18 Nov Navigating college applications
All around the school, students are putting tremendous efforts into getting away from Woodstock. That is, our seniors are busy preparing their applications which will very shortly see them moving off to study at colleges and universities around the world. Moving from school to college is a crossroads moment in young people’s lives, and the decisions they make now will plot the course for their educational journey for at least the coming years, and perhaps much longer. There’s no doubt that this can be a stressful time for both students and parents alike, but there is support out there which can help guide you through the process.
Our Head of College Counselling, Swati Shrestha, shared an excellent article from Harvard which is a must-read for parents who are currently helping their students with their application or will be doing so in the future. Ethical Parenting in the College Admissions Process, from Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project, is a blueprint for families going through this process. It has great advice on how to do so without compromising your moral compass or missing the bigger picture of what’s best for your child. It details seven points, which all are important for parents to bear in mind when supporting their child through the application process, but one in particular really resonated with me.
This is to “keep the focus on your teen”. Harvard’s advice emphasizes that the process should be an opportunity to get to know your child in a deeper way – “to understand what they are drawn to, hope for, fret about, and value in others and themselves—and to help them articulate an authentic identity in a college application”. A great deal of an individual’s adult identity takes shape during the formative teenage years, but their ability to articulate this may take a little longer to catch-up. This means you may have to work harder to really get to understand your child’s interests and ambitions, but the rewards are well worth it. The admissions process can be challenging enough without miscommunication about what they really want (as opposed to what you think is best for them) muddying the water.
Harvard warns against the risk of confusing our needs with those of our children, for instance by tacitly pressuring them “to attend a college to live out our dreams, reproduce or own college experience, or elevate our own social status”. This is a common trap parents can fall into and isn’t restricted to college applications – it’s perfectly normal for parents, with the best intentions, to hold ambitions for their child to be the star player on a sports team, or graduate as a doctor or lawyer. If you had a life-defining time at a certain college or studying a specific subject, it’s understandable that you’d want your child to share your experience. But pressuring a teen, subconsciously or otherwise, into a path that doesn’t pique their interest can be detrimental to their college application, and harm their ability to thrive if they are successful.
Colleges value authenticity in their prospective students, and students flourish when immersed in something they’re passionate about. My experience is that the most successful students in secondary education are the ones with a deep-set love of learning for their subject matter. If your child doesn’t share the same passions and goals as you do, that doesn’t mean you haven’t done your job as a parent. Quite the contrary, you’ve given them the support and freedom to let them find their niche in the world. Embrace this and your child will be a happy and engaged student.
Dr Craig Cook, Principal