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Archive for April, 2016

Between Hands-Off and Helicopter: How to Parent During the College Search Process

It was so easy to get our kids into the best preschool! At 4:00 a.m., my husband was the first in line for the few available openings. We read all the parenting books and successfully potty-trained three “non-biters.” From preschool to high school, we lost control. Nagging didn’t induce more studying and pulling strings doesn’t work with college admissions offices. We had to find a new way of “helping” that didn’t alienate our teenagers and improved their chances at finding the right colleges. Here are a few techniques that worked for us.

EARLY is the key to success. Not exactly being like first in line for preschool spots, but similar. Start thinking about possible colleges as early as the ninth grade. Know what colleges are looking for in students’ high school experiences and actively make sure they‘re taking the courses they need.

Teach “survival” skills EARLY. At age 10, it can be a “cool” thing to know how to do your own laundry. At 17, it’s the last thing you want to squeeze into your school, sports and social schedule. College freshmen – now called “first years” in most schools – have the hardest time with three things: laundry, time management, and alcohol. Make them do the first as soon as they can reach, let them struggle – with your support – to learn the second, and speak often and openly about how to handle the third.

Allow your kids as much freedom as possible EARLY. You can step in if you notice small failures – when they’re in college it’s too late. The boy whose mom not only made, but also cut his waffles may have a hard time even getting up in time for breakfast at the college dining hall. This list of “freedoms” includes:

  • Handling money – a checking account and credit card
  • Car maintenance – pumping gas and inflating tires among other skills
  • Basic cooking – knowing how to make two or three meals
  • Making one’s own schedule – making appointments and keeping them
  • Responsible Communication – calling or texting with schedule changes and other important information, and checking email regularly

Kids learn from experience. When they tackle new responsibilities while still living at home, you can alleviate the pain and consequences of mistakes and praise their successes!

Finish college applications EARLY – before Labor Day of senior year. One dad who works in Penn State’s admissions office told his kids that he would pay for all applications submitted before then – but not after Labor Day weekend. Apply EARLY – narrowing your choices down can dramatically increase acceptance chances!

Finally, communicate EARLY on to your student and college counselor the financial parameters for college choices. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing the exact amount you are prepared to pay, each college is required to have a “Net Price Calculator” on the admissions page of its website. Use this tool to determine whether specific schools are financially feasible and to help finalize a realistic college list.

While the basics of raising babies and toddlers haven’t changed much, the college application experience is completely different for high school students than it was when their parents applied. Encourage your child’s independence EARLY and get as much support as possible from college admissions professionals to make this next parenting stage more stress-free than the “terrible two’s!”