As a volunteer member of the Alumni and Parent Admissions Program I interview and correspond with prospective students. In my work as a college coach I think about not only students but parents too. These two areas intersected in my mind, and several years ago I offered to write a letter to parents of incoming students. Perhaps it’s because I love to write, or maybe it’s because I had two different approaches to the task… In any event I wrote two letters that are both different and similar. I hope that at least one of them resonates for you. And that if you would like to talk abut your thoughts or questions as a parent in transition, you will contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Fellow Parent,
My daughter is currently a junior at Clark. As I reflect on my experience with her preparing for life at the university, I remember thinking about who I wanted to be as a parent/how my role was changing during this time of transition and transformation.
I imagined her new life as one that would be filled with excitement, new experiences, and a bit of uncertainty (a new environment, new friends, a roommate, choosing boundaries, and challenging courses). And I remember having complete faith in her ability to find her way – to create a meaningful, engaged life at Clark and ultimately to prepare herself for her future. I knew that she would be joining a community that offered a great variety of academic and social opportunities and that she would need to find her path toward balancing the diverse aspects of college life. She would need to be in charge of her choices – and while there were a variety of resources in the Clark community to assist her – peer advisors during the initial weeks, a faculty advisor, and residence hall assistants – and I wanted to hear how she was doing/be supportive – the actual “doing”/the living of her life was all about her decisions.
I felt myself moving into a new relationship with her, and it was a mindful process – one of cheering what was going well, acknowledging some of the rougher patches (working out academic and social schedules, living with lots of new people, getting comfortable in a new place) and listening to her decisions – not making them. She was an independent, adventurous young woman in high school, and when placed in a new situation I wanted her to remember and build on her strengths, to participate fully in the wealth of possibilities. While there were a few bumps in the road, her enthusiasm for meeting new people, attending and contributing to her classes, and trying new extracurricular activities was a delight to observe… though sometimes those phone calls in which she said, “I barely have any time to get my work done!” gave me pause… trusting my gut, being a sounding board and touchstone proved the path to succeeding in my ever-changing role as a parent.
The transformation continues as my daughter is now doing a study abroad program in Australia. Her positive experiences with finding her own way as a “first year” are providing the compass for navigating new living arrangements, new friends and peers, her own flat, a much larger campus, and very different academic environment.
Dear Fellow Parent,
What are your thoughts about the transformation your role as a parent will undergo over the next year? Who do you want to be as a parent to your teen? I think it’s the question that forms the foundation for thinking clearly about how we will support our teens in the lengthy, exciting, wearisome, cumbersome college search and selection process.
In the spring of my daughter’s sophomore year of high school we starting visiting colleges, having discussed interests, majors, locations, size, class size, diversity, proximity to home… and consulted the tomes about scores and GPA’s, and the alternative guides for the “inside” information from students. While I wanted my daughter to be the “driver” of the experience I knew that she would need support – both emotional and logistical… So she focused on herself and what matched her interests, talked with the college advisor and friends, and we took a road trip. I ‘ll be honest with you, I loved my time at Clark (class of ‘78) and yet I was not the one to suggest that she look there… it felt too close. Many of my closest friends are Clarkies… I was trying to stand back… and I did until her college advisor made the suggestion and then I seconded it. My daughter and I are really different people, yet we share a love of independence, diversity, challenges… Clark’s smaller environment, focus on individuality, opportunities to engage with the community, do research, and pursue a Master’s degree were appealing to her.
We visited at least ten colleges, she interviewed at most of them and applied to eight, getting into seven and wait-listed at one. After thrashing it out, really examining the pros and cons, the gut feelings and emotions, she chose Clark. I was delighted and apprehensive, feeling the weight of wanting her to have the fabulous time that I experienced.
Right now, she’s studying in Australia, yet this is only one small part of all that she has taken advantage of at Clark… She has been stimulated to join in so many aspects of the Clark and Worcester communities: singing in two different groups, volunteering every Saturday to mentor girls in from Worcester, writing for the newspaper, and more…. While not every step has been easy – moving away from home was an adjustment – she has found her own way with the encouragement and support of her family, friends, and the Clark community. Does it get better than that? I think not.
Jill Greenbaum, Ed.D.