Well, you can’t.
I walked into the den of my friend’s house to see stacks of files, books, magazines, papers crumpled and strewn across the floor, 2 computers glaring their harsh light, and the printer spitting out paper non-stop. She and her daughter looked to be engaged in a serious conversation before her daughter quickly engaged in a hi/bye conversation with me and left the room.
I turned to my friend, who look exasperated and I asked her what was going on. Turns out it was more than the normal teenage angst; they were at the beginning of the college application process and quite beside themselves. I asked her how I could help and here’s what happened next…
Since emotion almost always precedes logic when we are confronted with making decisions, her first words were ones of concern that she didn’t feel she knew enough to help her daughter decide between this college or that college, ask this teacher or that teacher for a letter of recommendation, take this standardized test (SAT) or that standardized test (ACT), use this essay or that essay, and on and on. How were they going to keep track of all these things? And, she was worried about paying for college. And, she was worried about not having the time to help her daughter because of her own work schedule, and her daughter not having the time to even think about the process because like most teens, her schedule was filled from first light to well past midnight with homework and extracurricular activities. Like all parents, who want to help their children make smart choices, avoid disappointment, and lay the foundation for success — she was experiencing a lot of anxiety over helping her daughter make the transition from high school student to college freshman.
What made the situation even harder for my friend, is that on the outside she was telling her daughter don’t worry, it wouldn’t be a problem, they would figure it out, she would help her all the way. Again, what parent hasn’t been in that situation where you are super supportive and all smiles for your child on the outside but cringing on the inside and wondering how things are really going to turn out.
So, I tried to help my friend as best as I could not just by listening. I sat down with the second computer and started researching colleges her daughter said she was interested in. I started looking at their application requirements and looking at the kinds of students who had gotten in last year. I knew what her daughter was interested in studying, so I started looking at whether a particular college even offered that major. Much to my surprise, instead of feeling lost in the details, I felt invigorated. It was like a 1000-piece puzzle, where you know what you want the final image to look like, and it’s a challenge to find the connecting pieces.
I left my friend’s house 3 hours later and on the way home, I started to wonder if there was some expert she could turn to. That was 10 years ago — at that time, college counseling outside of the high school was a fledgling cottage industry. I was intrigued. I started researching how I might jump into this industry and start helping parents and students achieve their college goals and dreams.
So, that led me to enrolling in an 18-month Educational Consulting Program where I learned the ins and outs of college counseling. I started visiting colleges around the United States. I read books, attended college counseling workshops, and engaged with others in the field. Even with all this information and training — the college planning and application process is not completely smooth. I started keeping copious notes of the problems my students and parents frequently faced. I was able to create frameworks and strategies to address common progress barriers such as those related to time management and organization and struggles with finding the “right” colleges and the likely cost of those colleges. I was able to give my students and parents the kind of the results they were looking for with much less stress and anxiety
At the end of every college season, it is a joy for me to see the excitement on the faces of my students and their parents when the college acceptances arrive. However, what’s more important to me is the transformation that occurs in the family — when a teen takes a giant step forward toward independence and adulthood and the parents begin letting go and launching their much beloved teen into the world with the comfort that their decisions were the right ones for their teen and their family.