I met with a group of parents over the weekend whose teens are HS juniors. All of them had attended a recent parent meeting at their kid's respective high schools to give them a heads up on the college journey that lies ahead; Sat's, Achievement Tests, and the college choice and application process. They were all a complete bundle of nerves. They were telling me that many of the parents in attendance had teens that were only in the 9th grade!!!! OK, parents stop making yourselves and your kids crazy!!!! That is an order!
If your teen is a senior, go..be crazy. The whole college business would make even the sanest parent turn into a raving craving maniac. For immediate help, check out the archives of my blog on 11/4/11 and 10/6/11 where I have addressed some of the issues that may be plaguing you now.
For the rest of you...listen up. especially you parents of juniors. Junior year is an important year, I am not gonna lie to you. It is a year where hopefully all of the academic foundations your teens have been building over their school tenure start to come together. Their thinking becomes more sophisticated, and they are challenged more in their classes to really put some pieces together. This can be scary and hard for those students where academics has not ever been a breeze. What they need to focus on the most during this year is the present!!!! Your teen needs to put all their emotional and cognitive energy into the challenges that are presented to them Monday through Friday. They are focused not only on mastery in their academics, but if they have played a sport, or an instrument, or like to act in plays or do photography, or build computers or cars or whatever, this is their time to actually reap the benefits of hanging in until it is now their time as upperclassmen and upperclasswomen.
What they don't need right now is to focus on college anything. I know the PSAT's are coming up, and many parents jump onto the "let's get the kid some prep classes." Get off that bandwagon. The whole point of the PSAT is to see what your teen needs to work on. If you get them tutoring before hand, you are not getting a good reading on their strengths or what they need some help with. I know it is really hard to put these brakes on when the conversation parents engage in at school events, in the car pick up line, or when you bump into someone at the grocery store revolve around what everyone else is doing about this college thing. So when you hear that a parent of a 10th grader has hired an SAT tutor, you get your panties all in a jam cause you think you are supposed to be doing this too. So now instead of your teen feeling pressured enough with all they have to do to keep up with school etc, now they have to worry about something that is still a year or two away. And if you don't think that taking on your worry about their future won't distract them from what they need to do NOW, you are completely wrong. Your teen feels everything you are feeling. And if you worry about their future prematurely, they will worry about your worry, and then worry some more about their own worries. Get the picture.
So here is what I think.
1. Do not hire an SAT tutor until they have actually taken the PSAT. This is a DIAGNOSTIC test. Let the test do what it is meant to do. Give your teen practice taking this kind of test, and see what they need help with.
2. Do not worry about coming up with the "list" until the spring. So much change happens between the fall and the spring. Your kid's anxiety level is already so high, don't add to it. If YOUR TEEN expresses a burning interest in going on some college visits, then by all means go. But please, let it be kid-driven. I have seem so many parents and kids get frustrated and angry at each other. Parents because they don't think their kid is "interested" enough in their future, and kids because they think their parents are putting too much pressure on them. You are not losing ANY ground by waiting until the spring. And, you will have more fun with the process when your teens are really ready to take it on.
3. Achievement Tests: These tests are for kids who have real mastery in a particular area. They are not for everyone, and unless your kid is going to be applying to the top tier schools, you probably won't need to worry about them. If your kid is strong in a particular area, or is done with a foreign language requirement, then they should take that subject area as soon as they are done, while the information is fresh. But honestly, don't set your kids up to fail here. If they show a strong interest or have excelled than they are a candidate for these subject area tests, if they are more of a main stream student, I wouldn't worry to much about it. And of course you can always check with their guidance counselor.
So in summary, what I most want you to hear is that there is no one size fits all here. Just because your best friend already has an excel spread sheet on their kids college progress doesn't mean it is the right thing to do, or the right thing for you to do. Try not to engage in the oneupmanship conversations that permeate the high school parent networks. Take a deep breath, truly it will play out the way it is meant to play out. Accept your teen for where they are, and support them in the way that meets their needs, not yours.