Picking the Battle

On the eve of my departure for the spring conference of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) – where a group of my colleagues and I have been selected to present on best practices for new consultants (ee!) – it’s time to regroup. It’s May, after all. May is really when spring arrives here in the Midwest (usually) and it’s the time when we educational consultants bid final farewell to the seniors we’ve worked with for many months and rev up our work with the juniors who are soon to be seniors, plus meet the sophomores who will soon be juniors. (It’s the high-school-to-college circle of life, folks. Welcome to my world.)

With the arrival of the IECA conference and the shift in my work with students, however, I always take the opportunity May presents to take a step back and evaluate what I learned last year to determine if there’s anything I want to change moving forward. (It’s particularly important to do this before I get to the conference because there will be a trade fair featuring the latest college prep tools on the market and it’s vital to know exactly what I want to do next year before that inevitable moment of “OOH! SHINY!”)

And if we’re being honest, parents, I’m not really alone in that, am I? There are a lot of inevitable “Ooh – shiny!” moments ahead for you and your family in the forthcoming college search and application process – moments that can be hard to resist when you begin to think of all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences your children can have, the advantages they’ll have in the job market, the connections they’ll make…

Hold it right there.

Somewhere along that train of thought, the entire college search process derailed, didn’t it? The control of it left your student’s control and fell to you. You saw opportunities. You got excited about experiences. You saw your daughters and sons employed and happy.

You made the plan while they’re still busy texting their friends about plans for next weekend.

It’s an easy thing to do. I’ll admit that I’ve even been known to get mentally ahead of my students every now and then as the excitement of the search builds around us. But here’s what I’ve learned – and what I encourage you to keep in mind:

Studies continue to show that children and young adults who are given the power of responsibility for their choices are more successful and well-adjusted than those who aren’t. And since the decision of what college to attend and what major to pursue are often two of the first (and largest!) adult decisions that a 17 or 18-year-old student will make in their lives, it’s vital that they feel that they have control in the process.

Granted, students don’t have full control of the process. After all, paying a visit to a campus a long distance from your home will often require financial support from you and influence family logistics; likewise, many families have strict budgets for the cost of a student’s undergraduate education that must be adhered to. So though a student may dream of a champagne school, if the family’s educational budget can only afford a nice boxed wine, that’s a restriction the student must work with during the search.

But beyond the financial side of things, there are certain battles your student absolutely should fight alone – or at the very least, with your support from the the (far) background.

They are:

  • Scheduling campus visits. Sit down together with your student to plan out dates that work on your family calendar for the visits and then turn him or her loose. The majority of visits are scheduled online, but at many colleges (in particular, smaller ones), some options for visit customization are available and your student will need to follow up with whatever communication arrives from the admission office (either by email or phone) to make sure that the options selected are the ones of most interest to him or her.
  • Scheduling barn visits and coach meetings. For campus visits to a school with a varsity equestrian team, the admission office can sometimes help connect a student with a tour of the barn and/or a meeting with the coach or a team captain. For schools with club equestrian teams, put your student fully in charge of reaching out to the coach (by phone or email) and/or a team captain or club president (usually reachable through email). Sometimes it takes a bit of persistence to get through to these busy individuals – your student should be responsible for that as well!
  • All visit and application follow up. This one is crucial, parents. Crucial. Very often, parents ask me how their son or daughter can best stand out in the application process – particularly at very competitive schools – and the simplest answer I can give is that they will stand out when they are in charge of it. Counselors may require responses to emails or request additional information to accompany applications; these are the sole responsibility of your student to provide in a timely manner. And if the additional information required for the application must come from your son or daughter’s school or school counselor, it’s his or her responsibility to make the request and follow up on it.

Want proof that putting the student in charge works?

Two years ago, I worked with a student who had a horribly frustrating meeting with an admission counselor during a campus visit to a school that was in her top two. My reaction, upon hearing this report, was – admittedly – to go full Mama Bear and promise to call this counselor on behalf of my client first thing Monday morning to give him a piece of my mind. After all, I had suggested this school to her based on a host of important factors. I prepared her for the visit and sent her off in good faith and then – in my opinion – the counselor blew the whole thing to pieces.

No one messes with my kids.

The father of this particular student, however (whom – it should be noted – shared my emotional reaction but was more even keeled about it) told me to hold off. He said she had come up with a plan of her own to follow up with the counselor and she wanted to put it into action before I picked up the phone (though that ball could still be in play if her plan didn’t work and she needed extra ammunition).

Readers, her plan did work. And she enrolled at the right school for her and everything worked out just as it should.

So I know how you feel as you embark on this process, parents. I know something of the emotional rollercoaster you’re on as you cast your children out into the uncertain world of the college search and pray that everything goes according to plan (or – more importantly – that your as-yet-to-be-determined plan works out perfectly!) But I also know that we student advocates must pick our battles carefully, choosing only the ones that are necessary for us to fight so that our students can find success in the ones that fall to them.

That’s our job in the year ahead, parents. We pick the battles and set our students up to win the war.

(Want support for the college search battle? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)



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