Parents across America are a summer away from panicking over whether their procrastinating teenagers will submit their college applications on time and whether any of those applications will end with an acceptance. Meanwhile, reports of the latest average incoming GPAs and SATs strike fear in their hearts. All told, as Dr. Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a B Minus, observes, it’s easy to feel “as if a zillion students are applying,” competing directly with your teenager and nearly obliterating his or her chance of ever getting into a desirable school.
I was not immune from the frenzy, convinced my son’s academic future hung in the balance, as he ran to bowling team tryouts with his medical forms in hand, only to be turned away because the forms had not been filed with the nurse. It was his only attempt at a sport, and I was sure that students needed to play a sport to gain admission to college.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five ways the experts recommend you avoid – or at least curb – the panic.
1. Avoid speaking with other panicked parents. Dr. Susan Bartell, New York City-area psychologist, says this is especially true as time goes by. Parents whose children have already been rejected or deferred may feel bitter and cause more worry for those waiting to hear. And if the rejected applicant seems superior to your teenager, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your teenager will be rejected as well.
2. Don’t let the process consume your life. In the Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions, Sally Rubenstone and Sidonia Dalby, from Smith College Admissions, advise parents to step back a bit from the frenzy. The authors recommend parents find time for dinner or a movie and try to refrain from using certain trigger words, such as “application” or “SAT” for a whole day.
3. Remember this is a family affair. In an ideal world, your teenager would handle every aspect of the college application. In today’s reality, parents need to do some of the legwork. Teens already overwhelmed with SAT prep, classes, sports, term papers and school activities could use some parental guidance to shepherd them through this daunting process. But it can be hard to prevent that guidance from degenerating into a yelling match. Mogel suggests parents divide up the tasks with their teenager. Perhaps the parent organizes college visits and analyzes tuition costs, while the student completes essays and applications. Monitor the progress, but don’t take over the process.
4. Don’t apply to only Big Name colleges. It’s fine to apply to colleges at the top of the US News and World Report rankings, but be sure to include a sufficient number of colleges your teenager can definitely get into. Bartell notes that a real safety is one that offers the applicant’s chosen course of study and other features of interest to that particular student, such as a specific sport or vibrant Greek life. Students should apply to several schools likely to accept them, which they would happily attend.
5. Start the process early. JulieKerich, director of admissions at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, recommends that students start exploring their options early, considering preferences for school size, location, academics, facilities and social life. Applying early to several schools on their list can also quell the panic, says Bartell. Doing this means that the Common Application is complete and, if you are lucky, you won’t be waiting until spring for your first acceptance.
As a parent who has survived the whole ordeal twice, I have seen that every year, students apply and do indeed get into college, despite all our fears to the contrary. Teenagers may not get into their first or even second choice, but they all seem to get in somewhere and most find a good match.