Experiencing anxiety as a parent is normal when it comes to your student’s college search. However, there are ways to cope with your anxiety so it doesn’t negatively impact your student’s experience. Here are some tips from Meredith’s Director of Admissions, Shery Boyles. Note: this blog post was originally written in 2021.
I’ve been working in college admissions for over 19 years. Never have I seen anxiety associated with the college search higher than it is today. But I’m sure you already know that so much anxiety about finding the perfect college is not healthy for you – or your student. You’re invited (and encouraged) to try these tips to lower the stress threshold.
Fueled in part by the media’s frenzy over college rankings, the question that weighs heavy on the minds of many parents is this – will my child get into a school that is deemed one of the top colleges or universities in the world and what must I do to help ensure this outcome?
If that’s your question, stop. Full. Stop.
Change your question to this statement: My daughter will get into a school that is a good fit for her future and that’s what’s important.
The idea of finding THE one “perfect” fit college where your student will be wildly happy and always successful is a myth. She may struggle with a class even if she was at the top of her high school class. She might not feel like she clicks with the crowd during the first six weeks or first semester. Developing resiliency and persistence is important. The “perfect” experience doesn’t exist. College is hard.
Rather than searching for the “perfect” fit, create educational options that will provide a positive experience in a community that values your student. A place where she is challenged to develop her innate talents and supported in the quest for her goals.
Assume the role of consultant. Allow and trust your daughter to lead. She’s learning how to navigate adult life. Encourage. Provide ideas. But don’t control. Let your student know you’re not going to try to talk her into or out of a particular school. Assist with calendars, scheduling visits, and organization, if necessary. Also, keep the process ethical and above board; the responsibility for completing the application and writing the essay belongs to your student. If she has questions or concerns, direct her to her admissions counselor. Colleges and universities that are good at challenging and supporting students have an admissions counselor ready and eager to work with your student.
Limit conversations about the college search to days and times of the week that will move the process forward. Then stick with the plan. Perpetual talk and constantly checking in tends to create anxiety and hinder progress. Consider limiting conversation and status updates to one day per week or certain hours of the day. Dinner time may not be the best. Saturday mid-morning coffee or Sunday afternoon may be more helpful to the process. As a junior and senior, your student probably has a lot of demands on her time – AP classes, homework, and extra-curricular responsibilities. The college search is certainly important. It needs tending. But creating a plan for discussion can help relieve anxiety and move the process forward.
Encourage your student to visit her top choice schools – it’s the single most important aspect of her college search. A first visit during junior year is ideal and a second visit during her senior year is important. She should speak with faculty about academic programming and internship opportunities. (And remember, although in-person visits can be challenging for a variety of reasons – virtual visits and other resources are available.) Having conversations with current students is invaluable. And speaking with her admissions counselor about the application process, scholarships, and financial aid is critical to making an informed decision about her future.
Using the tips above can help lower the stress that surrounds the college search. What if the college search process became a time of building and strengthening relationships that ultimately lead to a great college choice – a place where your student will be challenged and supported to reach her goals in college and beyond. College admissions counselors are here, ready to help.