Life is full of all the things we should be doing.
We should be shopping with our kids for the perfect dress and ultra cool tuxedo for prom. We should be celebrating 18th birthday parties. We should be able to dash to the grocery store for that one forgotten item that is essential to our recipe.
We should be touring university campuses to help our 18 year olds make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. We should be but we’re not. In this surreal time we need to focus on what we can be doing and not what we should be doing.
In my career I have seen every angle of the college application process
And I get it, trust me I get that it’s far easier to say, but much more difficult to do. This year has been one of the most insightful years of my life not only as a parent but also as a professional, because I am a college counselor.
In a 20-year career I can honestly say that I have now seen the college search and application process from every possible angle. I’ve worked in admissions, I’ve been a school-based college counselor, I’ve been an independent college counselor, I’ve been a seasonal application evaluator and I am a parent.
I. Have. Learned. Some. Shit.
But nothing I learned helped prepare me for our current situation. Because, besides this being my career, I am now in the parent hot seat as well! Our eldest daughter Mirabelle is a senior in high school. So I, like many of you, have had to think quickly and improvise on the spot. I’ve had the jump-up-and-down exciting conversation after receiving a “yes” from a desired school – followed all too quickly by the slump-on-the-couch difficult conversation when there is a “no.”
When my kids are really upset my husband and I encourage them to work it out in 24 hours. We let them cry, scream, sulk and complain all they want in those 24 hours. But once those 24 hours are up so are the negative emotions. We’ve had a few of those 24 hour periods in the past 5 weeks as you can imagine. And now it’s decision time. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but May 1, the National Candidate’s Reply Date (which many schools have pushed to June 1) is coming .
How are we going to help our kids make this decision without leaving the house? Not to mention that some of us and our kids have trepidation about going too far away now or whether or not classes will actually start in the fall. Will there be all the new student milestones and firsts? They have already missed out on so many senior year moments.
So, for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on how to best help our kids navigate their decision process. I’ve gained some pretty awesome tips and tricks over the last 20 years and I am definitely going to be doing this with my daughter. First, let’s start with a list of questions that are fairly typical to consider right now but may be prioritized a little differently at this time:
Questions that are common right now
- What academic subjects excite you?
- What are you looking forward to most about college?
- Do you want to stay local-ish, close to home?
- Do you want a BIG school experience (that rah-rah spirit)? Or do you think you might prefer a more intimate, smaller school setting?
- What school that you have been admitted to gives you the best possible access to what you want to study/do?
- What makes you nervous about going to college?
- When you think about the schools to which you have been admitted, which one makes you the most excited?
Your teens may be able to answer a few quickly with answers at the ready; other responses might require some reflection and that’s OK. The goal is not to answer all of the questions right away. There is still time for these answers to come.
And to help them find the answers here are some simple steps to take:
Here is the way to find answers
- Visit the school’s website.
- Take a virtual tour of campus.
- Take a virtual tour of the freshman dorms and if possible the surrounding community.
- Encourage social media. Most, if not all admission offices have Instagram accounts and many of these have student take-overs, providing perspective students a glimpse of a day-in-the-life.
- Take advantage of any and all virtual meetings and tours provided by the admission office themselves.
- If you are considering a local school, do a drive-by. You won’t see students heading to class, but seeing a campus up close and personal empty or not can be very helpful
- Don’t let all that marketing go to waste!
I’m sure you have stacks and piles of brochures and one sheets touting all the amazing things each school has to offer. Before you toss them in the recycle bin—read them! We’re all adjusting to this new normal and it’s OK to be scared, anxious and unsure of what the future will bring. In our house, we try to live in the now.
We are very excited for Mirabelle to begin her next adventure, but we are not sure when that adventure will commence. So instead of wondering, asking and wringing our hands over the unknown we embrace the present. We celebrated every positive admission decision, we helped her as she narrowed her choices one-by-one and we let her off the hook when she didn’t want to be on her computer looking at the school in Baltimore or the school in Boston.
We realize that it is OK to give her the time she needs to make this decision. Don’t forget you didn’t just start parenting, you’ve been at it for a while. All of the lessons you have consciously or unconsciously taught your child are still present.
And when they social distance themselves in their room trying to make sense of a world that makes very little sense it is these lessons that they will reflect upon to help them make this decision. So when they open their door (and they will open their doors—hungry beasts) they will have the answers they need for right now and that’s the best we can hope for.
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Jessica Pashkow has been in the college admission and counseling profession for over twenty years. She has worked as a Director of Admission at a highly selective university on the West Coast, as a college counselor at multiple private Los Angeles high schools and currently as an independent college counselor. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, 2 kids, 2 dogs and 3 fish. Find her on Instagram.