PARENTING: It’s app time – college that is, not iPhone
November 2, 2009
NEW YORK (AP) – If you’re throwing around the term “app” a lot but it has nothing to do with iPhones, you must have a high school senior in the family working on a college app.
Application, that is.
And while it’s stressful for teenagers to deal with college applications in addition to their regular school work, volunteering, clubs, sports and jobs, it can also be stressful for parents.
For those of us who grew up in an era when parents had virtually nothing to do with the college application process, it can even be downright bewildering. Suddenly the family calendar is covered with scribbles about campus tours, standardized test dates, financial aid workshops and application deadlines. Postcards, catalogs and invitations from schools you’ve never heard of arrive daily in the mailbox. Clutter in your living room includes a Barron’s guide to colleges and an SAT prep book. You may even be getting phone calls from recruiters wondering if you and your child will be attending their open house.
Marie Carr has been through all this three times, and this year she published a book about the process, with her three daughters’ help, called “Sending Your Child to College: The Prepared Parent’s Operational Manual.”
“It’s not about nagging,” she said. “It’s about trying to help them organize and prepare, and scale this big project down into manageable bits.”
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One approach to keeping track of all the options and deadlines is to create a graph, spreadsheet or folders that you can look at together.
“Kids do really well when they have visuals,” she said.
Carr’s book has sample checklists and charts that you can use or adapt, but if you’re making one up from scratch, be sure to include teacher recommendations, resumes, essays, interviews, test dates, application deadlines and other requirements for each school on the list. Every time a task on the chart is completed, “putting a check in that box can be very rewarding,” said Carr.
A wall chart or computer spreadsheet also gives you a neutral way of talking about a looming deadline or an undone task.
“Instead of asking ‘Is the essay done, is the resume done,’ you can say, ‘I want to get this done in a timely fashion. Let’s look at the components,'” Carr said. “This way you’re not nagging, you’re working together.”
Be sure to emphasize that money spent on late fees for missed deadlines is money that won’t be available for other family expenses, Carr said.
And don’t forget that filling out the financial aid forms is your job.
By now, college-bound seniors should have all their letters of recommendation lined up, but if some are missing, “your child is going to have to nag the teacher,” Carr said.
You might suggest that your child compile some notes the teacher can refer to in writing the letter. Was there a project the student took a leadership role on, or a challenging assignment that earned a high grade, or a topic your child absolutely loved learning about? Providing information like that could make it much easier for a busy instructor or guidance counselor to complete the missing reference letter.
But what if your teenager resists your efforts to help? Should you back off or go into overdrive with a kid who skips a test or just won’t finish that 500-word essay?
“Personally I wouldn’t back off but I don’t think you can nag either,” she said. “Open as many doors as you can and let them walk through the door. You come up with a plan and the child either follows the plan or they don’t. You can’t write the essay for them.”
Some students are secretive about essays and other aspects of the application process. If your child doesn’t want you to see what he’s written, encourage him to meet with a teacher, a counselor or some other adult who can provide feedback and make sure all spelling and grammar errors have been caught.
Carr also made an observation that will ring true for many of today’s parents: Constant distraction from text messages, electronic devices and the Internet makes it hard for teenagers to complete tasks that require hours of sustained attention – like filling out college applications.
“This generation needs a lot of help with life skills. They can triple up on tasks, but they can’t stay focused,” she said. “They’re the smartest kids ever, but in some ways, they’re the saddest kids ever.”
Parents can help, not only by dividing the college app process down into small parts, but also by providing perspective.
“There are over 4,000 colleges out there, and it’s going to be OK,” Carr said.
Beth J. Harpaz is the author of “13 Is the New 18” and several other books.