This is the first of a two-part series about that pressure-filled process many of our kids face as their school years come to an end: the college application process. Part one is a helpful list of do’s and don’ts for parents who don’t want to lose their mind or their child. Part two will address application terminology and options beyond college.
By Zaiba Hasan
I was folding laundry and listening to my favorite podcast (Mommying While Muslim
) when I had the rare pleasure of seeing my eldest child, Z1, walk into my room with a puzzled expression. He crawled into my bed – remnants of the little boy he used to be flashing before my eyes – let out a huge sigh, and said, “Who am I?”
I took out my AirPods, sat down next to him, looked into his worried eyes and asked, “Are you on drugs?”
He laughed and proceeded to tell me that “Who are you?” was a prompt on one of his college applications, and he had no clue how to even begin to answer that question.
Z1 is the first of my kids to be going through the college application process, and though we have read all the books, gone to all the classes, and met with the appropriate counselors, no one actually talks about the impact the process has on the entire family. To say it is “stressful” is putting it mildly – and to think, I have to go through this three more times! (Insha’Allah.)
The good news for you all is that I am a quick study and have been taking notes. So, here are some parenting do’s and don’ts that will hopefully make college applications time easier for your family. Of course this list is not all-encompassing. You’ll need to really understand how your child works, handles stress and organizes themselves and so much more. But these parenting do’s and don’ts should help ease things along the way.
First, the Don'ts
DON’T pressure your child to go to a college YOU want him/her to attend. Of all my advice to parents on this subject, this is by far the most important piece. Your child needs to go to a school where they can thrive. It’s not enough just to get accepted to college; they actually need to do well there. There are roughly 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States alone, and many of them are great places where your child can find their spark, their people, their passion.
Guide them with unconditional support – and know that there are plenty of successful people who didn’t go to the Ivies! (What are Ivy League schools
and why are they considered “Ivy League”?)
DON’T project your 18-year-old self onto your child. If you are one of those parents that went to a top school in the ’90’s, do you think you’d get into that same school today? Remember that with the introduction of the Common Application, it became easier for people to apply to multiple schools. This gave colleges more applicants to choose from, lowering many schools’ admission rates.
So if you find yourself saying, “Back in my day…” Please do everyone a favor and just stop.
DON'T make every conversation with your high-schooler or your spouse about college applications. Trust me, these kids are getting it from their teachers, peers, and the mail … they don’t need to talk about it every night over the dinner table too. I’m not advocating for no discussion, I am just suggesting that you set aside a weekly appointment where you as a family can discuss progress, to-do’s, and concerns.
Designating that weekly time means you are creating healthy boundaries for everyone, and things are less likely to fall through the cracks because the meeting is on the calendar.
Now the Do's
DO check in with your child to see how they are doing. This is a normal part of their “growing up” process but they still need their parents in the background. My experience has been that as they grow older they actually need you more, especially emotionally, and being part of their support system is one of the best gifts you can give them. You don’t need to be literally asking, “How are you, really?” but do ask questions to get them to open up.
You’d be surprised by how much you learn when you ask the right questions. If you need some help with conversation starters, here are a few that I’ve used to start the conversation that hopefully leads to something deeper (and sometimes it doesn't):
1. I’ve been thinking about you! How are you feeling today?
2. What support do you need from me right now?
3. What is the most embarrassing thing your dad or I do?
4. What is the best app for…?
5. Did you see this cute TikTok?
6. How can I text faster?
DO spend some time as a family discussing where your teen might want to make their home for the next four years.
In creating a discussion around attributes your child will need in their environment to foster the next phase of their life, you are opening up a window into what they may want to look for when choosing a college. If your child absolutely hates the cold, applying to a college in Minnesota will likely not be their best option!
Use this as an opportunity to get to know your teen as an “adult.” I love looking at the world through their eyes and it never ceases to amaze me how these little beings that grew inside me now have very distinct likes and dislikes so different from my own.
Finally, DO have perspective. Yes, this can be an extremely stressful experience for many families, but it is also a rite of passage. There are many ways to get to where you ultimately want to be, so if you don’t “succeed” the first time around ... guess what? Try again.
Your child is looking to you for guidance, love, and support. If you keep everything in perspective, you are showing your child that resilience and patience are tools that will help them get through the toughest of times. After all, we all made it through the “terrible twos,” remember?
Part II will include the 411 on the entire college process. To be continued…