It seems like yesterday you were dropping her off for the first day of kindergarten. Now the years have flown past and she’s a senior in high school, applying for college. As families embark on this exciting and somewhat daunting journey, Rick Clark, director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech, offers tips on how parents can help -- without becoming the infamous “helicopter” parent.
Declare “No College” Zones. Find a day or time each week when discussing college is off the table. Maybe it’s a promise that dinners will always be “college free.” Too many families end up being strained and stressed because there are no boundaries. To the teen it feels like “where are you going to college” or “did you complete that application” are your only concerns. Help them to breathe and have expectations for times when they won’t have to feel pressured or on the spot.
Forget The Bumper Sticker. Your goal is to listen to your son or daughter about their interests and goals, and then help provide insight and support to achieve those aspirations. They may have no interest in your alma mater. They may not feel comfortable leaving the state or want to pursue a single-sex institution. Don’t get caught up with your dream school. Empower your child to pursue theirs.
Parent to Partner. Look at the college admission process as an opportunity to start transitioning from parent to partner. They need to know the deadlines, write their own essay, request transcripts, call the testing agency to send scores, complete online forms and set appointments for visits and interviews. As much as you might want to, you will not be going to college with them. Now is the time to start handing over the wheel and letting them start really driving.
Watch Your Pronouns. If you catch yourself making statements like, “Our first choice is State.” Or “We are taking the ACT next week,” then it may be time for you to take a walk and re-calibrate. Not only do these words indicate you are likely doing too much for your teen, but they are probably feeling a bit suffocated by the entire process as well.
Money talks. So talk Money. This can be a very uncomfortable topic for some families. But it is absolutely critical to be transparent and preemptive when it comes to explicating your family’s ability to pay for college. It is fine to encourage or allow your child to apply to a school with an higher overall cost, since financial packages may make up for the “sticker price.” But help your child understand what your family can afford to pay, and therefore what type of aid package they’ll need in order to attend. Talk money before they apply—not in April once they’ve been admitted and are emotionally invested.
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