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Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019. Over the break I was thinking about how great it was to be a kid during the holiday season: time off from school; presents; lots of sweets; and family around to spoil you. As a parent… not so much. Maybe I’m doing something wrong but my holidays were filled with doing dishes, spending money, and negotiating family and neighbor dynamics.
I also had several lengthy conversations with friends whose 12th grade students are going through the college admission experience now. Some of the most frequent words I heard were: stressed, nervous, unsure, and scared.
Ironically, as I was taking down holiday cards I kept running across words like joy, light, and–the most popular– hope. So, since the new year is about believing in and creating a better future, and because parents are usually the ones sending, rather than receiving, the notes at this time of year, I wanted to write you my admissions letter of hope as we kick off the New Year.
As your student goes through the college admission process, I hope you will have the vision to help them start by asking why they want to go to college, the patience to listen and thoughtfully consider their answers, and the wisdom to keep bringing them back to those guiding responses as they apply, receive decisions, and ultimately select a school to attend.
I hope you will allow their goals and hopes–rather than an arbitrary list, the opinions of others, the culture of your school or community, a rankings guide with subjective methodology, or outdated stereotypes–to lead your exploration.
I hope you will be the example in your community. At times the swirling discussions about college and gossip about admissions will be unhealthy and unproductive. I hope you will recognize these moments and either remove yourself entirely or redirect the conversation.
I hope you will be the example on social media. You are going to see some terribly misinformed opinions, negative banter, catty comments, and bold-faced lies. I hope you will not engage in that dialogue online and take opportunities in-person to re-center the conversation with your friends, neighbors, or relatives. Strongly consider not posting anything about your child’s college search or admission experience, unless you think it could be beneficial to others online. My hope is you will use your platform to be encouraging, positive, and reassuring—provide healthy and desperately needed perspective when discussions go off the rails and fan the flames of anxiety.
I hope you will be the example for your family. Try to back away when you are at a college visit or information session and let your student ask their questions of a tour guide or an admission counselor. In a short year or two, they will be on a college campus. They need to be able to advocate for themselves to professors and navigate internship or job interviews. I hope you will see this as an opportunity to prepare them for success in a future chapter.
I hope that will go for a walk or a drive when you hear yourself say things like “We are taking the SAT next weekend,” or “Our first choice is Boulder.” Ask yourself if those pronouns are just a reflection of your love and 17 years of intimately intertwined lives, or if they are a subtle indication you should step back and let your student demonstrate what you know they are capable of handling. Parenting is a delicate dance, but it is one you know well. Be honest with yourself and you will know when to take the lead and when to step back. You got this!
Trust your child’s ability to articulate points and express themselves effectively in writing for colleges. My hope is you will ask questions about college essays and make helpful edits or suggestions, rather than re-write their work by inserting words like “blissful” or “propitious.”
You are going to see inequities. You will see students “get in” with lower scores. The kid down the street/ the blue chip athlete/ the son of a major donor/ (insert unthinkable prototype here) is going to receive offers or scholarships or opportunities that your student does not. You are going to read online, or see on social media videos, pictures, comments, and posts about neighbors or students in your school or community who by every measure you observe do not seem “as good as” or “as qualified as” your kid.
Each year after decisions go out, admission officers receive fuming phone calls, vitriolic emails, threats, accusations of bias or conspiracy, and expletive-laden rants. These are never from students. I hope when you are tempted to “come down there” you will take a deep breath and (when necessary) bite your lip. When you get upset or frustrated or angry, my hope is you remember those emotions are a manifestation of your love. More than they need you pulling strings or filling out appeal forms, they simply need to hear you tell them you love them and you are proud of them.
I hope you will encourage your student to enjoy their final months (or years for parents of juniors/sophomores) in high school. Remind them to keep perspective when a test does not go well or a final grade is lower than they hoped. Keep making time to get to their games, shows, recitals, etc., and hug them even when they pretend like they don’t care or need it. My hope is you will truly enjoy this unique, and all too short, chapter of life.
Make every effort to get out of your local admission echo chamber. Take time to look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 lists of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools that are not categorized as highly selective. Go back and re-read Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. Listen to the many stories your own friends and colleagues have about their own college experience. They will tell you about how they did not get into their top choice or could not afford to attend a certain school, and now 20-30 years after graduating, they would not have it any other way.
Talk to parents who have kids in college. Ask them to reflect on their experience. Inevitably, you will hear them say they wish they had not stressed as much. They will tell you about their daughter who was not admitted to her first choice school, ended up elsewhere, and is thriving now. They will go into great detail about how their son did not receive the merit scholarship he had been hoping for, selected another option from his choices, and now has an incredible internship and a girlfriend (who they actually like) that he never would have met otherwise.
I understand that as a parent the college admission experience seems incredibly complicated because it is filled with a myriad of dates and deadlines. It seems confusing because the mainstream press and pervasive how-to guides regularly provide incomplete and frequently inaccurate data. It seems consuming because friends and colleagues incessantly share their “inside” information and stories (or the alleged stories of relatives twice removed) on social media. It seems confounding because those same friends and colleagues, while adamant, have widely divergent experiences and opinions they are quick to share each time they see you at the school, store, or stadium. It seems complex because colleges and universities all have different processes, review different factors, and operate on different timelines.
After watching this cycle repeat itself for two decades, I am convinced it seems this way because people are too focused on “getting in” when they should simply be committed to staying together.
Ultimately, my biggest hope is that no matter where your college admission journey leads you, you’ll keep telling your kids three things: I love you. I trust you. I am proud of you.
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