Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How to Get Juniors on the Right Path to College

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Fall of junior year is a crucial time in the college selection process.  Junior parents see senior parents in hysterics, so they go home and ask their student about their college plans.  When the junior understandably says “I don’t have one”, the parent gets anxious, which now makes the junior anxious—and since you’re in crunch time helping seniors apply to college, neither one knows what to do, and you just don’t have time to talk.

So what can you do to help them out?  Get them talking to each other.

College admissions officers will tell you the key to a smooth college process lies with clear, frequent communication between parents and students.  That doesn’t happen when a parent asks Bobby about the PSAT just as he’s heading out to the gameFriday night, and it really doesn’t happen when Simone comes home and says “There’s a college fair across town tonight, Can we go?” 

The way to avoid this chaos is to plan ahead.  Parents and their student agree on a regularly scheduled weekly meeting where all they will talk about, for 20 minutes or so, is college.  Usually held on the weekend, it’s scheduled at a time when everyone can focus on college issues, and where no question is a bad one.  Parents can ask about testing, visiting college campuses, and ideas about majors; students can ask about going to campus with friends, a summer program they’d like to attend, or if they really have to apply to the college Mom and Dad attended.  Everyone asks questions, everyone gets answers; if some questions need research, homework is assigned, and the answers are shared at next week’s meeting…

…because that’s the next time college gets discussed. The weekly meeting is an opportunity for students to take ownership of the college selection process, something colleges say is a key to a successful transition to the independence students need once they start going to college.  By starting the 20 minute meetings in the fall of the junior year, parents are giving their junior time to grow in the role; if the student forgets to ask their counselor about the local college fair, they get a second chance to ask the following week.  That will come in handy when the less-forgiving application deadlines roll around senior year – the student has had a year to learn the importance of following through with timely college information.

The 20 meeting meetings are held every week school is in session, from the start of junior year to the middle of senior year, once financial aid applications are submitted.  Parents may wonder just what they’ll talk about for all those weeks, so it’s helpful to put together a schedule of topics for them and publish it on your Web site, through your parent newsletter, or even through social media.  College visits, college fairs, testing, college searches, kinds of colleges, kinds of application deadlines, senior year schedule, college essays, college applications, transcripts, summer programs, community service, and paying for college, make it easy to develop topics and questions for parents and students to consider—and just think of all the questions you won’t have to answer, when parents and students discover the answers together.

It’s too easy for anxious students and worried parents to stop talking to each other out of frustration or embarrassment. You don’t always have to be there to keep the conversation going, as long as the opportunity exists for them to keep the conversation going on their own.  The 20 minute meeting is one of those simple solutions that works—it’s a college game-changer.

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