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Help Your Undecided Student Find Their IkigaiV. Peter Pitts, M.A.
Having survived the pressures of junior year, your son or daughter is already familiar with the hectic and demanding schedule that typifies the second half of high school. However, additional balancing skills are required for the high wire act that is fall of senior year.
In addition to having full and rigorous academic schedules, seniors are in the throes of the college application process. They’re deciding where to apply and working on their Common Application and personal statement, as well as the supplemental essays that most colleges require.
They may also be retaking college admissions tests and some are still touring schools. Perhaps they’re playing a fall sport, participating in other time-consuming extracurricular activities, or working at an outside job. It’s a lot for any 17-year-old.
First of all, it’s important to reassure your student that things will work out for the best. If this is your first go-round with the college application process, you may be feeling stressed and nervous about the outcome as well. As a parent whose third and youngest child is now embarking on this journey, I can assure you that, somehow, it really will be all right. My oldest son attended a college that wasn’t even on his radar initially. He ended up loving the school, meeting a young woman with whom he’s been in love for nearly six years and getting into the graduate school of his choice. But when he got dinged by his early decision school he was upset and couldn’t foresee any of that — we had no crystal ball. With the benefit of long-sightedness, you can help your student understand that life has a way of falling into place.
It’s also imperative to remind your son or daughter that they are on their own path. It doesn’t matter which schools other kids are considering. My youngest son said he noticed that “some kids stress out when they hear other kids talking [about colleges] because they feel inferior about their choices.” I actually felt sad when he told me that because no one should feel that their college lists are subpar or that they are less than anyone else. Remind your student to be kind to their classmates and not to brag about their grades, scores or college lists.
This advice also goes for parents. I’ve been stopped in the grocery store by parents who can’t wait to share their student’s grades or ACT scores and, while I try to be a good listener and appropriately excited for them, I also have learned that the road is long and unpredictable, and indicators of success and happiness go way beyond numbers or a college acceptance. So, while we all have the impulse to laud our children’s accomplishments, this is an especially good time to keep that urge in check.
I admit to feeling sad at the thought of my youngest leaving home.... But I try not to make that my son’s problem. His job is to leave. My job is to figure out things for me.
While you may be tempted to nag your son or daughter about looming deadlines, constantly reminding them may not be as effective as you think. I resorted to putting notes on my oldest son’s ceiling above his bed in hopes it would help him get his applications completed faster. It didn’t. Some students will have everything done well ahead of time and some will spend their winter break finishing the process. Having been in the latter camp, I concede it’s not ideal. A few well-meaning friends (who had younger children) told me to stay completely out of the application process. While this may be great advice for some, it wasn’t within my realm of capability. (As a footnote, those same friends were more than a little involved when it was time for their own children to apply to college!)
Remind your son or daughter that it’s not too late to try something new. My middle son joined the school musical during his senior year and loved every moment. There’s no time like the present to branch out and spread their wings — it’s a great warmup for having to start all over in college.
Time is moving quickly, and you may get teary and anxious at the thought of your child leaving the nest. I admit to feeling sad at the thought of my youngest leaving home. After nearly three decades of full-time parenting, things will be really different around here. But I try not to make that my son’s problem. His job is to leave. My job is to figure out things for me. I also try to remember there is still plenty of time left so I shouldn't focus on what will be. I guarantee you and I will be okay.
During this year of transition and “lasts,” continue to encourage your child’s independence and work on honing the life skills they’ll need when they leave. Laundry, money management, food shopping, cleaning, etc. are things you can help them learn or improve in the upcoming months.
You’ve already heard but it bears repeating that, difficult as it may be, DO NOT take your child’s moodiness personally. Even if they don’t verbalize their feelings, they are nervous, uncertain, scared and stressed and you are the person who will be on the receiving end of these often overwhelming emotions. Do your best to be supportive and understanding, even when you’re being unfairly attacked or blamed.
The year ahead will bring ups and downs, tears and joyous moments. During the coming months you can help your son or daughter enjoy their last year of high school, support their choices, cheer their triumphs, ease their pain when they feel rejected, and love them as fiercely as you always have. It’s the best any of us can do.
Everything you need to get through college application season with your high school senior!