It’s your 17th birthday, and you’ve hinted broadly that you’d love a new iPhone, an iPad, or the down payment on a car. So when your folks excitedly hand you a beautifully wrapped package that is too big to hold a set a keys, you are still somewhat hopeful.
Instead, it’s a stack of books: Books about choosing a college, writing the admissions essay, and finding scholarship opportunities. You are not a particularly happy camper.
But slowly, you realize that your parents are offering you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to be your “partners” in a process that is far more complicated and stressful than you might ever have imagined.
Of course, you don’t want your parents to make all of your important decisions for you. However, you also slowly realize that they have been saving for your higher education since before they even thought of what to name you, and they are eager – and anxious – to help you choose a school that will open the doors to your own future.
What to do in order to balance your independence and family harmony? The best answer I can give is to find ways that your parents can participate in the process without taking over. Your parents may offer to help you with a wish list of schools, plan trips to visit colleges during your junior year, organize files and folders, help you with your activities list, and brainstorm with you about possible topics for essays. They may suggest parameters in terms of cost, distance, and size of schools. They may share with you their own good and bad decisions about college choices. They may suggest that “legacy” is a good thing to consider, and they may remind you that the trombone or fencing lessons they paid for over the course of the past decade might be the keys to your admission.
When I plan to meet with students for the first time, I encourage them to come with their parents. I offer a big conference table, a welcome packet, snacks…and a spiel. Most of the time, the folks come up with great ideas for essays. Sometimes, the ideas are not so great. But you can rely on them for narrating memories of early signs of your talents and interests as well as anecdotes that might end up being blended into your personal statements. And they have the adult perspective to know what you have accomplished that may just be important.
Of course, sometimes I end up being a referee at these conferences. But more often, we develop strategies so that everyone pitches in with a particular strength. It’s your job to do the research on your schools, to fill out the application, and to write your essays. It’s their job to be your support system. Together, you can figure out the best way to work as a team.
Really, it works. You may take a while to get that car, but in addition to getting accepted to a good college, a positive partnership with your parents will be more valuable than any other gift you might get.