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Countdown to college: A parent's perspective

Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a student who shared lessons learned during the college admissions process. This week, it’s equal time for a parent’s perspective. Here’s what one mom had to say:

Q: What did you do right?

A: We started early, looking at schools at the end of sophomore year. At first it was just casual “window shopping” while we were on vacation – mostly to help our child get a basic sense of whether they wanted small/medium/large, urban/suburban/rural, northern/southern, etc. We always attended the information session, toured the campus, and ate lunch in the dining hall or student center. We had a really good time on these trips, and it helped focus the search.

The downside to starting early is that by the time we got to the application process in senior year, none of us remembered the details despite some written notes. The schools start to blur together.

Q: What advice do you have for others just starting the process?

A: Start essays early in the summer, as soon as school ends, before the “lazy days of summer” begin.

Do more Internet research to learn about schools that you cannot visit or that are perhaps under the radar.

The individual personalities and styles of the admissions official (presenting the information session) and student tour guide (showing us around campus) greatly affected our impression of the school. It’s very unfortunate that a single person has so much influence, but it happens. Find a way to counteract a bad impression due just to the presentation, and good luck changing your teenager’s mind.

 

Have a game plan for spring break of senior year. You’ll make final decisions in April and cannot possibly visit all the schools in one week, so determine up front what you want to accomplish that week.

Apply to state schools with “rolling admissions” so you immediately have some acceptances and a great sense of relief.

Q: What did you do to keep your parental emotions in check?

I kept reminding myself that it all works out in the end. Hopefully, everyone goes to a place that’s a great fit overall. Everyone winds up where they belong. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get into your top school; it’s what you make of it while you are there.

Q: What was the hardest part for you?

Sitting in on the sidelines was very difficult: watching my child struggle with a heavy workload, senior exit testing and college applications, and not jumping in to save the day. I viewed this as the first “real-life” college experience with competing priorities – the main skill you need to learn in college. Let them figure it out on their own.

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