The Unspoken Benefits of the College Search Process
For so many families, the college search process is seen merely as a means to an end. It may not be verbalized, but I have often observed that the sentiment is “let’s get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible, so we can move on”, especially among parents. There’s not much reflection on the effect of each step of the process. Granted, most college-bound students today are extremely pressed for time. It’s no wonder a teen can seem overwhelmed with a tough academic course load, extra-curricular activities, community service, test prep, college applications, and possibly a job! For parents, the college search adds one more commitment to an already over-extended schedule of activities and responsibilities.
In spite of this, I would urge parents to take a step back and remember why they and their teen have decided to embark on this journey. By doing so, the process in and of itself can be more rewarding.
Let’s say for example, that you and your teen have developed an initial college list and it is now time to start narrowing down the choices of which campuses to visit. It is time-consuming to make the calls and figure out the logistics, especially if you’re traveling far from home. However, the benefits and experiences that both you and your student will have will include some that you’ve never imagined.
Recently, my husband and I took our son to visit the University of Miami. After spending a few hours touring the campus, sitting in on an information session, eating at the food court and soaking up the ambiance of the university, we decided to visit the Department of Kinesiology and Exercise Sciences. Since we didn’t have an appointment, we weren’t sure that there would be anyone available to meet with him. As we approached the office, we urged him to go in on his own and inquire. And we were pleased when he didn’t come right back. He finally emerged about twenty minutes later with a huge smile on his face. He told us that first he sat down with a graduate student who gave him her perspective on the department and her experience at the “U.” Then he met with one of the professors (apparently one of the mentors in the department). He talked to him about career possibilities and the various combinations of majors and minors that are possible. He was thrilled!
In this case, the great experience was not only the one-on-one meetings themselves, but the fact that he was assertive and had advocated on his own behalf. Additionally, we all had a great day together – and we as parents valued the rare, uninterrupted one-on-one time with our son.
Another area that deserves time and effort is the college application essay (or multiple, depending upon the college or university). I have learned by sitting through countless information sessions that colleges and universities strongly emphasize the importance of a well-written essay that truly gives them a picture of the student who would like to show up on their campus. For some students, this is the first time in their lives they will be truly challenged to dig deep and express their thoughts and feelings to an outside audience. Others are glad for the opportunity to write about experiences they’ve long waited to share. Understandably, going through the process may seem tedious at times, but for many the application process itself generates self-reflection and exploration. If a student takes the time to provide honest, thoughtful answers, this can be a period of true growth. This exercise may help them better define who they are, why they want to go to college and what they hope to accomplish. Rather than seeing this as a means to an end, it’s important to consider this a period of growth – just one rung on a ladder they will climb as they move ahead on the path to adulthood.
These are but two examples of benefits that (if you keep an open mind) you will uncover as you support your teen through the college search and application process. As you go through the process you will definitely experience ups and downs. Keep in mind that consciously or unconsciously your teen is working towards a new independence in preparation for taking that next big step – moving on to college.
The following is an excerpt from the Harvard Parent Handbook that so aptly sums up how parents should view and prepare for this important time in their teens’ lives (and their own!). “A young person is setting out on his or her own life’s course. Don’t try to hold the course you set and have been sailing together for seventeen years. It is very hard to sail a ship with two pilots. Come along, by all means. But keep in mind that this is a new voyage, someone else’s voyage. This way college can be the shared and happy embarkation it ought to be…”