Be A Good Partner

Last week my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, so the parallels between love and admission have been on my mind lately.  

Do I acknowledge some portion of readers will be bewildered by the first part of the last sentence? I do (What can I say? I married a patient woman). 

Do I appreciate another portion of readers will be moderately disconcerted by the latter part of that last sentence? I do (What can I say? I’m a romantic).  

Do I understand the ring on my finger is older than the final portion of readers? I do (What can I say? Oh… I’ll tell you. There should absolutely be an award or club at the 20-year mark for people still wearing their original wedding band).  

Anyway, we had a great trip, good weather, amazing food, and precious time together to look back– and forward.  

When I really think about where I have succeeded and fallen short over the last two decades, and when I consider what I want to focus on in the years ahead, it is extremely simple- BE A GOOD PARTNER. Easy to say, but often challenging to live (and love) out.

After watching the admission cycle repeat itself for those same twenty years, and speaking with hundreds (thousands?) of families during that time period, BE A GOOD PARTNER is also my hope for parents/supporting adults of high school juniors who are looking toward their admission experience in the year ahead. 

BE A GOOD PARTNER 

  1. Stay Curious. While Hollywood may portray relationships as full of passionate professions or grandiose statements, real love is often most sincerely expressed through asking questions. As your family receives mail from schools, visits colleges, or as your student talks about particular universities, one of the ways you can best engage, support, and partner is by persistently seeking to understand.

The families I’ve seen most enjoy their experience- and those who have grown closer not further apart through college search and selection- are those who let go of thinking they need to have all the answers, control the process, or attempt to steer things in a particular direction. Instead, they embrace this as an opportunity for discovery and exploration—and a journey together. Be vigilant about asking questions and really listening to answers.  

Will all of their responses satisfy you in the moment? No. Just like any marriage or other partnership/relationship in your life, you should expect gaps, delays, awkward silences, or even incoherent/illogical/indecipherable utterances.  

Easy? Definitely not. You know from experience this will demand energy, persistence, tenacity, and patience. But you also know unity, growth, and ultimately understanding is realized through a fierce commitment to learning- and learning comes from staying curious. 

2. Money matters. April is money month in college admission. No, it’s not “Hallmark official,” so nobody is celebrating with cards, .gifs, or hashtags, but since financial packages are on the table and deposits are due at many schools in early May, families of seniors are currently weighing options, comparing scholarship offers, and considering return on investment between various colleges.

Let me say from both recent and annual experience: April of the senior year is not the time to have this conversation for the first time!! (Yes, that warranted two exclamation marks).  

Being a good partner means opening the books and talking honestly and openly with your student about paying for college BEFORE they ever apply. Communicating clearly and transparently about how much you can pay, will pay, or are able to pay in the context of your other goals, pressures, and priorities is essential. Some of the most awkward and painful family dynamics I’ve witnessed (and gently excused myself from), have come when parents/supporting adults have not been clear about their financial limits and rationale, until after a student has been admitted/bought the hoodie/posted on social media that they are in and think they are all set to attend to their “top choice.”  

My hope is you will understand it’s not only ok, but absolutely critical to establish conditions or limitations, and expectations about finances. Setting these ranges with clear explanations provides clarity– and as you well know as a parent, love often necessitates setting boundaries. More on all of that here.    

  1. Celebrate. Look for opportunities and creative/unique ways to celebrate your student in the months and year ahead. First college visit, first application submission, and every acceptance!

The world spins too fast. It takes intention, discipline (and yes, love) to be a good partner. So hit pause and be consistent about lifting up the successes, milestones, and opportunities your family will experience.  

You know your student the best, so consider how they most feel appreciated, supported, and seen, and lean into their love language. If you create a pattern of celebration, they will be confident that your pride in them is not about an outcome, but rather engagement, effort, and shared experiences.    

  1. Schedule and Protect Time. We all live busy lives filled with obligations and distractions. And all of us have seen in other relationships that if we are not intentional about how we invest our time, the tyranny of the urgent takes over, important conversations are rushed or severely delayed, and we lose sight of priorities.

As a result, too often parents/supporting adults unconsciously default to broaching college at unexpected and inconvenient moments (car rides, breakfast, on their way up the stairs) that lead to students shutting down or seeming/being unconcerned, annoyed, or frustrated.  

College should be a conversation. And like any meaningful and healthy conversation, it is best when it’s intentionally scheduled, and everyone is prepared and focused. I’m encouraging you to protect, prioritize, and facilitate this by setting aside time each week to discuss college, including details, deadlines, choices, etc. Perhaps that is an hour each Sunday or the one night each week nobody has practice or another obligation. This is your time to plan, evaluate, research, or weight options and decisions.  

Outside of that time, my hope is you will not let college talk dominate or dilute your time, conversations, and bigger relationship. More on all of this here.   

  1. CHECK your ego.  If you are married, have been married, or are in any kind of lifelong partnership/committed relationship, I am guessing I really don’t need to keep writing. We all know how critical this is, as well as the damage that can be done when we are unwilling to adjust, shift position, compromise, listen, and—in the case of college admission- remember who is actually going to college.

As adults we have hopes/dreams and desires for our children. That’s natural, and in fact a manifestation of love. But being a good partner means consistently checking in on our motivations, ensuring our words and actions are sincere and earnest, and keeping perspective. Too often adults fool themselves into thinking where their student goes to college reflects on their parenting acumen. The truth is how they go, and the condition of your relationship when they go, is the real indicator of success.  

Here’s to you 

The morning after our anniversary, we woke up and toasted (coffee) to the next twenty years. Inevitably, we’ll continue to make plenty of mistakes in our relationship, but we are committed to continuing to learn, work, grow, and love each other uniquely. The fact that you read this and considering how you can be a good partner in the college admission experience is a gift.  So, cheers! Thanks for being committed not to perfection but to progress. Thanks for being a good partner!   

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. He has served on a number of national advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national level. Rick travels annually to U.S. embassies through the Department of State to discuss the admission process and landscape of higher education. He is the co-author of the book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, and a companion workbook published under the same title. A native of Atlanta, he earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Ed. from Georgia State University. Prior to coming to Tech, Rick was on the admissions staff at Georgia State, The McCallie School and Wake Forest University. @clark2college