Part of my job is staying cool and collected when my clients are feeling the stress of applying to college. With deadlines looming and Early Decision and Early Action results being released this month, high school seniors are feeling the heat more than ever. Parents are part of the solution, though. And, for those of you who will be encountering high school seniors at family gatherings and holiday parties, you can help too. The secret has to do with one simple act of kindness. Don’t ask or offer; just be there.
One of the most common questions high school seniors face on a daily basis, and especially this time of year, is where they plan to go to college. But most admissions decisions haven’t been released yet. And, even if they had, students aren’t always ready to discuss this.
Wait for the student to bring up the college process. Wait for them to tell you which colleges they’re interested in. Wait for them to tell you where they are going. They will tell you when they’re ready.
This is a shockingly humbling and personal process. Students, even the most sociable ones, are generally tight-lipped about where they want to go to college. They don’t want to speak too soon. If they don’t get what they want out of the process, they would much prefer to handle it privately. And, this is a good thing. Because once others, including their classmates, know where they are applying, the pressure to deliver can be a lot for their teenage hearts and minds to handle.
The best people teenagers can turn to when they are feeling overwhelmed or disappointed about this process are surprisingly close to them. Drum roll, please.
Parents. It’s you. You are the people who are going to be the most helpful and supportive to your kids even if they haven’t opened up to you in years. Be ready for it. They will turn to you if you’re there. I remember hearing from a former student of mine that her mom was traveling in Asia for work the day her Early Decision results came out last December. Her mom was waiting by her phone to talk to her daughter even if she couldn’t physically be there the moment she found out the decision. That went a long way. Tears of joys through FaceTime were exchanged moments later and the mom was grateful she got up in the middle of night to be ready for that call.
It’s tough being a parent. We can’t always “be there” for our kids when things happen – good or bad. But sometimes holding our tongue is the hardest part especially when it comes to our kids’ futures. As much as we want to weigh in this time of year, let them do the talking. Be there for the hug, the shoulder to cry on, or the most ebullient moment when they see that fantastic five-letter word: A-D-M-I-T. You will get more out of that moment, and so will they, if you give them the confidence to react in their own way.
Which leads me to last piece of advice: Gift giving. If you don’t know exactly where the student is going, hold off buying them a college sweatshirt for the holidays. I promise that the college stores will restock their clothing almost daily this time of year. Wait until it’s official. If not, the student will feel the pressure of their own expectations. When the college sweatshirt gets worn for the first time, they will know for sure where they are going and be willing to share it with everyone.
This time of year can be magical even when we are faced with hurdles and setbacks. Teenagers can be especially vulnerable; even the ones getting a college acceptance this month. Change is on the horizon and they feel it coming. Let them decide when, how, and where to share their choices for college. It should be on their terms.
So, resist the urge to ask them where they want to go to college this holiday season. Instead, ask them about the best gift they received or gave to someone. It will surely put a smile on their face. And, you might be surprised by what they reveal.