My college professor friends and colleagues have told stories of parents who called to dispute their child’s grades and ask for extensions. For a number of years, I presumed that was the anomaly. After reading two articles in the press this week (“University of Virginia’s Sullivan: ‘You Might be a Helicopter Parent If…” and “Why Parents Should Leave Their Kids Alone at College“), it is clearly on the minds of campus administrators as we head into fall.
As a parent, I routinely struggle with my urge to take care of my children and their need to learn independence. The college admission process is another example of a time when letting go, as difficult as it may be, will help your child achieve more success on a college campus.
The college admission process, by its very nature isn’t designed to capitalize on the strengths of high school students. Some students are very organized, and detail oriented. They are long-range strategy maestros. Most aren’t. Teenagers are known for impulsive behavior and seeking the immediate reward. As adults, many of us have grown into the skills that we are trying to teach our children. The long-term planning skills that are part of the college admissions process are often a part of college coursework as well –consider the syllabus that is handed out on the first day of the semester, when the first graded work is a mid-term exam 8 weeks hence. The college admission process allows your child to practice those long-range planning skills. You, the parent, don’t need the practice.
I’ve occasionally worked with families simply as a go-between, a neutral third-party to keep the family peace. When I am the person suggesting the deadline, it is received in a different way from a threat to take away car privileges. Students learn to advocate for themselves. I will direct them and encourage them to seek their own answers as they move through the process, calling colleges for answers to questions and sending their own SAT scores. Success in those areas now, despite their busy schedules, will give them the confidence they need to successfully navigate a college campus thousands of miles away from home.
And parents please, whatever you do, don’t tell me “we are applying to college.” You probably have a lot of questions and concerns. You don’t want to see your child struggle, or worse, fail. But, your child is applying to college.
By Whitney Bruce, who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as an Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to provide you with college admissions consulting as you apply to college.
Photo credit: Arrr!