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Is College Admissions Out of Control … or are the Parents?

By Daniel McKelvey
and Robert LeVine

Managing academics, extracurricular activities, jobs, volunteering and social life, high school students often feel overwhelmed. Adding in college planning is like throwing gasoline onto a fire. But who exactly is throwing the gasoline?

Let’s take a real example. My name is Daniel, and my daughter Jasmine is in grade 11. Of course, she will go to college, but who is going to lead her admissions effort?

Who will research each school’s characteristics and admissions requirements? Who knows how to write college essays and prepare for college interviews? Once Jasmine receives her admissions offers, how do we decide on the best option for her? Do I know how to do any of this? Does Jasmine?

“Dad, I know college is important, but honestly I don’t know anything about the process. I have no idea.”

Uh oh. It was time to find out whether Jasmine had any clue about what she wants to do for the rest of her life.

“I like needles and blood, plus I like working with kids. Maybe I should consider being a nurse or PA?”

When my daughter said that, my mind started to race. What schools offer nursing? What happens if she changes her mind, like most 16 year olds do? Should I push her towards a general education instead of nursing? Trying to keep my senses, I ask Jasmine about possible schools.

“My friend’s mom suggested a few….”

Great. I thought I was out of control before, but now I start to wonder how many people have influenced my daughter’s future. When I suggest that we start doing our own research, Jasmine snaps. “Dad, I don’t have time because I have homework, projects, tests, soccer practice, volunteering, and babysitting to earn money … like you told me!” Then Jasmine sprinted from the room.

I wanted to sprint too, but in the opposite direction. The stress in my household is mounting, and we have just started. How in the world are we going to get through this?

My first response was to “help” Jasmine by assigning tasks. “After you get a list of nursing schools, I will review them with you. When do you think you’ll be done?”

“In a few weeks….”

When I told Jasmine to do it over the weekend, we both thought the other was crazy. I cannot imagine what it’s going to be like when the time comes to write college essays. Plus she’ll need practice interviewing for some of the private schools, and how do we find scholarships? There is a ton of work, and the schedule seems to tighten by the day.

In the college admissions process, things get out of control quickly. So what did I decide to do?

I started by listening to my daughter. “Dad, I have so much to do and everyone keeps telling me how hard it is to get into a good college. I feel overwhelmed, and I don’t need you jumping my case every time you see me. When you do that, I just want to scream and run away. I need you to listen to me. I need your support.”

That’s when I saw the reality: Jasmine is swamped and overwhelmed, and I can’t lead her college effort. Only the student can drive the process, but like learning to drive anything, it can be scary for both the student driver and the parent sitting in the passenger seat.

I thought about hiring professional help, but I first had to find a way to help my daughter.

Jasmine had asked me to support her, so we sat down when cooler heads prevailed. We came to a simple agreement: she will focus on the necessary tasks, while I will manage the schedule. That means both of us must communicate better, because if either of us is poorly informed, our teamwork will fail. We picked a monthly time to discuss the progress of our individual tasks.

Jasmine was actually relieved, but there was one more thing on her mind. “I think that will work. But I also need you to respect my decisions and be my advocate.”

As parents, we may feel out of control – and we are to a large degree – but to preserve your relationship with your children and help them make the best decisions, be supportive, not overbearing. Commit to being the best possible advocate, not the driver. Jasmine and I have just started the process, so I’ll let you know how it goes in a few months.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of University Consultants of America, can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email rlevine@universitycoa.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com

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