Parenting Through the college Process

Be Ready to Listen, Book Parents Weekend and more: Next Steps for Parents

As parents, we know that sometimes the best advice can come from fellow parents who have successfully navigated some developmental step or landmark -- or land mine -- in their children's lives. Here are two of the savviest moms we know -- Lisa Endlich Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington of the excellent blog Grown and Flown -- on next steps for parents of seniors.


This is a moment to rejoice.  Your child was accepted to college and all of your effort and his have resulted in this success. There may be some small disappointments, there may euphoria and there may be some big decisions ahead, but this is one of life’s big moments and it should be noted and celebrated. Let your nearly grown child know just how proud you are and acknowledge how much of his effort it took to get to this moment. 

Once your family has taken a time to savor this special moment, there are a few more practical matters that need your 

Book the revisits.

Your child may be making a very real decision between two or more schools they have not seen in a year, or more.  See if the school has official revisit days when pre-frosh return for an organized program.  If such a program exists, make certain to book a place in the program and hotel reservations if needed.  If there is not official program, make plans for your teen to take another 

Ice Cream, Exercise or New Shoes: Managing your Response to the College Decision

Jody Sweeney, Associate Director of College Counseling at Philadelphia's William Penn Charter School, joins us for our next installment of reflections, advice and practical guidance for students and parents on all things decisions -- from strategy, decision-making and coping through how to talk about your news with parents, friends and nosy neighbors. We like her advice -- "Check your gut." And we love some of her coping mechanisms! 


The envelope please: Whether it be thick or thin, or rather a peek online, the culmination of your college search is here. With May 1st as the National Candidates’ Reply date, it is just weeks until you finally choose where you will spend the next four years.

Decisions, decisions... Sound Bites, No Sympathy and Seizing the Moment for Parents

Beginning today and throughout the next week, we'll be posting reflections, advice and practical guidance for students and parents on all things decisions -- from strategy, decision-making and coping through how to talk about your news with parents, friends and nosy neighbors. We begin with the always excellent advice of psychologist Michael Thompson, author of The Pressured Child. We have always found Thompson's wisdom and sound bites to be indispensable for both turning points and moments of truth in our family life. We asked him how he got so smart about all of this -- and believe me, he is -- he told us, "Hey, I’ve been working with teenagers for forty-four years.  Some lessons they just insist you learn." Read on to benefit from those lessons so you can support your teenager and seize the moment -- in the best possible way.


Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone...

College Admission went to a book party last night thrown by Grown and Flown's Lisa Endlich Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington in honor of Becky Blades, writer, artist and author of Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give You if She Thought You Were Listening. Blades penned 269 pieces of advice for her two daughters, Taylor Kay and Tess -- primarily as a way of working through her separation anxiety as the eldest headed off to college. (Excellent idea, by the way.)

Her words of wisdom range from the practical: "Cooked food lasts 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. That's all. After that, you will have to throw it out. Your Mother will not be doing this anymore."

To the felicitous: "Own a tutu and a boa. Because you just never know."

And the things you cannot say too many times: "Don't text while you're driving."

On to the horrifying but you have to say it: "Keep your knees together when you're sitting on stage."

Waiting, waiting, waiting...


Mary Dell Harrington of Grown and Flown joins us today to talk about the ups and downs students -- and parents -- weather as the wait for regular decisions winds down. It's always nice to have a fellow traveler with whom to share the experience. Read on for a friend's perspective...


Thick or Thin Envelope?

Welcome to the end of the waiting period, the last few weeks of March where kids who applied to colleges via regular decision still remain in the dark about whether they will receive the “thick or thin envelopes.” Our youngest child is one of those seniors and she (and I) know that the April 1 notification date is no longer some distant date in the future. It is practically now.

I have been down this road before with our son and his friends when they graduated from high school five years ago. I work as a PTA volunteer in the snack bar where we sell bagels, Snapples, and a host of comfort foods to hungry kids. From mid-December on, seniors accepted via early decision bounced up to the counter wearing new logo sweatshirts and broad smiles, expressing relief that it was all over. They could now finally begin to imagine themselves the following fall in Syracuse or Nashville or wherever. No more wondering, no more work to do.

A Fellow Traveler's Advice on Parenting Through the College Admission Process

Lists are objects of affection here at College Admission.  There's nothing like a checklist to help students and families break down the big challenge of college applications into its manageable parts. According to author Maria Konnikova writing in the New Yorker, "…lists tap into our preferred way of receiving and organizing information at a subconscious level; from an information-processing standpoint, they often hit our attentional sweet spot."

So we were so happy to see this list of sixteen pieces of excellent advice from Mary Dell Harrington of Grown and Flown -- College Admissions: Don’t Go It Alone-- which hits the sweet spot of parenting through the college application process.

Parents, Try the "College Diet" over the Holiday Break

Parents, we have some holiday advice for you.  Tread lightly when discussing college in the presence of your juniors and seniors over the winter break. We suggest you adhere to the "college diet" -- a great idea we learned about from psychologist Michael Thompson. It has one simple-to-follow guideline -- the subject of college should not be on the menu more than twice a week.  And run some interference for your son or daughter when relatives and friends get too inquisitive or let themselves indulge in thinly-veiled status competition.  Even well-meaning inquiries can add to the anxiety of the process, especially for seniors. So nix those conversations by changing the subject and support your students in relaxing and enjoying this most wonderful holiday. And on this diet, you can have all the gingerbread and hot cocoa you want! Share that with your son or daughter. 

Tips for Parents on the College Essay

Psychologist and counselor Jeanette Spires joins us again this month with advice for parents on the college essay. It can be helpful to parents -- as well as students -- to understand what the colleges are looking for and how important it is for the student to own this step in the process. Read on for more guidance about how to be involved "just right" and why weathering a "white knuckle" experience may be just fine.


"She won't even talk about it!"

"We have a great idea for him!"


The essay for selective colleges is often a source of frustration and conflict within a family. Understanding the function of the essay can be a calming solution to endless kitchen table "get off my back" discussions.

A tired reader hopes to know your student in a way that the glowing recommendations do not cover. How can I know this person better?

What would he be like to have on our campus? How does her mind work?

Years ago I took notes at a national college conference from a dean at one of the nation's most selective colleges: 

          "Don't try to anticipate our politics,,,don't patronize us...don't be terrified of offending us...don't read books of college essays; we've read them all.  It does not have to be perfect. We are here to help you grow. No vague generalities, avoid the boring or overused topics such as the D Words: divorce, depression, drugs and dog death. Humor is always appreciated!"

Dear College Counselor... The Year's Best Advice from our Counselors of the Month

October is the cruelest month for high school college counselors, besieged on all sides with seniors intent on applications and juniors beginning their college search and testing -- as well as issues with the Common App this year. So we give counselors a pass at this time of year. Instead of our Counselor of the Month feature, we bring you a round-up of best advice from the counselors who have graced our website with their guidance and wisdom in the past year. Read on to learn their best advice for students and parents, recommendations for financial aid, guidance on the college search and mistakes to avoid.  One of our personal favorite sound bites? Niles West High School's Dan Gin who advises students, "Have fun… Everything will work out in the end." Next year at this time, you'll all see how true this is. In the meantime, take advantage of this advice from the experts on the college counseling side of the desk.

The College Search

Laura Stewart, Ensworth School, Nashville, Tennessee

How do you encourage your students to broaden their college search and look beyond the four or five schools that they know best?

What We Talk About When We Talk About College

Jane Kulow joins us again this month with her heartfelt insights into the college application process as her daughter contemplates the meaning of commitment and applying early decision.

 What we talk about when we talk about college:  a decision.

"Do we talk about anything other than college these days?"

Our daughter, Julie, asked me that over dinner last weekend, before adding, "It's okay, that's about all I'm thinking about anyway."

Early in the morning, two days before that dinner, Julie and I set out on one more college visit. I cannot say that will be our last campus visit, but it is the last we will undertake before she submits her first application.

Julie revisited this campus with a number of questions in mind: