What’s more stressful and anxiety-ridden for a parent than when your high school senior applies to college? Not much. At least, not much if you’re a parent like I was, who fretted and worried and stalked websites trying to calculate my children’s odds of getting into their top choice schools (slim-to-none, it turned out).
It’s been a while since my kids applied to college and some of the things I did make me cringe when I remember back to those angst-filled senior years. Not their angst – mine. Having spent my life as a stay-at-home mom trying to help my children succeed in any way I could (that’s what moms do, after all), it was a shock to realize that when it came to getting into college I could do absolutely nothing to assist them. Not a thing.
Here’s what I know about the college application process – in hindsight, of course – and how to not completely lose it during this application season. If you avoid these actions as much as you can, both you and your children will be a lot better off during those months preceding acceptance letters and emails.
- Do not fill out any part of the application for your child. I don’t care if you have to sit next to him for hours on end to make sure it gets done, your child needs to do this for himself. Yes, you can review it before he clicks “submit,” but let him do the work. That’s his name on the application, remember?
- Do not keep on file the user names and passwords for the schools your child has applied to. Do not check their admit status without them. Do.Not.Do.This.This is your child’s college application experience, not yours.
- Do not allow your child to stop looking at schools once he’s decided to attend a perfectly good university because of the hotness of the girls. Keep looking. There are lots of other options. Make sure he knows about them.
- Do not ask your child if you can review her essays even if you were an English major in college and know your stuff. If your child needs some guidance, find someone else to do this.
- Do not wait until the last minute to consider your family’s financial situation. You may have promised your child that he can attend any school he gets into, but mortgaging your home and raiding your 401K to pay tuition at an expensive private school is just not a good idea. Check into financial aid options to avoid having to eat only canned beans during your golden years.
- Do not ask your child where all of her friends have applied to, what their GPAs and SAT/ACT scores are, and then calculate in your head how many students from her high school will be admitted to the hottest school on her list – because chances are she won’t get in. Competition is fierce.
- If possible, do not talk to any other parents of seniors for the entire year. Just shut down your phone, email and Facebook account. Stay off of Instagram. Block texts from all but your nearest and dearest. Because no matter how good you’re feeling about your child’s chances of getting in to his top-choice school, all hopes will be dashed when you hear from other mothers about how talented/smart/philanthropic/charismatic their children are. And keep this in mind – people sometimes exaggerate. Really, it’s true.
- Do not buy t-shirts, sweatshirts, banners, bumper stickers, or other logo paraphernalia from any school until admissions offers have been received. That’s a jinx and simply not a good idea. Plus, it’s a waste of money (refer back to the canned beans) since you’ll never wear those things if your child doesn’t get into that particular school.
- Do not, upon checking your child’s admit status on a March afternoon and seeing she’s been accepted at a school near the top of her list (because of course, you have her user name and password), pick up the phone and call her at 5 a.m. her time while she’s in Shanghai, China on a school trip to tell her she’s heading across the country that fall to a fantastically amazing place. Seriously. Just don’t do that. Even if she doesn’t mind, don’t do that. You’ll be sorry later on. Let your child be the first one to read the most important news of her life.
- And finally, do not, for a moment, think this is at all about you. This is only about your child. Whatever dreams you may have, regrets you may feel, or goals you’ve yet to accomplish, where your child chooses to go to college is his choice and has very little to do with you, beyond the guidelines you set and the money you can provide. This is his life, her future. Let them pick their own paths.
May the admissions process go smoothly, and may all your child’s dreams come true.
And yours, too.