The first of the big college application deadlines have now passed for high school seniors, and many await their first college admissions decisions coming in mid-December. Others are just beginning their applications and are trying to complete them by January during the chaotic holiday season. When almost every college has a slightly different process, keeping track of the dates, requirements, and details makes for an absurd task.
This is it: This is the peak of stress season for those trying to get into college. I am not just a college counselor in a large public high school, but also a parent of a high school senior myself. I see the toll this stress takes in my own house and on the teens who pass through my office, email, and text me every day.
Don’t let your kids talk about themselves in terms of whether or not they are “good enough” for this college or that college. Don’t let them think for a moment they don’t measure up.
Living this experience both professionally and personally this year has crystallized my perspective on the process, and I have something to tell my fellow parents of high school seniors:
This is a critical parenting moment. This is when you remind your children that they did almost all of the important parts of their preparation for college and their application work in the three years before now — by earning their grades, by challenging themselves, by getting involved in their community or world in whatever way felt right to them.
Be vigilant about safety. Babyproof your home thoroughly, and never leave a child under 5 in the tub alone. Make sure car seats are installed correctly, and insist that your child wear a helmet when riding his bike or scooter.
Remind them that while what they scored on a three-hour standardized test will likely be considered in this process, it is just one small part of an application, and it is definitely not a part of who they are or what they are capable of doing with their lives. It’s not an intelligence test, and it’s not more important than what they did in their classes. Remind them that no matter what happens now, that test does not define them.
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Don’t let your kids talk about themselves in terms of whether or not they are “good enough” for this college or that college. Don’t let them think for a moment they don’t measure up. I talk to and work with enough teenagers every day that I can tell you for sure: your kids are awesome, they are all “good enough,” and they are trying so hard to get through this tedious and maddening process. Whatever frustration we feel about this experience, they feel exponentially.
I know it doesn't seem like it (trust me, I know), but they still care about what you think. They want so badly to make you proud.
Full listening. Try to increase those times that you give your child your undivided attention and are really listening. This does not mean dropping everything every time she speaks.
Just applying to college is the culmination of so much effort and energy; remember to celebrate the work it takes your child to apply at all. One of the best things I have done is sit by a senior’s side while they submit their applications and get the confetti “Congratulations!” page from the Common App. It’s humbling and a privilege to be the confetti button-pusher while the applicant captures the perfect Snap of it, often so they can text it to the person who matters the most: their parent. “I need to send this to my mom!” they giggle, their hands shaking.
I know it doesn't seem like it (trust me, I know), but they still care about what you think. They want so badly to make you proud. Please let them know right now, in this in-between time, how proud you are of them — just for being who they are, for gritting their teeth and getting it done, for being good humans no matter where they are accepted or denied. They need to hear it, and they need to hear it from you. I promise you, they do.
And if decisions come that they don’t want, remind your high school senior — a "no" can mean “not right now.” It doesn’t have to mean “no forever.” And in the end, things do tend to work out, even when we cannot imagine how they possibly could.
I have a favorite quote I like to keep on my college counseling office wall. Some attribute it to John Lennon, but I haven't been able to confirm that. Whoever said it, thank you. Class of 2020 (and their parents), you're not at the end yet.
Sheryl Crow (mom to sons Wyatt (above) and Levi): “Wyatt [my adopted son] is definitely all mine. Little souls find their way to you whether they’re from your womb or someone else’s.”
“Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”