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The Parent Role

Updated 6/1/2022

Members of every generation like to boast about the unique hardships they faced during their youth, but I think today’s teens have earned bragging rights to the most trying adolescence. Our parents may have "walked five miles to school and back through typhoons and twisters" - but their challenges pale in comparison to those of today's teens. Even before Covid, students aspiring to competitive colleges were forced to juggle the demands of sports practices, service activities, standardized test prep and homework, and in more recent years the pandemic has robbed them of many of the positive adolescent experiences that the rest of us look back on fondly. Expecting these beleaguered souls to single-handedly navigate the morass of college admissions and financial aid strikes me as both inhumane and unrealistic. Today’s teenagers need their parents' help.

What’s a Parent to Do?

In a nutshell, I believe that a parent’s role is to support a teenager, help him/her keep the process in perspective, and to remember that it is your son or daughter, not you, who will be applying, deciding, and ultimately attending college. This last injunction is a tall order, and if you make it through the entire process without once saying “we” signed up for the October SAT or applied to this or that college, I applaud you. You’re a better person than I am.

Given the amount of time, money, and psychic energy that you will be investing in your teen’s college application process, it’s only natural for some of your own hopes, dreams, and ego to crash the party. But resist.  Remind yourself regularly that your child’s college admissions process should not be about earning the right to wear a “Proud Parent of a Yalie” sweatshirt or rewriting an unsatisfactory chapter from your own life history. It’s about helping your child find a school where he or she will be happy and successful.

You’ll note that I’ve been careful to be gender neutral in the preceding paragraphs by using the terms “son or daughter” – and I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s tiresome. In the rest of the website I alternate using he or she when I refer to your child. I’ll try to be even-handed in the number of times I refer to a son or daughter, but please don’t count. I’ve raised two children of each gender, and my kids tell me I treated them equally, so trust me on this – I don’t have favorites.

The Big Picture

This website is intended for parents of all college bound students, whether they are scaling the top of the academic ladder or dangling from the bottom rung.  The information – and my take on it – is drawn from many sources; my Ph.D. in education, semester-long internship in the admissions office of the College of William and Mary, ongoing review of admission research and news, experiences with my own four children, and interactions with students who’ve attended my college planning program at a magnet high school.  Most of all, however, it’s drawn from the privilege of helping numerous individual students and their families plan and prepare for college.  Some of the students I’ve worked with set their sights on an elite institution, while others wanted to attend a college with a great football team, a strong business program, or simply a location several states removed from Mom and Dad. I’ve tried to identify the elements of the admissions process that were central to all these families, to simplify and organize them, and to present them with humor and heart. 

 Next article:  What Colleges Are Looking For.


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