THE BRIDGE TO COLLEGE
Dear Mom and Dad – CHILL!
Oh, the joys of admissions season: writing essays, completing applications, interviews, schoolwork, extracurricular activities, no sleep …
You can cut the tension with a knife. The screaming? Some of it is audible; most of it is constantly bouncing through your head.
It’s only the most important moment in a young life, right?
Well, no, college admissions is not the end of the world, nor is it the beginning. It’s just an opportunity to collect choices for your education. How you actually perform in college will matter much more.
Nevertheless, we understand the pressure. So how can parents help their students?
The first priority is to actually assist your child. But what does this mean?
Let’s start with what not to do. High schoolers are already stressed about their college efforts. School counselors have assemblies, instructions, and one-on-one meetings with their students. Already bombarded by homework and projects and papers, seniors are all talking about college essays. Every day, those scary deadlines creep closer and closer.
So, parents, how about we don’t add our own stress to theirs?
After working with literally thousands of students, I can confidently say this: mood affects performance, and performance affects results. When students are stressed and rushed and distracted, they don’t write great essays. Although it may seem natural to ensure that your child is doing the work timely – and it is important – how you interact with them, and how you act around them, either heightens or mitigates their stress.
Let your student know that you are there for them, but don’t try to be part of the process in any significant way. Ask them what they want (and don’t want) from you. Tell them you’d like to see a reasonable schedule and that you’d like them to keep you informed, then step back. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make the horse drink. Even if you push the horse’s nose into the water … does that really work? It’s the same thing with kids.
Seven months ago, UCA presented a Town Hall webinar featuring four students (all of whom achieved Ivy League schools). When asked to give advice to parents of the next class of college applicants, every one of them loudly and vociferously said “Leave us alone! Leave us alone! You’re not helping! Please stop!” And their body language was, shall we say, energetic. If you’d like to see a recording of that webinar, contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Yet parents can and should do more than “nothing.” Be a good role model. During times of stress, your disposition will be their guide.
Be happy and healthy. Take a moment to relax. Do those things that make you vital. Instead of imparting your stress upon them, add to their confidence by showing an optimistic attitude. Smile once in a while! You can do it!
If and when you review your student’s essays, don’t look for problems, or at least don’t emphasize the problems when speaking with your child. Instead of “I don’t like this,” try something like “Well, that’s pretty interesting. Yes, you’re on to something. I wonder: in this paragraph, could you add something like this, or maybe rebalance it in this way? I think that might make it even better.” Or maybe try this: “I keep tripping on this one word. What other word could you use here?” Be mindful of what you say; it impacts their mood and their motivation.
There is another moment that will become very important for the harmony of your family: the day of the college’s decision. For the most selective schools, the odds are against everyone. Be prepared to be supportive of your child if things do not go well. Give them attention, give them space, give them encouragement, do whatever it takes, but be a good role model with your words and your actions.
And, if things do go well, please be respectful of the fact that things do not go well for most people. Admissions is very competitive. Be a good winner, and support those who did not achieve their dream schools. Be happy, but do not be obnoxious. At all levels, be a good member of your community.
Again, admissions is neither the beginning nor the end of the world. The colleges make decisions for their best interests, not yours. Focus on raising a great human being and everything will work out well.
Just try to be chill.
Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com
REMINISCING THOSE MOM FRIENDSHIPS OF THE PAST
I was hard at work at my desk in my home office one day, vaguely conscious of the suburban afternoon outside. Somewhere, someone mowed their lawn. The occasional car drove by. Birds fluttered and chirped lazily in the heat.
Focused on the clicking of my computer keyboard and the words taking shape on my screen, I felt rather than heard the tempo of the day shift. Our neighborhood elementary school had let out. Kids skipped and ran or biked down the sidewalk, parents calling out to them to slow down in between the “uh huhs” as they listened to them chatter about their day.
Two women paused outside my window. “It was so nice to meet you,” one exclaimed. “Yes!” the other responded, and I could hear the excitement in her voice. “We have to go home now, but we’ll hang out later.”
I knew that voice. It was the voice of a mother who had found, in the words of Anne of Green Gables, a kindred spirit.
I remember being that mom, scoping out playgrounds and classrooms for The One who could help you get through the hour pushing a kid on the swing or waiting in the Kumon waiting room (pre-Covid). The one you could partner with backstage at India Fest in the thick of costumes and makeup. The one with whom you would wrap silent auction baskets or chaperone field trips or decorate cafeterias for year-end parties and graduation bashes.
In the grips of small-child parenting, I became adept at sizing up a potential buddy, mentally assessing the compatibility of the child and the friendliness of the (usually) mother. Sometimes all you wanted was adult conversation; common interests or background were a bonus. Some relationships were temporary, yet deep, like the “ballet friend” I had when my older daughter was about four. We started chatting one day before class, and soon we got into the habit of saving a spot for each other in the corridor or waiting room and hanging out. The two of us had deep, personal conversations about life and family when our daughters were in class, but we never took it beyond the studio; in fact, we didn’t even know each other’s names and never exchanged numbers. Perhaps it was the relative anonymity of the relationship that allowed us to confide in each other this way. And when the season ended, we went our separate ways, though I still think about her and wonder what her child is up to nowadays.
Relationships like these helped me stay sane when my daughters were very young by providing me with islands of adult interaction in a child-heavy world. While some such connections vanished after the situation ended, others lasted. One friend met another mom at Gymboree when they were both there with their first babies. They hit it off instantly, dropped out of Gymboree and now have six kids and 16 years of close-knit friendship between them.
When you find the ones that you click with, it’s such a joy. I’ve been fortunate enough that many mom friendships have continued even after our children have gone separate ways to different schools or acquired new interests. Some PTA moms with whom I spent hours in the trenches are among my closest friends, and we slip in and out of each other’s orbits even if we don’t meet as often as we used to. This decade or so of small-person parenting coincided with one of the largest influxes of new people into my circle, at least post-college days. It served the purpose of not just personal interaction, but of weaving me into the common fabric of our community and bestowing upon me the warmth of belonging.
Now that my children are older and I don’t have as much day-to-day involvement in their school lives, the opportunities to encounter their friends’ parents are fewer. The kids do their own thing socially. The older one either drives herself or is picked up by friends, and even the younger one hops out of the car with a backward wave. While the occasional new mom friend enters my orbit, I spend more time managing existing friendships than acquiring new ones.