It is that time of the year again…the start of the college process for juniors. One of the best things about my job is the circular pattern from the start of the junior college process to a year later, completing applications with the same students as seniors, and then starting all over again with a new group of kids. One part of that pattern is not only working with different students, it is also working with different parents. Because of that, I thought it would be good to write about what junior parents should expect this year to look and feel like, and what their role should be during this time.
Just as students are feeling stress about the upcoming year of college visits, applications, testing, and school work; parents are having their own conflicting thoughts, including panic that their teen will not get into college and sadness about their lightning fast trajectory through high school. Just as with students, I like to arm my parents with information and tips to help them navigate through this crazy time in their lives.
One thing that is important for parents to understand is that the college process is a step to being prepared for college life. Their students will be using critical thinking, decision making, organization skills, and planning throughout the process. Parents can play a supportive role, but ultimately this is the student’s journey, please let them take the lead. Knowing how busy kids are today, there are things that parents can do to help their child.
Best times spent with your high schooler: As your high school student starts their junior year, it is common to feel melancholy about the next few years being the last with these little cherubs. Instead of focusing on the empty nest, think about how you can spend this very important year, connecting on time spent together while going through the college process. College planning can be one of the best times spent with your teenager. College road trips, discussions about dreams and goals, and open talks about wants and desires are just a few of the benefits during this time. As a parent, you most likely will be the one organizing and scheduling college visits. Try to include a few fun activities while visiting the colleges on your list. Make the trips enjoyable and memory making. Believe me, college road trips can quickly feel the same and students soon feel bored and/or overwhelmed by these visits. As well as adding some fun activities while touring, it is also important to plan ahead so that the visit is not stressful. Don’t try and cram too much into one day, make sure you are early for appointments, and plan out what the visit will look like and communicate that plan to your child. Your student will appreciate not being surprised about an on-campus interview on the morning of the visit! During these visits, be light and flexible. Try not to take these campus visits too seriously, make them fun and laugh with your child. This kind of behavior lets them see this experience as less mandatory and more enjoyable. As you know, fun time with your teen is at a premium.
Be Understanding: One of the topics that my parents and I talk about throughout the process is the need to try and understand what their child is feeling. No matter the student, from the Valedictorian to the struggling and or unmotivated student, they all believe they will not get accepted into college at some point in the process. Feelings of insecurity and uncertainty plague each child. They are nervous, stressed, and full of anxiety. When your child seems disinterested and disengaged, try to understand that this might be coming from a place of anxiety of the unknown and not necessarily lack of interest or caring. Often parents are far more excited about the process than their juniors; try to suppress your excitement a little and read your child’s emotions about the process first. Believe me; nothing is more annoying to children than parents who are over the top excited when they are not feeling the same.
Be realistic: Most students are well aware that they need to worry about their GPA, class selections, and standardized test scores, in order to be competitive for different schools. Sometimes, however, they have a difficult time realizing where they fit in regards to other students in the country. Oftentimes students with good grades will have lofty goals of attending uber elite schools without having any idea what their chances are. This is a place where parents can help. Figuring out the average GPA’s and test scores of accepted students can help determine realistic chances for admission for your student. There is nothing more heart wrenching than when a student falls in love with a school that they have no chance being accepted into. I am all for having dreams and am not saying encouraging students to follow dreams is a mistake. However, as parents it is our role to be realistic with our children as well. Not only be realistic about their chances of getting into each school but also what you as a family can financially afford. Being honest and open throughout the whole process can lead to less disappointment and tension later on.
Be Informed: More than ever parents need to be aware of what is going on with their students. Although we hear that this is a time of maturity and independence, it doesn’t mean that parents should be hands off and not involved in their student’s academic life. Being aware of homework, grades, and skill development is important. If you see grades slide or a time when they seemed discouraged or disinterested, don’t wait for it to get better, get involved. Being aware of what your child’s needs are is of the utmost importance during this year. On top of that, what are your child’s strengths and weaknesses? What do they want in a college? How do they learn best? Answers to all of these questions will make creating a college list easier. The more you are informed about their academics, their hopes and dreams, and their needs, the better the list becomes. On top of being informed about your student, you need to be aware of what the requirements of each college’s application are and the trends in college admissions.
A parent’s role is pivotal during the college process. As the months roll on and your child grows and develops towards the adult they will become, it is important to remember they are still children and they need your guidance, support, and love more than ever!