[This blog post was originally published on CollegePrepExpress's Blog, on December 29, 2012]
One of the great pleasures of working with students at CollegePrepExpress is that I also get to work with dedicated parents who consistently demonstrate they want the very best for their kids. Every year I am inspired by the lengths to which CPE parents are willing to go to help ensure the very best future for their children. Sometimes, though, parents’ heartfelt convictions and best of intentions turn awry, get misinterpreted, and cause strife and household tension antithetical to their goals. Here are three common pitfalls I see parents, again with the best of intentions, falling into, and some words of experience on how to turn them into positives:
- Don’t nag! There’s a fine line between good parenting–that is, offering advice and laying down laws regarding grades, standardized tests, and the actual application-writing process–and upsetting teens with what seems to THEM to be constant, unrelenting nagging. Probably the most common complaint I hear from otherwise very grateful students is that their parents won’t get off their backs. Check out what this senior says, for example, about what he thought was the single greatest challenge of the WHOLE PROCESS: http://youtu.be/YZHsgcu0AC4. So instead of nagging your kids, sit down with them and explain how you’re all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. Enlist your child’s ideas and come up with a collaborative game plan you are all happy with. Remind them, as opposed to nag them, about to do’s on the game plan as they come up.
- Don’t do your kids college application work for them! Schools’ guidance offices generally ask students to complete in-house profile forms at the beginning of the application process (typically late winter/early spring), and MANY parents worry their kids won’t remember significant and relevant events in their lives and feel they can be very helpful, given their juniors are already overburdened with academics and activities and test prep, if they complete some of this initial paperwork for them. Do NOT do that! First, it deprives kids of beginning to think seriously and deeply about what their major accomplishments have been, what their keenest academic interests are, and what they want most out of THEIR college experiences. This thinking and writing will prove invaluable as the whole application writing process unfolds. Second, admissions committees are looking for applicants who have taken stock, perhaps for the first time in their lives, of who they are, what they believe in and stand for, how they got that way, and how their college experience will extend all that. So instead of doing ANY of their guidance office work FOR them, offer to do it WITH them–perhaps you CAN jog their memories of certain events, classes, and other relevant experiences, and perhaps you can help CLARIFY their thinking about college and how best to package their interests and aspirations.
- Don’t pester your kids’ college counselors! In life it is often true that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. But trust me and my experience on high school faculties for more than two decades: faculty and administrators HATE the squeaky wheel. I say this also as the father of a current junior, who knows the pull to offload personal anxiety around my kid’s college future onto his guidance counselor. Instead of peppering college counselors with phone calls and surprise visits and other hallmarks of the helicopter parent, try to establish a good working relationship with them. A few thoughtful and focused emails will be much better received than constant pestering. Explain to your kids, too, that their guidance counselor is their single greatest ally in the whole process and should be treated as such. They need to be solicitous, grateful, and as professional as possible throughout the whole working relationship. It’s a lot to ask on both counts, I know, but well worth it in the long run.
If you find these tips helpful, and you have questions surrounding any element in the college admissions game–from positioning in 8th and 9th grades through filling out and sending in the CommonApp in 12th grade–you may want to attend my talk, “Helping Parents Help their Teens in the College Admissions Game.” I’ll be covering topics including what parents need to know, choosing classes and sports and activities, organizing the college admissions calendar, the most important admissions criteria, which tests to take and when, reducing test anxiety, what to do and ask during college visits, tips on the CommonApp and how to get the best recommendations, the early decision option, and more! It’s offered through LifeLearn, West Hartford’s Adult and Continuing Education program, and the next one is Monday, 2/25, 7:30-9:00. Cost is $19 for WH residents, $25 for everyone else. Seating is limited, so you may want to register sooner rather than later :-).
I’m also happy to sit down with parents and students to discuss their overall college admissions game plan for those who’d like to email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call (860-519-1000). Our whole mission is helping students get in to their top choice colleges, and we’d love to help your kid, too!