Keeping College Admissions In Perspective

by Wanda Sevey, Director and Instructor for Council for Relationships

If you’re a senior in high school or the parent of a senior in high school, the end of March is more about college admissions than the first day of spring. The recent college admissions scandal is just one example of how parents can become overwhelmed and over involved in the lives and decisions of the high schoolers in their lives. In the midst of all the elation, the tears, the joys and the disappointments that accompany the admissions process, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.

First of all, there are things our high schoolers want us to know.

They want us to know that “I feel that every moment of every day my whole future is on the line.”

They want us to know that “I don’t think I’m as smart as my parents think.”

They want us to know that  “I need my parents to know I can’t be good at everything.”

These feelings are part of one of the biggest fears of teens; that they will be a disappointment to their parents. 

Second, as the adults in our teens’ lives there are some things we can remember. Mainly, that the list of the most important predictors of adult success does not include which college someone attends, but character traits such as empathy, optimism, flexibility, humor and the ability to respond to set backs in a positive way. 

With those two realities in mind here are some tips for those of us who are loving, guiding and caring for teens:

  1. Put more emphasis on accepting your teen than the narrowly focused effort of making her college worthy.
  2. Disengage from the frenzy! Not every choice our teen makes from age 14-17 needs to be dictated by the common app. 
  3. Let them solve their own problems when possible. 
  4. Empathize with their problems but don’t get entangled.
  5. Be cool, but don’t be a fool. Know as much as you can about the environment your teen swims in. 
  6. Encourage their relationships with other adult mentors.
  7. Remain calm.
  8. Normalize set backs.
  9. Follow along and know that “this too shall pass”.
  10. 10.Vanquish foolish pride, and apologize when needed.

Finally, I’m convinced that very few of us have enough listeners in our lives, and that includes our teens. Really listening takes practice but the following process makes it easier:

  1. Take a breath and consciously visualize taking a step back and placing yourself and your concerns at the back of your mind so you can focus on the person in front of you. 
  2. Consciously visualize your heart opening wide.
  3. Paraphrase with your own words what the person in front of you is saying.
  4. Validate what is said. Remember that validation does not equal agreement. For example, say “You are feeling so alone right now.” instead of “There’s no reason to feel alone. You shouldn’t feel that way.”
  5. Show empathy by seeing things from their point of view. For example “When I put myself in your shoes, I can see why you feel alone right now.” 
  6. Let the person know you are willing to help in the ways they need you to help.

During developmental transitions like launching into college, our goal as parents, as always, is to provide enough structure so our children feel secure and enough flexibility so our children can be themselves. The outcome we’re hoping for is a life-long connection to adult sons and daughters. And what’s admission to an Ivy worth compared to that? 


Was this helpful? Looking for someone to talk to more? Click here for more information.

Council for Relationships is our partner with the New Directions Center. The New Directions Center offers affordable counseling services to our community and seeks to promote mental health education and awareness.

Tough, P. (2012). How children succeed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.