It’s midnight on the night before my son’s college applications are due and we’re huddled in his room editing his supplemental essays for 12 different colleges. Did I mention I was also eating an entire chocolate cream pie? I thought we had started far enough in advance to get these done early, but no, I was wrong. Thus, the pie. And the wine. Did I mention the bottle of wine? Teenagers are the masters of procrastination. Isn’t there a famous Mark Twain quote, “Never put off til tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow”? It’s a teenager’s motto — but really a motto for their approach to the college application process. Who could blame them? Applying to college is incredibly stressful for both students and parents and it often leads to procrastination. What’s a parent to do to help their student buckle down, get focused, and get through this tough, often grueling process?
First, it helps to remember, that being a teenager these days can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Teens can often suffer from anxiety and depression during “normal” everyday life, without feeling the extra angst from having to get through the added pressure and intensity that comes with applying to college. It also helps to remember, that this is their journey, not ours. They are the ones searching for a “good fit” college, one that will make them happy where they can thrive and shine and make lasting friendships. Come fall, they will be the ones packing up and heading off to “find themselves” in a cramped dorm room sleeping through their 8 am bio class with their red solo cup duct-taped to their hair.
So, how can we, as their Sherpas and protectors and their devoted cheerleaders, help them minimize their stress while also pushing them enough to fight through their typical tedium in order to get those applications done and in on time?
Here are several suggestions, beyond the tried-and-true pie and wine (though never under-estimate the soothing effects of a big slice of lemon meringue for them and a case of Merlot for you):
- Start early! Know your deadlines, make a master calendar and plan ahead. This is the greatest stress reducer. (And it teaches them great skills for college!)
- Keep things in balance. It’s okay to push to help your kid through the process but don’t push too hard. This line is different for every teen. Keep an eye on yours to make sure they’re sleeping, eating, socializing, and staying slightly annoyed at you. In other words, that they’re behaving normally.
- Stay organized. Help your student break large tasks into smaller tasks and put those tasks on lists. Again, a great skill to learn for college and beyond.
- Be honest about the anxiety. Let your teen tell you which parts of the process make them anxious and support them through those parts.
- Stow your baggage. Your concern boils over into their concern. Again, a gentle reminder that this is their journey to their “good fit” college. You may have loved your alma mater but it may not be the right fit for your student. Take a step back and remind yourself, this is about them.
- Encourage reflection. The best applications are authentic reflections of your student. Allowing them to find what makes them special, what makes them who they are, will give them confidence, not just in their application but also in life.
- There’s a lid for every pot. There are over 4,000 colleges in the US. There isn’t one perfect school. Sometimes our kids need to be reminded of that. Frank Bruni wrote the NY Times bestseller, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be” with just this sentiment in mind. Take a few moments during this process to maybe peruse this book, it’s worth the read.
- You’re not alone. There’s a lot of help out there if you and your student want help with the college application process. Mentors 4 College offers free one-to-one mentoring for students and families – helping them navigate all that the college application process entails. Our co-founder even bakes a mean Key Lime pie.
Contact us for a free, trained mentor at mentors4college.org.