For much like the fashion industry that seems to operate seasons ahead of itself, the college consideration, selection and application process for high school juniors nationwide begins in earnest right now. I am a college counselor and I can almost feel the collective pantings of over-anxious junior parents as I put the finishing touches on my soon-to-be College Night presentation.
As fearful as they are, they also cannot wait to get into this annual mix of moving parts and responsibilities destined to culminate, for better or worse, nearly 18 months from now.
As a primary contact point and, at times soothsayer, for college-bound kids and their parents, my role is to assuage their anxieties by keeping information timely, relative, clear and flowing. Parents are quick to feel disconnected from the process because, after they clear the auditorium with my colored pamphlets and tips, much of this process does rest in the hands of their student.
No irony is lost on the fact that a class of seventeen year olds that may not even have a senior driver’s license are summarily handed the wheel to drive this metaphoric road to their collegiate futures.
The 7 Things I’ll Do as Your Student’s College Counselor
1. I will dispense the same introductory guidance to both the first-timers and veterans of an oft convoluted college process. My intent is not to discredit their anxiety, but to empower their survival.
2. I will explain that while the subject of this entire evolution hinges on the academic, scholarly future of their child, one should never forget that the business of the college pursuit is just that, a business! That on the other side of the expensive marketing, exhaustive recruitment efforts and pay-to-play pressures, this is a fiscally driven industry competing for YOUR commodity, your student.
3. I will re-frame the definition of being selfish and ask my audience of parents, guardians and students to do just that. I hereby grant permission to be selfish! There is no one pathway through this process. There is no one prescription for success. I wish I could hand out ear plugs and tell my listeners to put them in until next spring. There’s enough inherent stress in this process, one need not borrow any from others.
4. I will identify and assign roles and responsibilities for myself, the students and parents alike. I will explain that this MUST be an orchestrated collaboration of efforts. If one partner in this team doesn’t carry his or her weight, the machine will break and the re-firing of the engine can lead to certain set backs.
5. I will beg for trust. I will take responsibility for dispensing communications and directives. I will advocate, intervene and listen. I will be objective, subjective and, when warranted, brutally candid. There will be tough conversations and a few broken bubbles. I will not take responsibility for unread emails, unasked questions, un-followed directions or missed deadlines.
6. I will deal some bad cards. Yes, I am aware that all this extra work goes on simultaneously with the normal business of high school courses, extra-curricular activities, jobs and social lives. Teachers or coaches cannot be expected to lighten the load because your students are applying to colleges.
7. I will not answer the question, “Is this a good college?” I will weigh in on whether this is a good fit for your son or daughter.
If the night goes well, parents will breathe a bit easier, some levity will have been injected into the night and just a glimmer of hope will start to flicker that TOGETHER we can slay this dragon.
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Christine G. is a mother of two and a Westchester County, NY-based high school college counselor. She has often had to step back, take pause and heed her own advice. With one child out of college and the next one set to graduate with the Class of 2017, Christine has been elbow deep in the college process for nearly a decade.