Where are your parents in this process?

Just 10 days ago I was up at Clark University talking with parents of admitted students. Now I have to tell you, I generally don’t talk with parents much. I am really a teacher at heart and my passion is working with young people… but I suggested to one of my friends in the admissions office that offering a workshop for parents, to address their concerns about their teens leaving home was a possibility worth investigating. She liked the idea and I ran with it! Happily the two workshops were a great success… and I discovered that I liked talking with parents about their role in supporting their teens with decision-making and facing the changes/transitions ahead!

So where are you and your parents at this very moment in your college search process? I am guessing (hoping!) that you have had a few talks about where you might want to look… so here are some questions for you to consider. Perhaps they will start a few conversations.

How do you want your parents to help you during this process? How much support do you want and need?
Answers can include some or all of the following – depending on what part of the process you’re thinking about…
❍ “Just leave me to my own devices I will figure out what I need to do, where I need to visit, and how to handle all the pieces”
❍ “I could use some feedback about my ideas for places to look, people to talk with, and pulling all the pieces together – and maybe we’ll look at some of the colleges together”
❍ “I haven’t a clue about how to approach this task and I need your support through every step.”
(My take on the two extremes is… they’re extreme… not the best route: in the first case because you probably need information about family financial information (at the very least); and at the other end of the spectrum, how will you manage at college if you’re getting your hand held all along the way to getting there – I know, a brutal comment… but, it’s true, right? I think it’s a parent’s job to help you become a competent, independent individual who seeks support when necessary.

How will you tell your parent(s) what you want, in a way s/he can hear it?
Maybe you want to spend a little time on your own or with a friend and imagine what you want this process to be. Now, I am an arts and crafts kinda gal and so I like to create Treasure Maps (collage with magazine pictures, drawings and keys words, that create a picture of what you want your future or an event to look/be like), mindmaps, or Mindscapes (Nancy Margulies cool work). Whatever methods you chose, take the time to envision who you want to be and what you want to achieve in this college search process. And, that process includes the role(s) you want your parent(s) to play.

At the beginning you may just want to shoot around some ideas with your parents, then maybe it’s asking for the car keys and a map or money to hop on a train and check out some colleges… be sure to have the conversation about price range early in the process. If you don’t know what your family/you can afford, you can’t know where to look… And, don’t buy-in to the myths about state schools being less expensive than private colleges! If you just look at the numbers you will be missing important information… the private colleges often give significant amounts of money in scholarships or financial aid.

A few parents I listened to the other weekend hadn’t had the “Let’s figure out how your college education is going to be financed” conversation with their teens – and their teens were ready to chose a school! Learn from their experience – don’t repeat it! If it’s uncomfortable for you to start this conversation, talk about reading this blog… it’s a way into one of your most important conversations with your parents.

Be sure to leave the door open to possible changes in the types and amounts of help you want to receive… it may change as you get deeper into the process.

How do you think you will grow and change during this process?
It’s going to happen – and you may feel it before your parents recognize it… Or, they may not really be ready to see it, as they are going through their own thoughts and feelings about the future – both yours and theirs.

Make the time to let them know what you’re thinking… Too many parents commented on how they didn’t know what their teens were thinking – or how to begin a conversation about these really important topics and decisions… it made me sad.

What do you want your last year in high school/at home to be like?
It’s a big question! Find the time to think about and plan for it – so you can enjoy it!


You knew this right?! As I read this article about Suan Boyle, stereotyping/categorizing, and how the brain works, (NY Times, 4.26.09) I started thinking about some recent conversations I’d been having… with a high school junior I am coaching and a group of juniors in one of my workshops; feeling safe, in the sense of comfortable in your environment, it critically important to doing your best work.

When you think ahead to visiting college campuses, what do you intend to do there? there’s the usual short list of:
take the informational tour
walk around
observe “stuff”

I’d like to suggest that you check out every campus (of the schools that really interest you) – at least twice, if possible – with clear ideas about what you want to accomplish. And, try to use the same “lens” for all the places you visit, as it will help when you are making your final decisions about which school to choose… when you are holding those acceptance letters in your hands.

So here’s my thinking (which really means, here are my questions for you):
What do you already know about the school – what attracts you to it? Can you name at least six things…
➸ academics (approach to completing coursework, majors, minors)
➸ atmosphere (academics + fun, more academically oriented or more of a party school)
➸ mission of the university (what their materials tell you about their values)
➸ size of student body and/or departments and classes
➸ study abroad opportunities
➸ sports (are you an athlete looking for a Division I school, are you more of a D III player, is intramural more your speed… or do you just want to know there’s a pool and treadmills?)
➸ housing choices (houses for special interests, the opportunity to live off campus your sophomore year, gender free housing, etc.)
➸ location (urban, suburban, rural)
➸ distance from home (near or far… there are advantages and disadvantage to each)

What will you be looking for when you visit campus? You know that the tour guide is going to be personable and upbeat. It’s your task to listen to all that great info… and dig deeper…
☞ Pick up the student newspaper and read it
☞ Check out the bulletin boards – what’s hanging there
☞ Visit several classes and stay overnight if your schedule permits (the folks in the admissions offices will set this up for you on many campuses)
☞ Watch the students interacting with eachother and their professors… both in classes and around the campus
☞ Talk to the students (and think through what questions you want to ask them. Go further than, “Do you like it here?” to “What do you like about being here (courses, students, professors, campus life, sports…?” “What other schools were you looking at?”
☞ Eat the food in the cafeteria
☞ Go to events: sports, music, lectures

I know you know where I am going with this. Looks do matter! Can you see yourself in that environment? It’s really a two part question (at least!): Would you feel comfortable there now and will it provide the environment that you want for your four years? Can you grow there, becoming who you want to be?

Sorry for the length of this post! I am passionate about people feeling good about where they’re at… whether that means almost an enclave from which you will receive support, venture out and do your best work, or if it means challenging yourself and stepping into a new and different environment. What do you want and need? It’s a big question! I know you can figure it out.

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