The leaves are starting to change, the air is turning crisp and fall like, and that means that we are upon the annual Columbus Day weekend ritual of visiting colleges with your high school junior or senior. If you seem way more excited to visit colleges than your junior or senior, I think I can help you understand why.
For parents the anticipation of their child all grown up and ready to go off to college is both exciting and terrifying. Remembering their own college years, they can't wait for their kids to experience all the wonderful things they did, which may even have included finding the love of their life and marrying them. Hello mom and dad! But there is trepidation as well, two years full of what if's? What if my kid doesn't get the grades, and SAT's that will get him/her into the college I want, I mean they want to go to? What if they don't write their essays on time, or worse, they are bad? What if they don't get their applications in early? What if we don't have enough money to send them to the school of our I mean their dreams? What if my best friend's kid has better grades and better SAT's and gets their essays and applications in before mine, and they get into the school I want my son/daughter to get in? And what if........ This is the stuff ulcers are made of.
So you become the college Nazi's. You vill get your essays done this weekend, or you won't go out!!!! You vill go with us to visit colleges on the weekends we want you to go! You vill go to SAT tutoring or you are grounded! And for all this commitment and time and money you give to your teen in support of this college journey, what do you get in return "leave me alone, I'll do it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Here are the questions your teen is asking. What if I don't get in anywhere? What if I disappoint my parents? What if my SAT scores suck, I will be humiliated. How do they handle their anxiety, they avoid, they procrastinate, they miss dates. Why, because once they put themselves on paper in an essay, in an application, on an SAT score, it is out in the world for people to judge. And when they don't get into the school of your, I mean their choice it will be an affirmation of what they knew all along, I am just not good enough! Your teen does care about this process. Way more than they are showing you. So if you are only paying attention to their outward displays of attitude and avoidance you are missing the boat, and may actually be exacerbating the problem.
Use some " I get It moments" to crack the code. You might have this conversation; " I get this whole college thing is really hard. You have a lot on your plate this year, just keeping up with school stuff, your sport/theater/job, your friends, and now on top of all that, you have to deal with all this college stuff. I was wondering whether you feel like we are putting too much pressure on you, and you're worried you might disappoint us?" ( Now wait for their answer) After you get their take on that, assure them: " We have total confidence in you. There are a lot of things in this process no one can control, like who colleges accept, and that really seems like it is a crap shoot anyway. We just want to make sure that you don't unknowingly shoot yourself in the foot, by not doing the things that you are in control of. How can we help you do those things without making you crazy. We are willing to help you in anyway we can, setting up some date guidelines, reminding you that deadlines are coming up, getting you help with the essay stuff, whatever, but we don't won't to spend the next one or two years arguing with you constantly about this. We want you to take ownership. That will be a sign to us, that you are really wanting to and ready for college. If you choose not to wholly participate in this process, that will be sign to us that you might not want or be ready for the independence of college. What do you think, are you up for this, or are you feeling you might want to take a year off after high school to get yourself ready? Whatever you choose is fine with us, but commit to one or the other."
Just thought I would also throw in a few college visit tips. Remember this is your teen's opportunity to jus soak in the atmosphere. This is not the visit where they are worried about what the biology labs look like, or course selection. I know that's what you are interested in, but for these first visits, you really need to zip up, and let it be about them. They are looking at the students and wondering, are there kids here I could imagine being my friends? Does the campus feel like a place I feel comfortable and safe in? Could I sleep in this dorm and imagine myself feeling at home? This is what interests them. So walk along side them, keep a low profile, and if you have questions ask them another time. There will always be the second visit if they like and most importantly, if they get in!!! Many kids avoid the college visits prior to acceptance, because they worry that if they "fall in love" with a school and don't get in, it would feel devastating. So keep that in mind.
On the drive home, try to refrain from sharing your impressions the second you get in the car. Often parents are way more enthusiastic about a school than their teen is, and that shuts them down from talking to you. Give them time to digest. Some teens will start talking right away, others need to process. Remember that visiting colleges makes everything about the college process feel really real and maybe scary, and they might need some time to just sit with it all. So if they immediately put their earbuds in, just let them be. And then, on your way home, stop for a bite to eat, an ice cream, a coffee, and maybe ask a, "so what did you think?" in a calm neutral voice, and see where it goes.
Here is the thing, if your kid wants to go to college, this will work itself out. Maybe it won't be your first choice or their first choice, but if I have learned anything over the last 30 years it is that kids are amazingly adaptable, and whereever they end up becomes the place they want to be, and if it isn't they can always transfer, and you can do this all over again...yay!