In coming months, your daughter will research and select colleges to apply to, then complete and submit applications. You may feel it was not that long ago you weren’t sure she would ever learn to tie her shoes or remember to take her lunch to school. So how can you as a parent find peace of mind and play a constructive, supportive role?
First, know that juniors generally experience a step function in growth and maturity. So, the things you think you know about your daughter may not match her new, greater maturity. Every year we start seeing juniors in January who are in various stages of teen disarray. By the time they come back in the fall of senior year, there is a different vibe – they are more focused, more serious, more self-aware and thoughtful about the future.
Second, know that your daughter can do this. It is good and right for her to take responsibility for and complete the college research and application herself. The skills needed are the same skills she will use to be a successful college student – honing them while in the process of applying is a terrific two-fer. When you put your daughter at the center of this process, you let her know that you have confidence in her. You also minimize confusion about who is doing what, which can cause hardship for students.
Students move through the application process together at St. Mary’s. We provide scaffolding and support for students to take on the various aspects – research, narrowing their list, standardized testing, arranging for teacher letters – in an orderly way. Each student is supported by her St. Mary’s college counselor – a counselor who is invested in her (and is available to parents, too), knows the process, and is responsible for submitting school materials on her behalf. There is power in the process and the counselor’s role as a professional.
For junior parents who want to support their daughter on her way to college, we have a few thoughts:
- Set aside 20-30 minutes each week to check in and listen to your daughter reflect on her college search and find out what she needs from you, if anything. Try to listen more than talk.
- Help create space and time for her to engage in the college search. This means wrestling with calendars that are often over too full to find time to do research and visit colleges.
- Help plan travel to visit college campuses and let her know the budget available for these trips. Make time for information sessions and campus tours, and help her reflect afterward on what she liked and what did not appeal to her. Make space for her be the more active and interested participant on any college visit/tour.
- Feel free to share your hopes and concerns with your daughter, but avoid fixing on particular outcomes. Students make solid decisions when they are able to listen clearly to their own thoughts and intuition.
- Lead the charge when it comes to talking about how to pay for college. Seventeen-year olds do not have the life experience to evaluate student debt as part of their financial aid package. Help your daughter outline a budget, identify resources, and reality check her plans. If possible, connect her to a 20-something friend or family member who has student debt and would be willing to share how that affects their life.
- Be curious about her college process, but also stay attentive to other aspects of her life. It’s easy to turn the college search into the sole topic of conversation. Acknowledge the hard parts – how difficult it can be to discern, the disappointment of learning a dream school is out of reach - and empathize.
- Become sophisticated about college options, and expect your daughter to do so too. Most of us know only about 20-30 colleges off the top of our heads, almost all very famous schools, sports juggernauts, or those used as locations for films. Learn about “Colleges That Change Lives”, core curriculum requirements, schools in interesting parts of the country, and Western Undergraduate Exchange schools that are surprisingly affordable. Help her to find other schools that have similar qualities as her dream school.
- Let your daughter do the work of applying and attending to details. When parents do too much, it diminishes the student’s opportunity to learn and grow through the experience. It can also create confusion and convey a wrongful impression that the student is not capable.
- Help keep it light! Find ways to ramp up the enjoyment that can be part of the college search. Staying realistic and pragmatic but confident is one of the best antidotes to stress.