Attention High School Seniors and Parents-Breathe It Will All Be OK!
Ah yes, fall is here—time for beautiful leaves, hot apple cider and college applications. Yikes! It can be a very stressful time for families. In my practice I have seen students and parents in every phase of the process and I have very good news for all of you going through this now: it will all be all right! I have learned some things about why this is so and I would like to pass those along so you can keep this year in perspective.
I have grown up in Northern Virginia and I work in private practice in Northern Virginia and I see the craziness that goes on here in terms of pressure to achieve and be successful. I say crazy because what the hell good is it to get our children to some finish line, like getting into this school or that school, if everybody loses sight of what’s right for the kid or what the purpose is for all of this—education, learning and maturing.
#1 Listen To and Follow Your Child!!
Your child is a high school senior—17 or 18 years old. We trust 18 year olds to choose our leaders, to drive potentially deadly weapons, to go fight and risk their lives in war. But we don’t trust them to start being responsible for their educations?! Let them apply where they want to. Let them study what they want to. Let them take SATs as many or as few times as they want to. But follow their lead and understand who they are.
#2 They Will Get into a College That Will Be a Great Fit For Them
If they are bright, engaged students I’m sure you encouraged them to challenge themselves with AP or IB classes but now everyone needs to understand that you can get into good colleges without every class being AP or IB. Explain to them that they WILL get into a good college if they have had Bs or even some Cs on their transcripts. There are lots of great schools in this country and many of them we are lucky enough to have right here in Virginia.
#3 If Your Senior Makes it to Graduation It Will Be a Day of Great Joy!
Your joy on graduation won’t be diminished by your child not getting special diplomas or awards. It will be nice if they do. But it will also be nice if they graduate and feel proud and excited about their plans for the future. Parenting is a balancing act. How much to push, how much to err on the side of your child having a balanced life and good mental health. There will not be tallies in their graduation program for how many AP classes each kid took or what their SAT scores were or even who got into Ivy League schools and who didn’t. You will be surprised how quickly none of it matters if your child is looking forward to the next chapter of their lives.
#3 Your Child Should End Up where it is a Good Fit for Them
Yes you can hire coaches, take classes for writing the perfect essay, learn all the tricks for admission, take endless rounds of SAT prep in order to push your kid into ‘that’ school but the goal should not be can they get in but what is the best fit for them. I worked with a mother who expressed great relief that her daughter did not get into William & Mary. Her daughter had applied and had a decent chance to get in but she felt more comfortable at another school to which she had applied. Her mom said she realized that her daughter needed to build her confidence and she would have felt too unsure of herself at William & Mary (I had another client who William & Mary was a great fit for by the way!) .
#4 The #1 Goal for College Should be Learning and Maturing
I guess that is two goals. Yes I know I didn’t mention getting a job. Here is why: I was a theatre major. God bless my parents they supported me pursuing my theatrical ambitions at Boston University School of Fine Arts. My classes consisted of acting, voice and speech and movement. Don’t get me wrong I had other classes too and I worked damn hard. There was always tech or rehearsals or performances in addition to my classes. But rigorous intellectual material—not always so much so. But guess what? I came out with a BFA and a passionate love for learning. I loved my classes and I lived in a city for four years and learned a lot about living with people and how to be independent. And, as anyone will tell you, there are no jobs that pay in theatre (well not many anyway). But find work I did—mostly supplemented by other jobs until I made my way to some regular work and then realized I actually got bored doing the same show every night and that’s when I decided to go back and pursue my Master’s degree in counseling. I’m very happy in my current career and it all worked out. But I couldn’t have guessed that when I started college. Which brings me to my last point. I know this process and this time of life seems all encompassing but remember…
#5 College is But One Chapter in Life!
Do yourselves a favor and look at the list of where successful people in this country have gotten their undergraduate degrees from. Guess what? You will find all sorts of schools on the list, not just Ivy Leagues, not just UVA or William and Mary. Take comfort even if your child doesn’t get into their top school or one of the most elite schools they can get what they need and that is a degree, maturing and hopefully a love of learning and a discovery of what they feel passionate about. I end this post sharing a story about someone I knew who had a daughter going to college. The daughter loved swimming and went to a college based mostly on that. The college years had some struggles—an incident with alcohol, an academic probation, a year of not making the swim team. At one point this girl’s parents considered not sending her back but they did after the daughter suggested she pay for the semester if she didn’t get the grades. She did get the grades went onto graduate and got a job within a couple of months of graduating. Through working she realized her real desire was to go to law school so she studied hard for the LSAT and did so well she was offered more than one free ride to law school and was accepted to several other great schools. She got what she needed in undergraduate school and went onto to a new chapter where she is thriving. Life is a process—not one make-or-break decision from a school or even an undergraduate experience for that matter.
So keep calm and know that it can all work out even if there are rejections or missteps along the way. Try to keep it in perspective and enjoy the excitement of senior year and the time together before they fly the coop.
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