Helping your stuck senior through the college application process

By Robin Noble

“He doesn’t seem to be making much progress, and every time I try to ask him about it he shuts down or tells me not to worry.” — A friend talking about her high school senior last November

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High School Parent | College Parent

About now, you may find yourself in this unnerving position: college application deadlines are closing in and your high school senior seems trapped by inertia.

Whether it’s the essay she hasn’t written, the letters of recommendation she hasn’t requested, or the SAT re-take she isn’t preparing for, these are real and present matters. With just ten weeks to go before January 1 (the regular admission cutoff for many schools), your senior’s window for creating next year’s options is narrowing. Some ideas to help get the process on track:

Figure out what’s jamming her process.

Instead of asking your student if she’s finished the Common App essay, ask about how she’s feeling. Is she still wrestling with big questions? Overwhelmed by the work? Anxious about her transcript? If you can get your senior to acknowledge the deeper reasons behind her foot dragging, you can advise her forward in ways that are relevant and productive.

De-pressurize conversations.

The constant chatter about college can be energy depleting. Think back on the last 10 exchanges you saw your senior have with peers, relatives and other parents. How often was she grilled about college? If she’s like most seniors, it was every single time.

Assure her that it’s ok to cut interrogations short. A polite but succinct response will usually do the trick: “I haven’t quite figured it all out yet, but thanks for asking.” Remind your student that what other people think isn’t relevant to this process. Be sure not to press her peers yourself. And show her she’s not alone by sharing this Huffington Post column: An Open Letter to Anyone Who Thinks It’s Okay to Ask Me Where I Want to Go to College.

Talk in terms of options.

It is empowering to think of the college application process less in terms of getting in and more in terms of creating good options. Applying to at least two schools in each of three categories (reach schools, match schools and safety schools) is big work. Re-taking standardized tests for better scores is a grind. But doing these things can put her in the more powerful position of evaluating multiple options come March.

Keep perspective

Contrary to the hype, applying to college shouldn’t take over your senior’s life. Christine VanDeVelde, UniversityParent contributor and coauthor of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, offers this deceptively simple suggestion: “Choose not to worry and let that mood permeate the household.”

Senior year should be about your student having her best year of high school ever, and doing the things she loves with the people she loves. Christine has more great advice about keeping the application process in perspective — take these ideas to heart, and share them with your senior.

What if college isn’t the right path?

Push has come to shove, and your senior is having none of it. Consider that she might be procrastinating because she doesn’t want to go to college (or doesn’t feel ready yet). It may be time to re-evaluate. Start with this New York Times piece, When College Isn’t in the Cards, and know that her situation is not unique or without good options. Have you discussed the possibility of a gap year?

My friend’s son did get his applications in on time, submitting one at 11:55 p.m. on December 31. He is thriving at a good school far from home — and that’s a whole other story.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s new High School Parent eNews and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for a preview of what’s ahead. You can also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow High School parents by joining our High School Parent Facebook group.

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