges where they believe they could be happy attending
- Plan college visits together and encourage your son or daughter to arrange classroom visits and meetings with professors in their area of interest when they visit the college. Meeting professors and visiting a department can give everyone the opportunity to see the facilities where they will be studying and maybe meet upperclassmen with whom they can talk about internships opportunities or study abroad options. It’s important for parents and students to see just how much emphasis the college of their choice puts into their specific area of interest
2. Financial Realities
- We want to be honest about our family financial realities
- Even though our seniors are teenagers when they enter college, they will be adults with dreams and plans and goals that require money when they leave
- We need to help them understand the debts they incur to go to college will affect those choices forever
- That should be part of the college search process now
3. Selecting Majors and Making Career Choices
- While many high school seniors are still uncertain about what they want to major in when they apply to college, it’s important to select a school that offers access to at least one or two areas of interest in case their interests change
- It can be helpful if we arrange for our son or daughter to visit with adults we know who are doing working in the areas our children want to explore. If they can observe different careers in action while they are deciding what they want to major in, it will help them make decisions that may save everyone time and money later
- It’s important to select colleges that will offer them access to the majors and or career options they are exploring, and will make transfer between schools or departments within a University possible in case their initial decisions change
4. Keeping Track of Deadlines
- The amount of information students have to manage is extensive, and it is okay to help our busy seniors manage the logistics, timelines and deadlines that are involved in this process without taking over
- Parents can make their own Common Application online if they want to see firsthand everything that’s involved along with specific dates, applications and financial aid materials needed to be sent to each college
- Because our students get busy and don’t always check their emails on a regular basis, it can be helpful if we mention checking emails or sit down together every few days to do that. That way if something comes in during the day from a guidance counselor, an admissions recruiter, a coach or an orchestra director, we can help our seniors keep track of that information and follow-up in a timely manner. Know as much as you can about process deadlines to guide
- It’s important to remember that high schools have their own dates and procedures for requesting recommendations, and getting transcripts out
- If students commit to fifteen minutes a day doing at least one thing related to the college application process many of these details will become second nature to both you and them
Written by Liz Leroux, Senior Consultant with Strategies for College, Inc.