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  • Writer's pictureaeraustol

Helping your College-Bound High Schooler with the College App Process: What You CAN Do.

I am a college app essay coach, and I need to be reminded of this advice as much as anyone else. I have three children. One is in college, one is about to apply in the fall for the second time around, and one is a rising high school freshman. And yet, I have just as much anxiety and self-doubt as anyone. At the end of the day, we all want to know that our kids will be alright. And we want to know that we've done everything that is in our power to make their journey as successful as possible. And often, because we've lived all these years and made our own mistakes and seen their struggles and strengths play out over time, we think we know what success would look like for our children. We've seen how they handle playground conflicts, how long it took to learn to tie their shoelaces, and how overwhelmed they felt when they walked into the first day of second grade. How sad they were during a breakup or when they were rejected by someone they thought was a friend. We've sat in the doctor's office waiting for strep results, x-ray results, or psych evaluations. We've been right there for it all, and it's so hard to back off when necessary. I have to regularly talk myself down from the ledge of parental anxiety about my kids' safety, happiness, and long-term fulfillment, so believe me when I say, I GET IT.

So how do we NOT bring this Mama and Papa Bear concern to the college app process or at least not let it drive the car? How can we help our young adult children navigate the waters without adding more stress, anxiety, and....avoidance? How do we NOT overstep boundaries and take over the process? How do we resist the temptation to nag our children about all the amazing things we think they should include in their personal statements? Or keep from pressuring our children to take on some activity, career interest, or college aspiration because we think it would be awesome. Getting clarity about what we CAN do and feeling empowered in that role is a helpful first step.

Here's goes:

We can let them know we are available to help.

To drive them to visit schools. Or anything they come to you for help with. A lot of teenagers don't ask for help until it's too late, so when they do ask for very specific help, it's so exciting :) But don't do the thing for them. Just point them in the right direction or model what to do and then let them take the reigns in completing the step.

We can communicate about the process at set times and not at will. Lay out the steps as best you can and what basically needs to be accomplished: To gather all the personal and academic info, the letters of recommendation, study for and schedule SAT or ACT exams, chronical all activities and accomplishments, visit colleges, pick a topic, write essays, etc...With your teen's input, set goals for completing each step, and create a system for capturing notes, drafts, and requirements for all colleges. I mentioned Google Docs and Sheets in a previous blog.

We can remind our children who they are and have become. You can tell them what you've noticed over the years, what they bring and have brought to the table of the world and that you feel genuinely excited to watch their life unfold.

We can encourage them and affirm that they can make good decisions and complete goals. Sometimes, when teens procrastinate, it's because they don't believe they can. Some people have a higher self-efficacy than others - the belief that they can get the shit done and accomplish goals in a certain area. But it's possible to plant a little belief in their systems even in their senior year. Believe me, I know we have to play it cool when we give them (authentic) affirmations or tell them what we notice about their accomplishments, so just fit it in real casual like or on the fly or like you don't really care that much. (LOL) Find stories of other people's successes and even failures that had to be overcome and share them.

We can tell stories about our college or life path. When we share our vulnerable stories, it might put our teens at ease. For most of us, our journey of figuring out what we wanted to do after high school wasn't a straight, neat line. We could have done some things differently. Our teens like to know ways we "screwed up" and ways we rocked the shit out of our lives. There's freedom in authenticity and knowing our parents weren't perfect and didn't actually have all the answers at all times.

We can listen when they feel overwhelmed, ill-equipped, or scared. We can ask what they need, and they might just tell you. It might be pancakes and bacon for breakfast, a binge movie night, a drive to catch the sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway, being left alone. Who knows? But the point is to listen without judgment or stress. Be available, not suffocating.

Finally, we can seek help from a college app coach—hint hint. And by the way, this is not a last resort or an action you take because nothing else works or because you feel desperate. Water Leaf Writing is not a service for the privileged few. Reach out just because you want to have more peace - even just a little bit more - during the fall of your kiddos' senior. Reach out because helping your own kids with their personal statements and supplemental essays (more about these in another blog..) is tricky. Reach out because their high school counselor likely has hundreds of students to serve, and their English teacher is likely already overworked.

Reach out because we all need a little help sometimes. We can't do this life alone.

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