Muse was a sophomore when we started getting letters via backpack mail about preparing our 15 year-old for college. We sputtered in surprise; we ignored the letter; we were in denial. We felt like we were reading a bunch of spoilers. (I hate spoilers.)
Truth is, there is no better time than your kid’s 15th birthday to start talking about college; or at the very least, thinking about it. Fast forward to your child’s last year in high school (where did the time go?) and trust me, if this is your first time with a fledgling adult in the house, you can be caught unawares. Here’s a bit of a peek into that not-too-distant future.
1. They will talk to you about their college application (apps) process.
Your response: Listen. And hand over your credit card (to cover application fees ranging from $45-$85 per school) or start searching for scholarship money to pay for your child’s tuition (and your sanity). Great source: Fastweb. I cannot stress enough that now is the time to start listening more, and “sharing your opinion” less. As one wise dad has put it, you go from being Head Coach, to Assistant Coach. Get used to it.
2. They will not want to talk to you about their college apps process.
Abruptly in the midst of the whole college application drama, your child will suddenly shut down and refuse to talk about the Big C. Your response: Be casual, act nonchalant, ask if she wants something to eat. Even if you are painfully aware that an application deadline is looming, and your child decides she would rather play Halo or shop the bejeezus out of her Christmas money, say nothing. And take care to not even mention the word “college” in her presence; or to the child’s grandparents as you attempt to update family on the phone, or over Skype. She will hear you.
3. You will feel a strong urge to micro-manage your child.
This includes asking to see your child’s college essay, or hinting at what college sweatshirt you can so see yourself wearing. Your kid’s at the grownups’ table now, and thus will need plenty of elbow room, even if she knocks down a glass or two. She must now make decisions that will directly impact her life (and well, fine, your pocket too – but that’s another post altogether) and that’s pretty epic. Your response: Say to yourself, “my child is a young adult.” Repeat. Repeat until you possibly start to believe it. If this doesn’t work, there is #4, which guarantees it.
4. Facebook and Twitter make the waiting a lot more challenging.
As friends jubilantly post their acceptances throughout the holiday season and the cold months of winter, your child may begin to feel unsettled and insecure. This marks the first time he starts to Think About The Future. You will hear the word “fail” a lot. The pressure at this point is not “will I get into my first choice dream school” but “will I go to college. At all.” Your response: reinforce your child’s strong points. Remind him that there is a “perfect fit” for every single incoming freshman.
The 2008 edition of US News America’s Best Colleges says that there is in all likelihood a college somewhere that will absolutely love your kid. Even if he isn’t captain of the football team, or plays the cello, and or speaks four languages. Even if he’s just a regular kid, like the best of them are. NACAC lists schools with leftover spots in its fall freshman class every May, in the remote possibility that you need a panic button to hit.
5. Don’t be afraid, it’s only senioritis.
When Ferris Bueller ditched school one beautiful spring day in Chicago, he wasn’t just cutting class. He was suffering from senioritis. This afflicts most high school seniors, the high-achieving ones as well as the ones who (frighteningly) remind you of Matthew Broderick. Typically you will see senioritis hit in the second semester, right around Prom. Yet Muse’s art teacher Ms. Harvey tells me it spikes in November, as seniors scramble to complete college apps (see #1 and #2); and again in late April, especially for kids who have yet to choose a college. Meltdowns are commonplace, and dramatic. Response: “We have a saying in the faculty, on the eve of May 1,” says Ms. Harvey. “It’s May,” she intones, ominously. “Duck.”