When our children were applying to colleges, we tried to keep in mind that these were going to be their college years, not ours. we acted as consultants and cheerleaders, but we didn’t encourage one school over another. Instead we encouraged them to look at many options and to think about what they wanted to get out of the college experience. This included not only academic majors, class size, and teaching style, but also things like climate and lifestyle.
Sometimes I had to bite my tongue. For instance, our oldest daughter was convinced she wanted to go to a Boston college. Knowing that she is definitely a warm-weather girl who liked the cold only when she was on skis, I just knew that if she went to Boston, she’d be calling in tears come January, wanting to come home and thaw out. Little things like climate, not just classes, can make a difference. I gently mentioned the Boston winter weather, but she was sure that’s where she wanted to apply. I was so relieved when she wasn’t accepted there! She wound up going to the University of San Diego, which was not only in a warmer clime, but much better suited to her in terms of both academics and lifestyle.
Our son, a type-A achiever, wound up at my alma mater, but I never suggested he should go there because I had. Stanford was his first choice based on its academic rigor, entrepreneurial orientation, course offerings . . . and because he flat-out adored the campus and the lifestyle. The fact that his mother and grandmother went there wasn’t a factor. He applied at a few other schools, but his heart was set on Stanford and, fortunately, he was accepted.
One of the things that makes me sad about the admissions scandal is that it’s caused many people to look askance at all private admissions counselors and that’s too bad. A legitimate, experienced counselor can be a valuable resource for some kids. Our youngest daughter had no clue where she wanted to go to college other than a big-city college. and there are thousands of good colleges out there and many in big cities, but not too many were on her parents’ radar. An admissions counselor was able to explore with her what she wanted her college experience to be, what her strengths and weaknesses were, where her interests lay and her learning style. The counselor was able to draw on her experience and knowledge of various schools to help our girl narrow her search to a half-dozen or so colleges. The cost was reasonable and it was money well spent.
When it came to filling out the applications, we let our kids know that we were available to proofread, or make essay suggestions, but we weren’t doing the applications or essays for them. We also made it a point not to nag about deadlines—a few gentle reminders were all they got. We figured that they were young adults who needed to take responsibility for the process, especially since they were going to be on their own in college the following year with no one to remind them of reading assignments or term paper deadlines.
Each of them owned the process, but in very different ways. Our oldest daughter, true to form, waited until the last minute to do her applications, dashing off her essays at the last minute. I’ll never forget her calling from the post office the next day because it was closed Saturday afternoon. She had to FedEx her applications which I’m sure didn’t make a great impression on admissions officers! Fortunately, she got into one school and, blessedly, it was the one I thought would be the best match for her. She thrived at the University of San Diego. But had she not been accepted, she would have had to live with the consequences, attending the local community college and re-applying the following year. Like I said, she had to own the process.
Our son’s approach was so different that one had to question whether these two kids sprung from the same gene pool! The wall above his desk was posted with timelines and checklists for months, and he spent weeks polishing his essays, including asking us to proofread and make any editing suggestions. For the schools he applied to, all the applicants had top grades and scores, and loads of extra-curricular activities. I think John’s essay was what made him stand out; it really conveyed his values and personality and was extremely well-written and helped get him into all the schools to which he applied.
We were lucky that all three of our kids got into schools that were “right” for them and did well in college. I think they did well because they had already learned the lessons of responsibility, initiative, hard work and follow-through. If you’ve read Six Word Lessons for Intentional Parenting, you know we started teaching those lessons early. You’ve heard me say that we were “consultant” parents, never “helicopter” parents. We were ready with suggestions, encouragement and consolation when needed, but we let our kids take responsibility for their choices and actions when consequences were small. By the time they applied for college, they knew we were there for support but that the decisions were theirs. It’s a very gradual process, starting in toddlerhood with simple things like food and clothing choices, but if you allow them to learn from them, your high school senior will be well on the way to successful adulthood.
A graduate of Stanford University, Mary Waldmann and her husband Raymond raised three children who are now independent, well-adjusted and happy young adults. Before becoming a mother, she was a successful real estate broker, political consultant and public relations executive, and worked as a part-time communications consultant when her children were young. Mary is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Winning with Today's Media , Six-Word Lessons for Intentional Parenting, and Six-Word Lessons for Compelling Speeches.
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