What do the college application process, marriage, and having a child all have in common?

These are some of the major milestones in life where you will be inundated with insight, advice, and suggestions that you probably never asked for. Well-meaning people who may or may not have a connection with you will offer unsolicited advice about how to make the most of your situation and judge you for your choices. It’s a lot of noise to sift through and a lot of pressure to dodge. 

Think about the questions you have probably started to ask your child. What do you want to study? Where do you want to go to college? Why don’t you look at this school? What do you want to do when you grow up? If you are asking these questions of your child, so is everyone else.

Travel back to when you were a junior or senior in high school – did you know the answers to all those questions? Now add in the extra influences students have today from family, extended family, the community, and social media. They’re all asking the same questions over and over again. It can get incredibly overwhelming. 

Parents, how can you help your student navigate this minefield of influence and reduce the pressure your student can experience during this process?

Let me offer a few suggestions:

  1. Talk to your child and ask them what help they might need as they go through the college application process. And be sure to listen to them, understand their needs, and work together to find solutions.
  2. Set aside time to spend together as a family and do something fun where you don’t talk about college. Take a walk, go to dinner, enjoy a family movie night. Let it be all about spending time together without any agenda.
  3. When there are family or community gatherings, steer the conversation away from those things. Shield your child from having to answer all of those questions. Tell well-meaning family members that you’ll reach out to them if you have questions.
  4. When you, as a parent, are responding to questions, remember that “We” are not applying to college and “We” are not going to college. The student is the one doing the application and going to college. This is their experience.
  5. Understand that they may vacillate between optimistic, pessimistic, excited, scared, nervous, worthy, less-than-worthy, and everything in between. It’s completely normal. Encourage them through this process and give them the space to understand these emotions. 
  6. Be honest about your own experiences. Did everything go exactly the way that you planned? What did you do when you were dealt a setback? Knowing what you know now, what might you have done differently? 
  7. Don’t feel as though you have to fix everything. You’re probably a little confused about what is happening in college admissions, too. This is a human process all the way through and is susceptible to mistakes, errors, and incredibly difficult judgment calls. Outcomes are not a direct result of something your student did or did not do.
  8. I’ll repeat it once again, actively listen. Be a sounding board for your student to be confused, frustrated, and perhaps disappointed. 

High school is challenging enough, and adding the pressures of college certainly does not make it easier. It’s a rare week when we hear nothing in the media about the college admissions process. By giving your child the time and the space to focus on things other than college, you can reinforce that relationship that is going to undergo some changes as they venture off to college.