In June, I published a post by a college admissions counselor with this title: “‘I will not help you hide your money when you apply for financial aid’ — and more straight talk from college admissions officers to parents.” Here’s another post, this time with things that some high school seniors would like to tell their parents during the college application process if they thought they could get away with it. Some parents just might recognize themselves in these.
College admissions counselors asked students for their private thoughts and gave them to Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at the Derryfield School, a private college preparatory day school for grades 6-12 in Manchester, N.H. This piece is by Barnard.
By Brennan Barnard
A band that my 12-year-old son and I both like was in concert an hour away and I forged ahead with plans for an exciting adventure together. With hesitancy in his eyes, he muttered softly, “Dad, I don’t actually want to go,” and suddenly I awoke to my expectation, assumption and attachment. Evidently, his music tastes had moved on, but I had not.
My gut reaction was a mixture of hurt and stubbornness. After all, I knew what he liked. Attempting unsuccessfully to mask my disappointment, I began to make my case for this perfect father-son opportunity. And then came his bravest words and the ones that cut the deepest: “I only wanted to seem interested to make you happy.”
We intend to raise our children to be independent thinkers, confident decision-makers, and thoughtful listeners but often it is we as parents who are deaf to the very voices we have sought to empower. We are sure that we know best, and hence struggle to detach our aspirations and experiences from those of our children. We want to cultivate safe, happy, resilient and successful adults, but letting go of our expectations, fears and false sense of control might very well be the greatest challenge of parenting.
As the new school year began, college counseling colleagues and I asked our seniors to share what they wanted to say to their parents about college admission, but felt their parents were not willing to hear. Here are the students’ unfiltered responses:
* “Stop freaking out about me getting into college. I got this.”
* “Don’t project your dreams onto me!”
* “You’re not going to college. I am.”
* “You keep saying you are supportive of my choices, but your actions imply you no longer agree with my choices. This is adding lots of unnecessary stress for all of us.”
* “I am slightly overwhelmed by all of the options there are for everything college-oriented, and it would be helpful to have people to just sort through things with. However, this doesn’t mean I want them making all my decisions for me.”
* “I am doing my best. Both managing school and the college process.”
* “Will you still be proud of me even if I don’t get into college, or am unable to pursue a passion once I get there?”
* “I am going to go where I want to go. I don’t care how far away from home I am going to be.”
* “I’m nervous I won’t get in anywhere.”
* “I don’t want to play a certain sport this year, but I feel pressured to.”
* “I don’t think I’ll get into my top choice college and I don’t know if I’m applying to enough colleges.”
* “I’ve been feeling overworked lately and would really appreciate a little more support.”
* “Sometime I want to have a conversation with you guys that doesn’t turn into a conversation about college.”
* “Thank you for everything but please stop sometimes.”
* “I have it covered. You don’t know what you’re talking about so back off, you’re not helping.”
* “Let me worry about my own academic credentials because I have put myself in this position to get into a good college independently, and I do not need you to interfere now. Even if you think you’re only helping, sometimes it is not necessary.”
* “Sometimes it might not make sense, but I know myself best, and I want to know that you can support me when I need it.”
* “Stop trying to write my essay.”
* “Stop asking me about how my homework is going, or if it’s all done, I’m a senior in high school I can figure it out myself.”
* “I really want you to stop being so crazy when it comes to colleges. Both of you get really antsy whenever I talk about applying to a college that is less prestigious and academically strong than the rest. I really want you to stop being so judgmental of the colleges that I want to apply to. It’s already stressful enough as it is.”
* “I don’t really know where I want to go yet.”
* “I can complete my work on my own.”
* “You need to let me pick my own school. This is my process, not yours. Please don’t overwhelm me.”
* “I feel very stressed.”
* “I have no rational reason for not wanting to go to any schools in the northeast. I just don’t. It does not appeal to me.”
* “I want to run away.”
* “I don’t want to go into business as a major.”
* “We don’t always have the same views on a college and your dream or favorite college might be different than mine.”
* “I’d like to continue my college process independently.”
* “I am scared that my anxiety will affect my grades.”
* “I feel like I’m more prepared than you think I am.”
* “I’m worried about not doing well enough on the SAT’s.”
* “I am stressed out, and I actually want to take a break.”
* “Yelling does not help with relieving stress.”
* “I’m very comfortable with the process and I wish you would be confident about it too.”
And finally, on a more positive note….
“Thank you for being so supportive. You’ve allowed me space to make this my decision. You’ve helped me set up the process and driven me to visit schools. You know what I need without me asking and you plan ahead and keep me sane. You know me better than anyone else on the face of the earth, and by just saying the simple words ‘I can see you here,’ you reassure me that I will belong, and there is a college for me out there somewhere. I appreciate all you’ve done and all you will do. Thank you for paying for my education and for investing so much time in me. I love you guys.”
My 12-year-old son and I might not have the same evolving music tastes, but in the years to come, I hopeful I will have the awareness and faith to listen and trust in the support we have provided.