Parenting Your College-Bound High School Senior (& Parents of HS Juniors Take Note)


I get it. You are between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you want to allow space to let your emerging adult take the reins and handle the college application process. On the other hand, you quake in your boots thinking about the [remote] possibility that your high school senior will extend their stay with you yet another year as their peer group moves on. There is no getting around the inherent risks of parenting your college-bound high school senior.

Before I attempt to spout any wisdom, I want you to know that I am operating on several assumptions:

  1. You have had an honest conversation with your student about what you are willing to do financially. If you can’t/won’t spend a quarter of a million dollars on an undergraduate degree, don’t say, “If you do you part and work hard, we’ll make sure you can go anywhere you are able to get in.” Trust me when I say that your students will be happier if they know the parameters of your largesse.
  2. You have not gotten bit with the “college rankings” bug. It’s tempting to think that a highly-ranked school whose acceptance rate has dropped to the single digits must be better. Not so fast! Rankings are weighted arbitrarily and are not good indicators of a college’s quality or positive outcomes for its students. In fact, research shows that there is no significant relationship between a school’s selectivity and student learning, future job satisfaction, or well-being. Bottom line: a student’s engagement in a college’s learning and campus community is the key to positive outcomes after college. For more, read this insightful report, “A ‘Fit’ Over Rankings”.
  3. You want your student to become a grown-up. A group of 24 enrollment managers (aka college admissions officers), wrote an open letter to college-bound students and their parents this past month and made this strong recommendation: “To the parents looking for the best way to promote strong, healthy, autonomous life habits in their children who are college bound, we strongly urge you to play an active role that puts the student at the center of the application and transition processes. The skills needed to complete a college application require the same levels of judgment, organization, collaboration, leadership and initiative that make for a strong college experience. Now is the time for students to refine those skills by practicing them and receiving constructive feedback that allows them to reflect, regroup and try again if necessary.”

So, here’s what I suggest:

  • Listen more than you advise. If you ask good questions, you create space for your students to become their best selves. You are also communicating volumes. Your active listening and discovery questions message the following: You are capable. You can handle it. I trust you. You are responsible. And, in the process, you are acknowledging that mistakes are a natural part of growth. [NOTE: If you are new to this concept, you might simply start with, "Tell me more." And, if you decide to try it out, expect initial disbelief on the part of your teen. You will have to demonstrate consistency in this “coach approach” to parenting before your teen can trust the change.]
  • Set a regular time to meet and discuss progress. Don’t let the college admission process stain every meal and every car ride to and from school. Yes, you need to stay informed, but agree on a 20-30 minute meeting once a week for this purpose. The agreement is that you can ask the questions you want to ask, and your student will be spared the nagging in between meetings. If your student asks for help in organizing a timeline or making a call to get info during the school day, feel free to offer assistance.
  • Celebrate the small victories. Your student has completed the first draft of The Common App essay prompt. Congratulate your student on the progress made rather than reminding the student, “Yes, but you still have two additional supplemental essays to work on, so don’t rest on your laurels yet!”

The open letter from the 24 college admissions officers concludes with this statement: “There will be ample opportunities to take steps to support your child in this process, but as is the case with almost every parental duty, the vital steps are to listen more than speak and to love the child you have, not the child you want."

If you understand that the college admissions process is first and foremost your student’s job…and you create space for your student to take more ownership of the elements of the process, the likelihood that you will grow in confidence about your student’s ability to handle life in college will increase significantly. What is that worth to you?


About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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