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Unconventional Ways to Prepare for the College Application Process

April 19th, 2008


I am honored to have today’s post written by Margit Crane, M.A., M.S., M.Ed. She is a family relationship coach, speaker, author (HELP! My Teen Has Been Abducted By Aliens!), workshop leader and acclaimed expert on teens, ‘tweens, and their parents. She is the founder of Rock The World Coachinggâ„¢ and is also known as The Gifted-Teen Coach. Her blog is called Rock Your Family!

Margit gives thoughts on preparing our children for the college application process that perhaps we haven’t considered before. Enjoy!

College is a big deal. It involves all kinds of “firsts,” depending on which college your teen chooses. It is not uncommon for kids to greet their first semester with enthusiasm and finish it in a state of frustration, confusion, regret and even depression. Below are three areas to explore before you and your teen dive into the college application process.

1. Is college right for your teen?

Before you enter into the college preparation world (a job in and off itself), it is worth asking whether your child, (each child individually, not collectively), is best served by attending college. This is not a question about his or her intelligence. It is a question about aptitude, preferences, and psychology. Children can have successful, meaningful lives without going to college. For these kids, college stifles, frustrates, or humiliates.
Further, there is not one “right” way to do college, nor is there one “right” college that will make or break your child’s future. There are different ways to attend college:

  • Full-time, straight out of high school, attending a two-year college
  • Full-time, straight out of high school, attending a four-year college
  • Part-time, in combination with a job
  • Full-time, after working for a while

2. Clear out your own preconceptions about college.

Parents often unknowingly impose their own biases about college on their teens. Which of these sound familiar?

If my child goes to college…

  • He/she will be more successful.
  • He/she will have the opportunity to excel to a degree that I couldn’t.
  • I will feel like I’ve been a great parent.
  • It will be good for my reputation with my friends and acquaintances.
  • He/she will have an easy time because my child is gifted and teachers are more understanding and generous to gifted students.
  • It will build his/her character.
  • He/she will be living his/her dream.

The only one of these that is unreservedly and whole-heartedly about your teen is the last one. All the others, while well intentioned, are about you. As parents we always want to have our kids’ best interests at heart, but sometimes we’re a bit off base!

3. Teach your teen to know, trust, and love themselves.

Parents often ignore all or part of this process because we ourselves are lacking in these key areas. We have learned to get through life with a begrudging acceptance of ourselves, or at least an acceptance of how others see us. But has this made us happy?
Teens often choose colleges that are wrong for them simply because their best friend, girlfriend, or favorite uncle loves that school or town. You can help your teen by asking these questions and helping him/her figure out the answers over an extended period of time:

  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  • Do you thrive in a smaller or larger community (town or learning environment)?
  • Are you a conventional or unconventional thinker?
  • Do you thrive in independent learning environments or in groups?
  • Are you notably sensitive or emotional or do you adapt easily to change?

You may be reading these and feeling that one choice is preferable to the other. This is not true. That presupposition is based on cultural biases, our own limited experience and insecurities.
For instance, Americans tend to value extroverts and label introverts as “dysfunctional” or “nerdy” or “anti-social.” This is a prejudice; some of history’s greatest thinkers, movers and shakers have been introverts.

In conclusion, it is crucial that we be available to encourage our teenagers by seeking to understand them rather than focusing on them understanding us; listening to them first, and then talking. We must take our egos out of these preparatory interactions so that we raise the adults our teens are meant to be. Teens who are misunderstood feel invisible, and teens that feel invisible will either shut down to confirm their invisibility or will act out dramatically so that they are noticed. Taking time to look at this process will save quite a bit of future family frustration.

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