College Applications: When It’s Time for Your Teen to Decide

I went into my son’s senior year in high school with a silent, steadfast vow that I would not partake in the insanity surrounding college applications. I would not allow my clear thinking to be muddied by the madness of the crowd. In the end, of course, that proved easier said then done.

College applications and final decisions
We need to let our kids make the final decision. (Photo credit: InSapphoWeTrust)

After my son was deferred, we became anxious about  next steps

After my son was deferred from his early decision school we were on tenterhooks waiting to hear from the half-dozen or so schools to which he had applied. Even though my son is a kid who had never missed a deadline, and even though I was confident that he would get his college applications done, after his early action school did not pan out, I resorted to nagging, wheedling and threatening until all other applications were completed.

It was not my finest moment and it portended a series of “not so fine” moments.

Later when the acceptances and rejections were in, although we had forcefully and repeatedly reiterated that the most important aspect of college selection was finding a school with the appropriate social and academic fit, and even though we had encouraged him to disregard the name and ranking of a school in favor of his gestalt feeling about the place, I could not resist the overwhelming urge to lean heavily on him to choose the college with the more prestigious name. In truth, the pressure I put on him was more about me than about him.

My conversations with my son became strained

Because our face to face conversations became so fraught, we started to communicate by text. To my repeated entreaties to pick the higher rated school my son responded,

I know that you have more life experience and I trust you and dad are always looking out for me and encouraging only what you believe is best and when you think I’m about to make a mistake, the only reaction you can logically have is to do whatever you can to stop me from falling off the edge. I get it and I appreciate it. But, sometimes you need to trust that I too am looking out for myself and that I need to make my own choices and live with my own consequences.

I see the wisdom of those sentiments now but back then I could only see him making, what I thought, was a big life mistake. So, I continued to push accusing him of basing his decision on emotions and not on pragmatism, to which he responded,

Yes, part of this decision is driven by emotion. Over the last two months I have fallen in love with the idea of going to XX University. I have been captured by the people, the atmosphere, the campus and the institution itself.

In hindsight my arguments were also steeped in emotion so how could I fault him for making an emotional decision?

This is what I believe

I don’t believe the oft-heard platitude that kids end up “where they’re supposed to be.”

  1. I believe that if you teach them to be resilient, they will do well wherever they end up.
  2. I believe that you need to trust them to make the right decision for themselves.
  3. I believe that you need to be looking for the right fit rather than the right name.
  4. I believe more than ever that what you do once you get to college matters far more than where you go.

Advice for parents going through the college search process

To the parents who are going through this process now-take a deep breath and try to remove yourself emotionally from the process as much as possible. It really is your child’s life and it really is their decision to make and to live with.

This process does not reflect your child’s essence. It does not define the person they are, and it does not predict the success they will have in life, whatever your definition of success is.

Where your child goes to college matters, but you will never know how it matters. You will never know how things might have been different elsewhere and that’s true about life in general, roads not taken and all that.

So embrace what is and hope and encourage your child  to find their unique place in the community in which they matriculate.

In a process steeped in uncertainty, there is only one certainty. Before you can even clear your thoughts, your current high school senior will be registering for their sophomore year courses.

And, about ten seconds after that they will be ordering their cap and gown. Hopefully.

More to Read:

Dear Parent of Newly Admitted College Freshman

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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