Psychologists generally agree that stress is something that every human feels, even from infancy. As adults, we think, “What kind of stress does a baby feel? They are fed, clothed, diaper changed – by the very stressed-out parents.” But what they have found is that, in fact, babies DO feel stress, just as much as adults. It’s all relative. Being hungry is just as stressful for an infant as moving is for an adult. And they can’t tell us about it!
So now let’s think about our high school student(s). Not only is the soon-to-be adult dealing with social issues at school, they also have to consider which college will make them the most successful AFTER they decide what they actually want to study there, how to get into one of the hundreds of schools to choose from, meeting the parents’ expectations of them, and then? Moving!
September is appropriately Suicide Prevention Month as well as college application month. What can be more important to us as parents than the mental health of our children?
Dealing with all those stressors is obviously going to affect our children’s mental well-being and we need to be aware of that and try as every good parent is driven to do, to make our children’s transition to adulthood as smooth as possible.
Choice of college
The college application process is one area where parents can reduce stress.
First, the college-bound teen needs to choose destinations. Those candidate schools may be close by or far away, but where they are is not as important as the student’s realistic look at their chance of admission given their major.
Having a balanced college list is key, and students deserve to be excited about all of the colleges they are applying to, that includes the ‘fallback’ options as well. This core college list should always include two or three schools that are absolute safeties, colleges with a good reputation for the education they want, but where they know they will be accepted. This acceptance may be because of grades, test scores, a less impacted major or because of residency, but the most important factor is very basic:
What college the student goes to does not determine their ultimate success in life. There are Harvard grads who are unhoused and there are community college drop-outs who are Wall Street moguls. What makes the difference is what effort the student puts into absorbing as much information during their time at the school as possible.
The admissions process
The second biggest stress factor is the application process itself. There is a lot to this process, admission essays, testing, an activity list, possibly an expanded resume and the list goes on. Fortunately or not, many if not most colleges no longer require SATs.
Recently, probably every student is considering: to AI or not to AI the application essay. Having easy access to an app on their phone that can compose exactly the right essay for admission is a fallacy that many are beginning to understand. What college admissions decisionmakers look for is not something that can be recreated by a bot – at least not now.
Admissions experts have become very adept at recognizing the lack of internal openness, enthusiasm, and zeal for learning that they look for in that admissions essay. These things cannot be provided by AI. That requires the student, with the encouragement of the parent, to write it themselves.
But what do they write about? There are so many things that get tossed around, especially between students who share their ideas about the process, passing around essays that worked and didn’t work. Some say reveal everything; others say don’t reveal too much. While many colleges like to advertise their inclusive nature, that is not necessarily a fact. Therefore, students need to weigh how much of their psychological/social/economical struggles they truly want to include. Concentrating on the positive seems to be key, however, an upbeat essay being far more effective.
Love is the answer
And this brings us to what we parents can do more than anything else: remind our children again and again that while we would love it if they were admitted to the very best school, we would also love it if they are admitted to any college that gives them the opportunity to learn.
But ultimately, we will love them even if they opt out of college or choose to delay. What is important to us is that they understand that the pressure to get into a good college is not greater than the amount our support and love for them.
Dale Price, MBA is the Founder & Owner of Access College America, a college planning agency in Austin, Texas. Learn more by visiting https://www.accesscollegeamerica.org/.