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Butterflies in Flight: Parenting and Metamorphosis in the College Process

Butterflies in Flight: Parenting and Metamorphosis in the College Process
Lauren Watson
Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The other day on our drive home, my nine-year-old son blurted out, “Mom! Did you know that if you try to help a butterfly come out of its chrysalis too soon, it won’t ever be able to fly? Did you know that, Mom?” He went on to explain that his teacher shared, while imploring a group of fourth-graders not to touch their classroom visitors, that the oil from human skin can ruin a butterfly’s ability to fly before even leaving the chrysalis.

When he returned to looking out the window, I couldn’t help but think about some of the well-meaning adults who I’ve encountered in my almost twenty-year run in college counseling. Parents who, with good intentions, end up spilling their own concerns, priorities, insecurities even, onto their child’s college process. And, not unlike the curious and well-meaning fourth-grader, in doing so, risked jeopardizing their child’s opportunity for flight.

After guiding hundreds of families through this experience, I am certain of the following truth: the college admission process can either bring a family and teenager closer together or, mishandled, can create troubling cracks in the foundational relationship families have carefully nurtured. Back in 2017, Ben Stiller starred in a mediocre yet fascinating film called Brad’s Status. Stiller plays a dad who is surprised when college visiting with his son unearths waves of self-doubt and causes him to question his own understanding of success.  Despite a lack of critical cinematic acclaim, the movie is worth watching for parents who seem self-aware enough to appreciate the message.

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Success and Happiness in the College Search

Success and Happiness in the College Search

Beth Foulk
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Lawrenceville School

I had just wrapped up college applicant interviews at a community-based organization in Philadelphia, and a staff member and I were informally chatting about my experience. All of the students were impressive; one was participating in lab research at the University of Pennsylvania, another was learning about drinking water impurities in the Philadelphia area, and an aspiring engineer had built his own computer from scratch. It was a rather self-selecting pool of students; they had already researched my institution and each had a competitive academic profile for the admissions pool.

“It was an awesome night,” I shared. “I have to admit, one of the students really struck me as that perfect fit for my university. I can imagine him studying across colleges, probably majoring in engineering while minoring in business. He’ll love that he can participate in theater without majoring. He described wanting a campus that is highly involved and has a lot of school spirit, and we pride ourselves on that. He even described what he would do with the fully funded international internship we offer.” The staff member nodded her head, smiling. She had requested that he research my institution, already seeing how his values, goals, and personality lined up with our student body. Then she said, “He is currently stuck on just one institution, though, and I’m trying to get him to branch out. I think he would be successful at that particular college, but I worry that he won’t be happy.”

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