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Parents, How Involved Should You be in the Application Process?
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If you’re a parent, you’re probably wondering how it could even be possible that your son or daughter is applying for college, when it seems like only yesterday you were dropping them off at preschool or kindergarten. The old adage that time passes quickly hits you like a ton of bricks as you come to the realization that your child will soon be headed off to college to begin a new chapter in their lives. Emotions vary from excitement, happiness, and elation, to fear, uncertainty, and dread.
As parents, our initial tendency is to want to coddle our child, much like we did when they were younger. Watching their every move and protecting them from any bumps or bruises they may encounter along life’s journey is a natural maternal and paternal instinct so strong that it is often difficult to deny. The challenge as they begin a new chapter in their lives is to take a step back and let them experience some of what life has to offer, making their own choices along the way.
Parents often wonder just how involved they should be in the college application process, and although there is not necessarily a secret recipe, there are some things I’d like you to consider. You can think about this through a sports analogy: you can be the coach, the cheerleader, the spectator, or the dreaded parent in the stands that is always coaching from the sidelines.
What does it mean to be the coach?
If you think about any type of coach, be it the speech coach, the debate coach, or a sports coach, what comes to mind? For me, the idea of coach means that you offer guidance while giving students the tools necessary to be successful. For any of you that have had children play sports in elementary school, you understand the importance of giving the players the foundation necessary to be successful. In basketball, the foundation consists of proper dribbling, shooting and passing techniques. In life, the skills may include good decision-making skills, listening, teamwork, etc. Once the player has mastered those skills and developed a strong foundation, the game becomes much easier, and so it is with life.
By this time, as parents, we have hopefully given our children the foundation and skills necessary to make choices on their own without constantly hovering over them to minimize the bumps and bruises that may come their way. Our role as the coach is one that can prove beneficial in more ways than one, although it may be difficult to envision at times.
Being the coach throughout the application process means that you are there for guidance, questions, and support. Understand that taking on a coaching role is often difficult. Oftentimes, we may want to step in and do things for the players ourselves, but that’s not what a good coach would do. A good coach assists the players in developing to their full potential, rather than stepping in to do things for them.
Your role as the application coach:
- Be there for guidance and support.
- Help your son or daughter with financial aid forms and tax information.
- Be open to sitting down and having a conversation about where they want to go to school and why.
- Help them narrow down their list of college choices.
- Go with them to visit the different colleges, but let them ask most of the questions.
- Offer suggestions, if asked, about essay topics.
- Offer to read through their essays to offer suggestions, but never write their essays for them.
What does it mean to be the cheerleader?
If you play the role of cheerleader, the main focus is support and encouragement. Much like in a sporting event, the cheerleader is there to lift the players up and to keep them excited about the game. As a parent, it is our job to be encouraging and supportive, even though we may not always agree with a decision that our children have made regarding where they want to attend college or what they want to major in. No matter what their decisions are, it is important to remember that this isn’t about us as parents, but rather about our sons and daughters.
If you take on the cheerleader role, you will need to be there for your sons and daughters throughout the trials and tribulations of the application process. The process can be daunting and overwhelming at times, so offer them support throughout and understand that just as in a sporting event, there may be frustrations and failures along the way.
Role as the cheerleader:
- Be there for encouragement and cheer them on throughout the process.
- Listen to and support their decisions.
- Be open to listening to their goals and aspirations without judgement.
- Ask them if there is anything you can do to help.
- Be there to help pick up the pieces if things don’t fall into place.
What does it mean to be a spectator?
Being a spectator means simply sitting back and watching how things play out. As a spectator, you don’t have any skin in the game, and you may not care one way or another what happens throughout the game. Being the spectator is probably the easiest role because you don’t become involved in the process at all. You are emotionally and physically detached from what is going on around you, and although you may want the best for your child, you just let them figure things out on their own.
Many times, our children feel as though they are all grown up and that they can do everything themselves. Trust me, I know. I’ve raised three children and gone through this process, and I’m almost positive that at times, they wished I would have just left them alone and been a spectator throughout the process. Fortunately, as they have gotten older, we are all grateful that I wasn’t just a spectator, because in reality we all have skin the game when it comes to college, and our children are the most valuable assets we have.
Role of a spectator:
- Be there for support, without going out of your way to get involved.
- Be willing to take a step back when asked by your son or daughter.
What does it mean to be the dreaded parent in the stands?
Let’s face it. If we all think back to a sporting event we have attended or participated in, we can easily recall the dreaded parent in the stands, always coaching from the sidelines. No matter what the player does, the parent will always have a better way of doing things. Criticism flows easily from their mouth without much thought, and their son or daughter dies a little inside each time they hear their parent’s voice bellowing from the stands.
The dreaded parent in the stand always seems to know best, and refuses to listen to their own son or daughter, despite the fact that they truly love them and want only the best for them. Taking on this role will only cause hurt feelings and regret. Refusing to listen to what our children have to say because we think we know better will only build a wall between us and our children. If the wall goes up, we all understand how difficult it is to tear it down, so I would encourage you to avoid this role at all costs.
Role of the dreaded parent in the stands:
- Refuse to listen.
- Believe that you always know best.
Which role is best?
As mentioned earlier, there is no universal secret recipe to parenting through the college applications process, and each family’s recipe may vary a bit based on the dynamics of the family and one’s relationship with their son or daughter. However, I encourage you to find just the right mix of being a coach, cheerleader and spectator, while avoiding the role of parent in the stands at all times.
As parents, we have been our children’s coaches throughout their entire lives. Trust that you have given them the skills and strong foundation necessary to make good choices, although there will definitely be times when you will continue to take on the coaching role not only throughout the application process, but also in life. Whether we are speaking about our sons or daughters, ourselves, or anyone we encounter throughout life, we all need cheerleaders for support and encouragement along life’s journey. Other times we just need to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, much like a spectator does.
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