Nine Months of Hard Labor (continued)

5 Tips to Keep Your Cool in the Heat of the College Search

1. Stay Grounded
The college-bound journey is an important milestone for your child and for you, but it isn’t a contest. It’s not about a name or prestige. There are nearly 2,500 accredited four-year colleges and universities and plenty of other options that would qualify as great fits. Focus on helping your teen identify many options. Letting him believe that there is one perfect school can be devastating if he is rejected. What if he doesn’t get in anywhere? There’s a place for everyone. You just have to find it. Read College Unranked or Colleges That Change Lives to put the college search and selection into perspective.

2. Let Your Child Drive The Process
This is her dream, not yours. Offer guidance and suggestions, but let her drive this bus. Students have been rejected because parents have been their ghostwriters and stand-ins. Do not fill out applications, write essays, or phone the Admissions Office (unless it’s about finances). Yes, they can tell. Prod and proofread only.

3. Expect Tension
Sorry, it’s not all rainbows and lollipops. In fact, it’s pretty uncomfortable at times. Teens are going in a thousand directions. Senior year is full of demanding classes and extracurricular commitments. Add standardized testing, college apps, and decision-making to the equation, and you’ve got the formula for high anxiety and family tension. Be understanding, patient, and vigilant. Yes, some kids drive the process without being prompted, but don’t beat yourself up if yours isn’t one of them. They’re rare and annoying to us “normal” families. Remember that some of this conflict is a normal, albeit unpleasant, part of separation as your child moves toward independence. Keep your eyes open, be supportive, and nudge when needed.

4. Discuss Finances Early
Address family finances and limitations before your child considers applying to a college. Don’t let her go through the motions and the effort, only to discover that there is no possible way she can attend. Be sure to consider all scholarships and aid before you veto a school, and never be embarrassed to discuss your limitations with a college. You will likely find an understanding ear and just might get some financial support.

5. Find Support
Not all families can sit at the dining room table and harmoniously powwow about test prep, essays, and applications. If you and your child can’t click in this process (and that’s pretty normal), find someone else who can provide guidance and support. From family and friends, to favorite teachers, tutors, and independent counselors and coaches, there are endless resources available. Take advantage of college and college-related websites, as well as parent and college-related groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, where you can dialogue with the experts. And while you’re at it, create your own support group of realistic parents willing to share frustrations and solutions, and applaud every child’s success.



All parents embarrass their kids—some just do it a little better than others. Maximize bonding with your kids by vowing not to become one of these parent prototypes when you visit campus:

1. The Hipster
This isn’t the young adult, urban middle-class, Greenwich Village dweller-type hipster. This is the guy with the unbuttoned shirt and gold medallion. He’d still be wearing bell-bottoms but no store carries them, and he refuses to shop vintage. Often sporting Italian loafers (no socks), a tan, and a superior attitude, he rarely talks unless name-dropping or giving orders.

2. The Tourist
The tourist favors Hawaiian shirts but can pull off the look by just showing up. He would never carry a purse, but always travels with a bulging fanny pack. (Hello! the fanny pack is a waist purse!) The tourist delights in photographing all family activity and isn’t embarrassed when inconveniencing others in the process. He’d hold up traffic for days to get the perfect shot.

3. The Turn-Around Teenager
From behind, they look exactly like 18-year-old girls, but when these moms turn around, teen boys everywhere just feel foolish. With their “yes, these are my daughter’s jeans” and Lady Godiva extensions, these moms continue to channel their youth by flirting with their kids’ guy friends. The Turn-Around Teenager Dad probably exists, but he’s a lot less colorful and may go unnoticed.

4. The Verbalizer
Verbalizers are equally distributed across genders. They ask questions that make kids and other parents cringe. They’ve been doing it since preschool, so they’re armed and dangerous. They fire off questions like their lives depend on it. Somewhere along the line, someone told them they’d get extra points for being ridiculous. The Verbalizer also delights in waiting until the question-and-answer periods have just about wrapped up, then throws in another stupid question that no one can answer.

5. The Hoarder
Hoarders take anything that’s free. Bottled water. Sandwiches. Brochures. It doesn’t matter if they are thirsty, hungry, or in need of information; they don’t want to miss anything. Married male hoarders are more prone to volume hoarding, because they have wives with purses to carry their stuff. The most dangerous? Married male hoarders with fanny packs.

Nancy Woodward Berk ’81 earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Vanderbilt University. She’s an author, columnist, and stand-up comic. Her latest book, College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get Into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind was published in October by Nancy Berk Media, LLC.

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