I know right now a whole group of parents are in the thick of guiding their teens through applications, testing, and tours with deadlines quickly approaching. A few of you with high schoolers have written to me for advice, so I'd thought I'd share some of what I have learned (having been through it twice so far.)
Here's the BEST ADVICE a college admissions expert said during her presentation to high school parents:
"College is a fit to be made, not a prize to be won."
She said, "Just keep repeating that."
It's so true, and it's not about what we want! Of course the cost is a huge factor, but finding the right fit for them, regardless of any ideas we had while they were growing up, family pressure, or peer pressure makes the most sense.
Whether it's community college or Harvard, the college in the hometown, or the one across the continent, we must just think of what will work for the teen and his learning style, his major if he knows what they want to study, and the environment he will thrive in, and of course financially what works for the parents and the teen and go from there. It's not a race or a competition or the means to impress the neighbors. Our children and their future should matter more than that.
This same great college admissions expert suggested this:
-Looking at one small, one medium, and one large school lets the student see what the benefits and drawbacks are for each.
-Try to tour when the school is in session so your student can get a feel for the school's "personality".
-Apply to a safety school (sure admission), a comfort school (most likely), and a stretch (might be pushing it) school.
-Be honest and upfront about expenses with our children, what the family can afford, how college will be paid for, and what the student will be contributing or responsible for.
A little PS on that one: I have a friend whose daughter really wanted to attend a school where the program was a great fit but it was out-of-state and very expensive. Unfortunately it would require the student to graduate with major debt. She had her daughter ask older siblings and relatives for advice and every one of them said, "Don't be saddled with that debt-go to a school you can afford, work hard, and make the most of the opportunities they offer." I thought the advice was so great but also that the mom urged her daughter to find out from other sources-to ask around, and find out firsthand from the experiences of recent graduates what really counts out there today in the working world. That way it's not all parents saying "Do this or do that" but peers weighing in also.
Oh, it's such a game! I can't stand that part of it, but it is what it is, and a few extra points on the ACT or SAT do make a difference with scholarships in tune to thousands of dollars. I think it is important for the students to know that there is certain ways to take each test and some will learn this through a class and practice and others will pick it up through a brief rundown. I know one student who was signed up for a series of expensive pay-by-the hour classes-after just one she told her mom, "I've got it, I figured it out, I know what I did wrong" and never took another session but raised her score the next time considerably. Others need more time to practice and review. (My kids were never great about practicing on their own, so I just let that part of it go, but there are lots of practice tests they can take that are free.)
I am not an expert-I have had only two of my children so far go through this process, but I've learned so much. It is easy to lose the broader view of the purpose of higher education. There is such much debate going on politically also-the worth of a degree, the high cost, the pressure, etc. So many opinions! I have learned to sweep that all by the wayside-my husband and I have our own opinions on each of those things, and our children know them (and we will learn and change as we go along with each child, I'm sure of that!), and try to keep all the ruckus out of it. We must help our children do what is best for them in the context of our family and their future, and go from there.
A quick word on motivation:
I always heard that the entire college search and application process should be left entirely to the student. I have learned myself, and with chats with friends, that this is not realistic for most teens. For sure, some will take that initiative and some will seek out the support if offered at the school. But others are caught up in surviving high school, trying to get good grades, working, participating in high commitment sports, or a host of other stressors. Teens are notorious for living in the moment, and avoiding the pressure of long deadlines and talk of the future. Be patient and be helpful (yes you are allowed to be helpful!) and remember that they have fears of the unknown, and are sometimes under incredible pressure, even if they don't seem to show it or don't talk about it. The college process is SO different from what I experienced, and can be quite overwhelming and daunting.
If you have been through this process with a child, please feel free to add your thoughts/tips/advice, I'm sure there are much more experienced mothers out there than me!