Having been through the college admissions process as a student (many many years ago) and more recently (2013) as a parent, I felt that I should write something about the role of parents. Too often, parents project their own dreams and wants onto their own child. They see the process as a referendum on their parenting skills...if their kids end up at Harvard (or any big name school), then they've done their jobs as parents.
1. Try not to nag. This is pretty obvious but it's one thing we get wrong a lot. Often, we drive our kids crazy: "Did you study for the SAT yet?", "Have you asked your teachers for recommendations yet?", "Have you even applied to colleges yet?", the questions go on and on. We want our kids to get things done at OUR pace. The typical teenage pace is quite a bit slower than ours. Granted, if we leave things completely up to our kids, things won't get done until the day before applications are due. Cut them some slack: they're seniors and the stress level is already quite high, what with academics, social life, and yes, college applications (both for local and foreign schools). Gentle reminders with a smile work best and should always be couched with the words, "Is there anything I can do to help you?" And if he/she still seems unmotivated, have a heart-to-heart talk, is studying abroad really something your child wants? Or is it something that you want?
My own experience with Tyler with this was mixed. The official kickoff of the college hunting season in the middle of his junior year found him somewhat indifferent. He already knew what he was going to study (math, math and more math) and he already had a favorite school in mind (University of Waterloo) but he knew he had to have alternatives and backups. I told him we would spend the summer, God and the US Embassy willing, in the US and Canada visiting college campuses. That got him somewhat excited but he hated taking the SAT (he didn't respect it, not that I blame him). He refused to study for it and underperformed badly. I didn't freak out, I calmly told him (and myself) that we'd re-assess our position on taking the SAT again after our college visits. If he liked only schools in Canada, then taking the SATs again would be pointless.
2. Let your child take the lead role. I admit it's very tempting to decide what schools your child should apply to, and perhaps even what field to go into but I must implore with all my heart that you resist this temptation. This is the first really grownup decision our child will have to make and now is not the time to smother him/her with our concern that he/she might screw it up.
With Tyler, I was delighted (no, ecstatic) about his chosen field of study. It wasn't so much the subject (math) as it was the reason. I urged him...and he agreed...that he should major in something he liked, ideally, something he was passionate about and I was glad he decided to act on his passion. As far as taking the lead, I found that I took the lead in the beginning, a lead I would not relinquish until the very end of the process. I made up the itinerary for our college odyssey, I made the decisions where to stop and what schools to look at. I became the college expert, not him. He did make one important decision, he decided which colleges to apply to and which to snub.
3. Take the supportive role. Like in a movie, there are lead roles and there are supportive roles. We are the supporting cast. For me, it meant letting Tyler walk with the college tour groups and letting him ask the questions. To be honest, I found myself asking the questions on the college tour, Tyler was usually quiet or sometimes just plain uninterested. To be in the supportive role also means we pay for everything...college application fees, testing fees, etc. Resist the temptation to withhold payment for a school your child wants to apply to but you don't. Never ever use money as leverage to get your kid to do what you want, i.e. you will not pay for College X's tuition because you prefer that he attend Y University.
4. Let the final decision be theirs. This is just an extension of the last sentence in the previous section. In the final analysis, after all has been said and done, the final and fateful decision lies with a young, naive 17-year-old. That's certainly how I felt when Tyler made his decision to attend Waterloo. I was absolutely positive (still do) that Reed was the far better school and the far better fit for him. I begged, pleaded and cajoled but ultimately he went against my better (at least I think it is) judgment. Sometimes I still wonder if I should not have compelled him to go to Reed, after all, I'm more knowledgeable, have more experience and can see things beyond what he can. But ultimately, I realized that because I'm more knowledgeable and more experienced, that I should let him decide where to go and simply pray that the decision is right for him.
5. Keep your relationship positive. After all this is over, he/she is still your child and you are still his/her parent. You will continue to trudge through life together and the positive (or negative) experience that was college admissions will be with you the rest of your life. As the grown adult, we have the advantage of perspective. Use it. Look out long term on your relationship and what this process will contribute to it.[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="292"] If you keep your focus on who the college admission process is ultimately for, then you can't go wrong.[/caption]
A last anecdote before I close.
Several years ago, when Tyler was still in middle school, I remember walking with him after a parent teacher conference day. I don't remember what we were talking about except that we were laughing and joking about something or other. While we were occupied thusly, we walked by the cafeteria and spied a girl and her parents seated at one of the tables. The girl had her eyes on the ground, not daring to look up to her disapproving father who was berating her for something or other. I commented that she must have gotten really bad grades to which Tyler replied, "That's (name of girl here)! She has better grades than me!"
I wish all parents and students find joy, humor, and laughter at the end of the college search process no matter what the final outcome may be.