Exterminating College Process Termites

Exterminating College Process Termites

Kate Peltz
Director of College Counseling
Concord Academy

My husband and I were in the midst of a home improvement project. Everything was going smoothly until we took out a large shrub, could better view a post on our porch, and discovered evidence of insect damage.  More than what I could see, what worried me was the places my imagination took me.  I had visions of swarming termites devouring my porch from the inside out. We did not see evidence of any active critters, but how could we be sure we were not facing a major issue?  My mind raced to dark places, causing me to feel both vulnerable and filled with questions.  How big was the scope of our problem?  Is there such a thing as "normal" wear and tear?  Did every very old home have some insect damage? I longed for an expert; I wanted guarantees.  Then it hit me. 

For parents of juniors in high school, worry about the impending college process is the equivalent of termites.  Instead of a manageable project that might even be fun and informative for both student and parent, learning about, preparing for and applying to college feels threatening and destabilizing.  Here are some examples of what college process termites look like when activated: 

~Parents who have worked hard to cultivate their child's independence question whether they should have done more, or need to do more, in support of their child. 

~Parents who have delighted in the joy their child takes in learning and how well a high school institution has fit their daughter or son wonder whether their grades would be higher if they had gone to another school.  

~Parents doubt curricular choices that they know have caused their child to stretch and grow.  Yes, their child has been enriched, but will colleges care if they did not get an A?

~Parents feel time passing too quickly.  There is a sense that deadlines and opportunities are being missed and that one must be hypervigilant in order to ensure "it will all work out okay."  

~Parents fear there is important information out there they do not have, that others do.  

~Parents worry they are denying their child a critical advantage or being negligent if they do not hire an outside “expert.”

~Parents express feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.

~Parents wonder whether their child's accomplishments will be "enough."  

Years ago, a senior I worked with quoted a proverb I'd never heard before, but that I love. "Worry is like a rocking chair," he said. "It will give you something to do, but it won't get you anywhere." I won’t tell you not to worry, but for the health of your homes and your families, and to stick with the earlier metaphor, do your best to exterminate the college process termites. 

Here’s how:

~ Allow this process to be your daughter’s or son’s, even if it feels messy to you, or off-schedule. Resist the temptation to fix.  For your child to succeed as a college student, they need the independence you've been working to cultivate in them. This process is not just about getting in, but about being ready to take advantage of educational and personal opportunities ahead.

~Believe in the power of your child’s school to be a transformative place, not an investment that will only be worthwhile if certain college admissions outcomes are achieved.

~ Celebrate when your child experiences growth and pride, not just when they earn a superior final grade.

~Trust that your college counselor will share information at a pace that is developmentally appropriate. As much as an entire industry of self-help books, private counselors, essay tutors and college coaches want you to believe otherwise (and invest your money accordingly) there is no "secret" to the college process.

~Realize that when you hire an outside consultant, you might be inadvertently sending a message to your child that they cannot succeed on their own. Some so-called “experts” offer services that violate school’s academic integrity policies. Often, the more adults involved in a college process, the less the student voice can be heard.

~Do everything you can to gain perspective.  Attending college—any college—is a tremendous privilege. Just 6.7% of the world's population has a college education.  Your child has made it most of the way through high school and is treasured and loved by their community. They are talented. They are smart. They are capable. They are interesting.  If they will not be "okay" in the college process, who will? 

~Help your daughter or son maintain healthy self-esteem. If you would not tolerate another person making your child feel inferior, inadequate, judged, or criticized, be careful not to prize institutions that, by the virtue of denying the majority of students who apply, will make your child feel this way.  

~Breathe.  A lot.  And when someone asks what your child’s plans are for college, consider not engaging and instead, helping others to focus on what matters: “Thanks for asking about my child. I so appreciate your care. It seems I get a bit emotional these days when I think about them leaving home. Rather than talk about where they are going, I hope you won’t mind if I share a bit about how they are doing.”  

So long, termites! 

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