A Parents’ Guide to Maintaining Sanity During the College Application Process Tip 1: Be the Adult
Updated: Feb 22
Stressful, Time-Consuming, Aggravating
These were the three words used by high school seniors interviewed in The New York Times opinion piece, "Harvard or Happiness: 11 High School Seniors Debate College Rankings," published on January 25, 2023 by Patrick Healy and Adrian J. Rivera. Sadly, words like JOYFUL and EXCITING are missing from kids’ college application experience, and they shouldn’t be.
There are many factors that contribute to the current state of college application anxiety. Having supported students and parents through the process for 20 years (and having two of my own go through it), I can say that one crucial – and oh-so-hard! – imperative to maintaining parent sanity and supporting kids through the process is this: Adults need to remain the adults. This is tricky, maybe impossible to do entirely. The teen in us can hover dangerously close to the surface. Because of this, we need to lay extra wide boundaries during this process. We are the adults. They are the adolescents. THEY are going through the college process. WE are here to support them, to let them know that we are proud of them, regardless of where they attend college – regardless of IF they attend college. We need to remind them that they are more than a college applicant and talk to them about things other than their college list, their next ACT, the state of their essays, where their friends are applying, or where your neighbor’s second cousin thinks they should go. We need them to know that this is their journey, and that just as when they learned to ride a bike or attempted the monkey bars, we’re nearby to cheer, support, catch, wipe a few tears, and then wave from the side of the road.
No, I’m not crazy. I know how hard the process can be on parents. We want the best for our kids- however you define best. (I stand firm that in terms of college, “best” means best match, and that no ranking dictates what that match is.) We want them to land at a school where they will find their people, grow as humans, learners, and future professionals. And when we see their worry skyrocket, it’s hard not to follow. After all, we’re their parents.
But (and forgive me for) bending Stan Lee’s words: With parenthood comes great responsibility. One of those responsibilities is to set the tone for the college process and hold steady. The college process should be joyful and meaningful. As adults, we need to at least try to let those two descriptors join the mix. We need to bring balance to the process, and not fuel its imbalance. Let their process remain THEIRS and not OURS. We need our kids to know we are here to support them. We need to remind them that everything will be okay, that they are still them, regardless of where they go to college, and that when we say it, we mean it. (And, yes, after you do that, go to your room, close your door, let your 17-year-old out, and scream into your pillow. Then remind yourself: Everything will work out. Your child is applying to college, and that’s a wonderful thing, stresses and all.)
QUICK PRO TIPS
1. Get rid of the WE. WE are not applying to college. THEY are.
2. Ask your child how you can support their process, and then follow up with them.
3. Hold them accountable for their process though questions. “You said you wanted your college essay done by August. How are you doing with that? Is there anything I can do to help you reach that goal?”
4. Delete GOOD SCHOOL from your vocabulary. Insert GOOD MATCH. Every student is different. A good match for one is not for another, regardless of rankings.
5. Remind yourself that they are kids: They are stressed out and vulnerable. Listen to them.
6. Approach college visits as fun together-time. Ask them their opinions and try not to share yours.
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