It must be September, because the parents of high school seniors
are panicked about college. As a high school counselor, I did
everything but give away free gas to get parents to visit me in the
spring, but usually to no avail. Now, I'm buying my groceries in the
next county because so many parents want to solve their senior's
college woes in Aisle 6 of the corner supermarket.
The stress of applying to college is not lost on me. But unlike
running from a burning building or scoring a Harry Potter book at
midnight, stress doesn't help the college selection process. If you
feel you're behind, the best thing to do is forget about the stress
and start talking to two important college experts.
The first expert is your high school senior, the person who will
be going to college. You may have missed the February college night
for juniors and the college fair last May, but chances are your
child has picked up more than enough information to bring you up to
speed - plus, they know what they're looking for in a college.
Of course, this might not be easy. Teenagers often seem feisty,
uncommunicative, and embarrassed by your every move. Ask them about
college plans, and you may as well be doing the Macarena at the bus
stop. You need an approach that shows respect for them as
independent people, interest in their opinions, and an understanding
of their values.
So go buy a pizza.
Sitting down with a pizza creates a common interest (food), a
relaxed atmosphere, and something to do in the event of an awkward
silence. In the middle of their second slice, tell them you want to
help them apply to college, but you don't want to hassle them. As a
result, you'll sit down once a week for 20 minutes to talk about
college, and unless they bring it up some other time, that will be
The 20-minute weekly meeting is the only time you nudge them
about application deadlines (NOT on Friday night as they're heading
to the game), and ask how college plans are going. In return, they
use the meeting to ask if you wrote the check for the application to
State U., or why you asked that embarrassing question when you
visited a college last week. You get the information you need, they
don't feel you're invading their turf, and everyone gets a snack.
After about two or three of these meetings, you're ready to meet
the second expert, your child's school counselor. If you haven't met
the counselor before, don't worry; the goal here is to make sure
everyone knows how to help your child find a college that's right. …