Moving from high school to college is one of the biggest transitions in a teen’s life. Not only are they changing schools, but they are going from dependence on their parents to self-reliance.
This change, however, begins well before the student moves out of the house. As parents, we all want our children to become happy and successful adults. And we all understand that hands-on parenting can improve a student’s success in the classroom.
In fact, you may have read the reports suggesting that talking about school with your kids, expecting good grades from them, and communicating with their teachers are all positively correlated with students earning higher grades and electing to take more challenging classes.
But at some point during the end of a teen’s high school career and as they begin to plan for college, the tide changes. Certainly by the time a teen enrolls in college, it is time for parents to employ a more hands-off approach. As a parent myself, I understand this is far from easy and it goes against what seems natural to you.
It can be difficult to nurture a teen’s independence while also offering the right level of support when it comes to college applications, financial aid deadlines, class selection, and even enrollment. There are, however, some ways you can stay involved while still letting your student lead the way.
Planning and Communicating First and foremost, high schoolers need to know you’re there to help them if and when they need it, but getting into college depends upon their participation and performance. By establishing appropriate goals and expectations, parents can help their kids stay on track without controlling the process. Your role may include:
•Helping your student decide on the right mix of schools to apply to
•Creating a college application timeline with your student
•Establishing clear boundaries about not doing things the student should be doing, like writing essays
•Helping your teen understand how to pay for college, and any financial concerns you have
•Openly discuss any geographical concerns you have as early as possible
•Review Financial components of the applications to ensure accuracy, if desired by both you and the student
•Encourage your student to find their own voice, and use in during the admissions process
•Allowing your student to manage all communication related to college admissions
It is important not to forget that a parent who does not allow the teen to take the lead role in the college admissions process could not only undermine the student’s independence, but also discourage her desire to attend community college.
Embracing Her Role in the Transition According to a survey published by the College Board, 51 percent of high school students say their parents are involved in their college planning, with 28 percent saying they would their parents to have more involvement. It can be a slippery slope, though. Too much involvement and the teen may not take the necessary ownership of the college planning process.
By embracing the transition from child to you adult and allowing your teen to take the lead on the college applications showcases her self-reliance, self-advocacy, and independent thinking. She will still need your support throughout the process, but it should be up to her to determine when and where the involvement is necessary.
Wearing the Sweatshirt One of the keys to striking the right balance between involvement and encouragement is to make it clear that any decisions made by the teen– within the parameters you agreed on at the beginning–will have your full support. This can be difficult, but it is important. Questioning a teen’s plans can seriously undermine her confidence, especially if it feels like her parents do not believe she can or will follow through.
One simple way of letting your child know she has your support is showing school spirit for the college she chooses. Buying a sweatshirt, sporting a bumper sticker, or wearing school colors can be a nice reassurance to a student that her parents are proud of her, and that her relationship with you is not dependent upon her following the plan you’ve laid out for her.
In the end, providing a voice of reassurance and support will send a message to your child that her hard work during the high school-to-college transition will pay off, and she will feel more empowered as she begins her new role as a college student.
Randall Bedwell is a Tennessee Promise mentor, adjunct college professor, and President of College Path Consultants, a coaching and mentoring firm that helps students navigate the college admission process. He is located in Franklin, TN and can be reached at 615.714.0139.