In the next several months the 2016-17 college admissions season will play out, with the majority of students who have applied as freshmen for this coming fall learning which schools have accepted and which haven’t. Parents will be waiting too, many of them wrapped in fears about the future of their children. In this post, Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at the Derryfield School, a private college preparatory day school for grades 6-12 in Manchester, N.H., addresses parents’ fears around the admissions process, sharing some that he hears from students’ parents every day. Do you see yourself in any of these?
By Brennan Barnard
The new year will bring admission decisions for our nation’s college-bound seniors. These next three months will be a time time of angst and excitement as students wait with baited breath to learn their “fate.” Behind them are parents whose own expectations and uncertainties play out in real time, as admission decisions have become the repository for 18 years of parental hopes and fears.
For two decades I have worked in high schools, counseling students as they search for and apply to college. During this time, I have witnessed a climate in college admission in which increasingly students and parents — in the pursuit of college acceptance — have lost perspective about what is really important. Blinded by the notion that admission to a certain college will lead to security and “success,” the bigger picture fades into the background.
Parents all have fears about our children. Some are obvious and rational while others exist in our subconscious, an underlying worry that our offspring are somehow in danger or that we will fail them. Inherent in parenting is the desire to protect our children and to create opportunities for them to thrive. At the very core, we want them to be safe, secure and successful, however that looks. Success may be the most elusive of our hopes, the most susceptible to interpretation and the most difficult to quantify.
At some level we recognize that as our young people grow, we have increasingly little influence over their well-being and destiny. The college admission process offers parents only the illusion of control. If we can just orchestrate admission to a particular college or university, then we have ensured our children’s success and security, right? (Wrong.)
I have begun asking parents to articulate their hopes and fears as they relate to their children — beyond the fear that that they will not get into the “school of their dreams” and therefore be a failure. The answers are revealing and reflective of the true values that underlie our approach to parenting. I share them here for the benefit of parents of college-bound seniors as they help their children process admission decisions and manage their own emotional reactions:
My greatest is fear is….
“…that he will not find happiness in life.”
“…about how my child will react to being less successful than he thinks he should be — my concern is about his resiliency.”
“…too much stress in her life.”
“…that he won’t go anywhere.”
“…that he will lose hope.”
“…that she will get caught up in the partying that is done on most college campuses and get hurt, expelled, or addicted.”
“…that once launched, he will never come home!”
“…impulsive behavior. He doesn’t think first and in this context: how will he manage himself in college when there are no boundaries from his parents?”
“…that she will attend a college that is underwhelming educationally and socially”
“…he will end up living in the basement with an unfulfilled life with no job or a low paying job.”
“…that my senior will not enjoy his last year in high school because he is spending spending time on the college application process.”
“…that my daughter will pick a college that is too hard for her over one where she would thrive.”
“…that he’ll miss out by not taking more chances and therefore not find his true calling in life.”
“…that she will lose her zest for life.”
“…that she would be a victim of a violent or sexual attack.”
“…that he gets into the school and doesn’t like it.”
“…that she chooses a career path or college that doesn’t meet her expectations and that she is not passionate about.”
And now for the positive:
I hope my child will….
“…find peace and happiness within herself.”
“…be able to reach his fullest potential from his own sense of accomplishment.”
“…find a purpose in life.”
“…be happy with the college she chooses.”
“…succeed in whatever he tries.”
“…make the world a better place.”
“…find the ambition and self-motivation to take advantage of all college has to offer so he can have a career he loves.”
“…have a lifelong growth mindset.”
“…find a school where she will be happy, challenged and develop a sense of belonging.”
“…achieve great things and influence the world around him, no matter where he goes to college, where he lives or who he lives among.”
“…enjoy senior year and know that the right college will find her.”
“…live up to her potential.”
“…create a life for herself that makes her happy and extremely satisfied.”
“…be able to realize all of his creative dreams.”
“…always feels that she is enough.”
“…keep his positive attitude and cheerful spirit despite life’s challenges and disappointments.”
“…be happy and stimulated in an environment where she enjoys inspiring and challenging studies, meets new people and has rewarding experiences.”
“…love his school, socially, educationally, etc.”
“…find her way to apply to the best college fit schools academically and socially for her and then gets acceptance and finds passion in her studies and career.”
“…become an empathetic and kind person who can financially provide for himself and eventually a family and have a philanthropic spirit.”
“…have an outstanding time at college, not only learning, but socializing and developing what may ultimately be his professional interests/career.”
“…live a happy, long and fulfilling life.”
As we help our children plan for the future and deal with adversity or disappointment, let us remember what motivates us — the desire for them to be their best and find success. They will have to discover what that means for themselves — and we as parents will continue to balance our hopes and fears as we begin a new year.