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Support Your College-bound Child
Ready or not, prepared or not, when summer is over, your child is set to begin the final, defining and transitory, senior year of high school. Whether this is your first child or your third, each college-bound high school student walks a unique path.
By the beginning of your child’s senior year, you may be in the refining stages of your child’s dream or your child may be considering fast and furiously what opportunities are available.
High school counselor Brooke Nova encourages parents to “start the conversations early about college and career.” Speak to several people about their careers and explore college campuses. Nova emphasizes that overnight stays on college campuses may be free.
Talk it Over
You have been listening to your child’s dreams all through his childhood. You are his first advisor. Now is the time to reflect the intimate knowledge that you have gained over these precious and fleeting years. What are his talents? What is he passionate about? What will he always want to be a part of his life? What does he want to contribute? Making time for conversation and real dialogue with your child is crucial to helping him to focus his aspirations on a possible program of study. Never underestimate what is possible.
Brainstorm a Big List
The first list of colleges and universities should include a wide spectrum of choices from which to ultimately choose. Some of these choices should provide a stretch that challenges your child to reach further. Encourage your child to attend college presentations that are offered at the high school. Explore university websites together and separately. Your child will let you know when your presence over his shoulder is no longer required. You can compare notes later.
Consider Campus Size
What size of campus will appeal the most? As my daughter, Natalie, and I learned, actually visiting the campus was the best way to get a feeling for size. On our visits, we observed the kind of people who were walking around campus. How did the large campus feel? Or, would she prefer a smaller campus? Our tour guides made impressions on us. One professor stood out. He made Natalie feel welcome when she sat in on his class and remembered her name when he saw her the next day.
Discuss Distance from Home
How far away is your child comfortable living? Some students are fine going to the opposite side of the country while others prefer to stay close to home, where weekend visits are possible or perhaps even to live at home that first year. My son, Thomas, demonstrated his independent nature by his choice to study a good six-hour drive away at the opposite end of our home state.
Apply, Apply and Apply
Early in the senior year is time to tackle the tedious work of completing college admissions applications as well as scholarship applications. This load will be lightened considerably if, as Nova suggests, the student has used the summer of junior to senior year to research scholarships and to draft samples of scholarship and admissions essays. Sarah Myers McGinty’s book, “The College Application Essay” by College Board is an excellent reference to use as a guide for those intimidating essays.
Make that Essay Shine
Parents, siblings and friends can help with the editing process. In most cases, the final admissions or scholarship application is uploaded online. Take the time, however, to print out the various pieces and refine the wording. If ever there were a time for perfectionism, the time is when writing college and scholarship applications. Proofreading by multiple sets of eyes can add exponential value. Print hard copies of all the applications and keep them in a large accordion style file or file box. The file box will be full if not bursting by the end of the year.
Support without Hovering
Your child needs your support during this process. Most students this age need help breaking down the projects and requirements into manageable bits. They need help managing deadlines and timelines.
Nova, who specializes in college and career counseling, suggests parents start tracking all community service once students enter ninth grade.
Attend Financial Aid Presentations
Many high schools have at least one night, usually in the fall, to invite someone from a local university’s financial aid office to speak about financial aid.
In his presentations, Director of Financial Aid Mike Johnson likes to go beyond the basic information. “I also try to provide a reality check on what costs really mean.”
Johnson helps parents to consider how much the tuition “sticker price” can be alleviated by factoring in the potential for financial aid in their situation.
It is helpful to attend more than one of these presentations. I attended a multitude of them. Attend at least one with a friend, better yet; a friend who has already sent a child to college if this is your first. A second ear can help with sorting through the information overload. I found it nearly impossible to assimilate all the information, terminology and financial acronyms in one sitting. Allow time to make sense of it all in order to be able to apply the information to your individual situation.
Get a Jump on Senioritis
Senioritis seems to hit all of them. It’s just a matter of how far into the year it takes to kick in. Nova encourages students to finish most everything (applications to college, scholarships and FAFSA) by winter break.
“After the first semester, seniors are typically ‘over’ high school so getting everything done before break really does help,” she concludes.
Wait It Out
Even after all of this preparation, there is nothing to do but hang in there with your child and wait for the letters of acceptance or rejection to arrive in the mail. If your child was taking some risks in the application process, there are bound to be disappointments as well as victories. Each letter brings opportunity for feedback and learning for both of you. You will likely celebrate one day and then receive sobering news the next. Be prepared for disappointment or tears. Remind your child that the closing of one door opens another.
Accept the Roller Coaster
During my daughter’s senior year, she sometimes accepted gentle reminders, other times, she bristled at any suggestions. As a parent, I was continually walking that tight rope between supporting and hovering. I felt the stress of meeting the application deadlines right along with her. Even so, I couldn’t write her essay for her. I was almost grateful when she shut her bedroom door in my face so she could work on it on her own. Later, when she took the envelope into her room to open privately in her own space, I held my breath, too. But the results were hers, not mine.
Whatever the news, ceremonies that mark the end of high school for your child are rich with meaning and memories. You will have endured the ups and downs of a unique and remarkable senior year with your child. The events and memories of senior year will stay with both of you as you take the next step to life beyond the high school years together.
Diane Turner Maller is a freelance writer and mother of two college students.
Published: January 2, 2013
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