by Susan A. Eschenroeder, M.Ed., IECA Associate Member (Virginia)
‘Tis the season for College Nights! At a recent event for juniors and their parents, I joined admissions officers from Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Virginia, and William & Mary, who shared their wisdom and expertise about the college search and college visit; the essay; and how admissions committees form a freshman class. Two professionals addressed financial aid as well as the SAT and ACT. I concluded the evening talking to the parents, sharing my own thoughts not only as an independent educational consultant (IEC), but also as a parent who traveled this bumpy path with three children before I knew what I know now! Many IECA members offered helpful tips, and I thank you for that!
As I prepared my presentation, I imagined myself in the audience in 2001 when I began the college process with my oldest child, and long before I became an IEC…clueless. How involved do I need to be in this process? These days, I think many of us agree that some parents tend to overstep the boundaries of involvement in their children’s lives. This tendency can go into hyper drive when it comes to managing the college process. I shared this thought with the parents that evening…to allow their children to “drive the bus” while they sit in the passenger’s seat, white-knuckled, all the while remembering there is a reason that we have two ears and only one mouth. I emphasized that avoiding the temptation to revamp or even write their child’s essay; calling admissions offices when their child can and should; listening with intention to and honoring their child’s college ideas ultimately sends the message to their child that they are perfectly capable of managing this process on their own. Which is a huge vote of confidence that they will carry with them to college.
All the panelists emphasized the importance of the college visit. I offered the suggestion that parents hold their opinions close to their chest during these visits. Considering my own experience and conversations with others, it is best to reserve judgment until after opinions have been solidified by their child. Opinions of high schoolers may counter those of their parents, just because. Also, there is tremendous value in taking along a friend or two. Listening to back seat conversations can offer valuable insights!
I talked about the inevitable stress that accompanies this process and ways to alleviate this. For example, keep college discussions away from the dinner table. Instead, plan specific times to focus on schools. Avoid competitive parents who like to share their thoughts about their “perfect child” in the grocery aisles, at athletic events, and cocktail parties. The process is complex enough without worrying about others’ journeys. From the beginning, provide reality checks for children so that they know their boundaries, financially, geographically, and academically. The truth is if students have intentionally crafted their college list so that they know that they will be content at every school to which they apply, and that the list contains colleges that are likely to accept, they will have a happy outcome.
As I concluded I asked David, a student, to hand a colorful pom-pom to each parent while I proclaimed that our role as parents is to provide encouragement, practical and emotional support, and to cheer them on from the sidelines.
I had to laugh as I drove home and thought about the evening. When I finished my presentation, did I receive questions about their role as parents? No. Rather, questions went right back to GPAs, APs, SATs, and others typical of college angst. Well, looking back to the spring of 2001 before my family entered the fray, this is probably where my thoughts were as well. Perhaps, come fall, in the midst of writing essays and completing applications, some of my words will come wandering back into their conscious mind. I hope their pom-pom is displayed in a prominent place!