My parents taught me many skills in life to prepare me and keep me on the right path. As the youngest of seven, I had the advantage of observing trial an error by my older siblings. By the time I came around, my parents had fine tuned their parenting skills. Among the most important skills I learned from them were responsibility, hard work and dedication/discipline. My parents did not believe in handing out money simply on demand. I had an allowance that I earned, was always told ways in which I could earn extra money around the house and I had my first job at thirteen. As a family, we had weekly responsibilities within the house that were to be completed on time or evening/weekend activities were forfeited. There was no whining or questioning, we knew the rules and simply obeyed or disobeyed and paid the consequences that were enforced on a consistent basis.
More importantly, from that responsibility, hard work and dedication came a sense of “independence” which I feel was the glue that truly helped me (and my siblings) succeed in college. I could balance my check book, change a flat tire, get the most bang for my buck at the grocery store, think quickly on my feet and maintained an emergency fund all before freshman year of college. All thanks to my parents. That way the only unknown factor that I really needed to adjust to was the level of work expected of a new college student. I watched many students and friends crumble around me because they couldn’t manage their time, money, relationships, and the daily pressures of day-to-day college living. I truly think teaching children to be independent by way of responsibility, hard work and dedication/discipline is part of that check-list of life skills necessary for a successful transition to college.
Choosing a college can be the first real big decisions you and your child make together. Managing expectations, finding the right schools and honing in on the proper academic program are no easy tasks—especially when you’re negotiating the deal with an eighteen year old child. Please keep in mind that you and your child are allies in the search and not on competing teams. Work together, find out what they are looking for in a college and share with them what is important to you during their college experience. There can be a healthy balance for all involved. I would encourage the college dialog to at least begin after your child’s sophomore year. This way they will grow accustomed to hearing the word “college” and believe it or not this will cause them to start thinking about it as well. Set a time-line for your family. Remember that college applications are mostly due by April of their senior year (the prior December if you are interested in early decision.) So, work backwards from this timeline and you’ll be able to keep everyone on track.
Some issues to think about during the process: When should your child approach their guidance counselor for some preliminary information about colleges? Who will research other schools not mentioned by the HS counselor? When will you set aside time to sit down together and discuss the college options. In addition, applications need to be ordered, which takes time and college visits need to be organized. Please remember that writing well-developed essays takes time; generally more time than students typically a lot for. This is where the bulk on the application time will be spent. Not all colleges ask the same essay questions, so the earlier you receive those applications the better. One suggestion that I have is after you have chosen your top 3 schools, go ahead and request their application from the previous year. This way you will have a feel for what their essay questions generally look like and you can get a jump-start on the process before their new application comes available. You never know – they may just use the same questions. Lastly, recommenders need to be approached. Trust me, no one likes being approached in the 11th hour and asked to write a recommendation. If you want a well thought out and thoughtful letter or recommendation, talk to your recommenders early in the process. They will appreciate your respect for their time.
Setting up a structured time-line for you and your child will help everyone involved understand the process more thoroughly as well as reduce burnout. Your child needs to manage their time and energy to have well-developed and competitive applications completed by deadline. Most importantly, listen to your child and their wants when it comes to choosing a college. Remember, it is going to be the next four years of “their” life. This may be one of those times when the old at edge “mother knows best” may not apply. Work with your child, this can be a great experience for both of you.