If I had one word to tell parents of high school students applying to college, it’s perspective. Your students are capable, but please remember that they are mostly 17-year-olds. Their responses to doing the work necessary to apply, especially writing essays and activities lists, may not be the same way as yours; nor will they do it the way that you would. And that’s okay.
Plus, they have a lot on their plates. The students who are playing fall sports have little time to get everything done, and they are subject to last minute changes in schedules by coaches. Even those who are not, are busy – with leading tours of their schools, organizing club activities, performing community service, practicing with any number of bands, theater and dance groups, and doing homework and writing research papers. One of the most universal complaints that I hear from families in October and November is the amount of work that teachers assign to seniors during the month, and how hard it is for students to juggle everything.
But what I see in student essays and in their applications are honest efforts to explain who they are and why they want to attend particular colleges, even though these are questions that they have not considered in the past. It isn’t easy to open up about yourself to a stranger reading an application, let alone to someone close, as this is the time when teenagers are working to find their own identities and establish their independence. That’s a good and normal thing, and in some respects, I believe that the application process should help students in all of those things – in learning a bit more as to who they are and what kinds of learning suit their learning styles, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Still, it’s a hard and pressure-filled process.
Despite frightening events seemingly happening regularly, like the bomb threats across the United States, the massacre of people at prayer in Pennsylvania, and wildfires raging in California, I hope that we can all put applying to college in perspective. Your children will get into college. Admissions staffs do understand that the people applying are only teens with much more to learn about life, and that the way they write and what they say reflects their age and maturity. Success and happiness in life does not depend on whether the college that your child attends is a first choice or a last choice – and I, for one, believe that students can find the right fit in any number of colleges. It really all is about development, building character and knowledge, learning that failure or disappointment comes with life but that doors remain open. That’s why colleges champion character traits like grit, perseverance, resilience, and collaboration. When colleges say that it’s really about what students make of their college experiences, they are absolutely right.
As a parent who has lived through my children applying to college and graduate school and moving past their 20s, I am fortunate in that I have not just seen the light at the end of the tunnel but know that it really does exist. It will for you, too.
Let’s give thanks this holiday season for our wonderful children.