Parents: Are you ready for your kids to go to college?

Whether you've got a senior waiting for college news or a junior just starting the college search, I think every parent should do two things:

1) Ask yourself if you are ready for your student to go to college.

2) Be honest about the answer.

This is a big transition for parents, too, one that's much easier for some parents than others. If you don't acknowledge that you're not ready, that pressure is going to manifest itself in unfortunate ways, like nitpicking your kids' college choices or trying to find reasons why your student shouldn't go to a school far away.

You're not a bad parent if you're struggling with the reality that your student is going to leave the house after eighteen years.  You have the right to struggle with this.  So if you are, just be honest.  It'll make it easier for people to know that you need a little support, too.

And students, if your parents are honest and tell you they're having a hard time with this whole college thing, be nice.  Don't necessarily change your college choices because of it, but go easy on Mom and/or Dad.  You'll understand someday when your own kids go to college.

Learn about colleges from people who are already there

If you have older friends who are in college at schools you'd like to know more about, here's a suggestion.  Ask them if they'd let you take them out for lunch or coffee when they're home for spring break so you can ask them some questions about their experiences.

If you ask your average college student, "How's college?" in person or over email, but do so in passing, you're going to hear a brief answer, usually very positive without any details.  But over lunch or coffee when it's just the two and you have more time, a college student can spend some time telling you what he or she really thinks.  And you can ask as many specific questions as you'd like. 

And offer to pay for their coffee or turkey club.  They deserve it for taking the time to help you out. 

Parents: How do your conversations about college make your family feel?

It's good for families to talk about college.  But be mindful of what you actually talk about when the subject comes up.

If your family often talks about what an exciting time this is, how many great colleges there are, how much your student is doing right, and what an amazing four years your son or daughter is almost certain to have at whatever college is lucky enough to be the one, the conversations will probably make your family feel pretty good.

But all your family talks about are perceived SAT score deficiencies and whether or not a tutor might help eek out an A in trig, if you constantly compare your student to other students and worry about how you'll address his or her weaknesses, if you talk incessantly about whether or not Stanford or Princeton or Georgetown will say yes, your conversations are going to make everyone in the family feel bad.

If all your talk about college just makes the family even more stressed, you don't have to change the subject.  You just have to change what you're saying about it.

Does your high school have a “drop” option?

At most colleges, students can jump in and try a course for a week or two to see if they like it.  If they decide they don't want to take it for any reason, they can "drop" it, meaning they officially drop out of the class.  As long as they do so within the specified limit of the trial period, there are no negative ramifications on their academic records.

It might be worth asking your counselor if your high school has a policy like this (or if a counselor/teacher might allow you to avail yourself of it).  For example, if you're picking classes for next year and you're unsure about AP Chemistry, honors trig, or whether you can really handle an extra class before school, ask your counselor if it's possible to drop the class within a limited time without hurting your record.  If you can, jump in with reckless abandon and see what happens.

It's much better to ask about the option before you begin the course, rather than asking once you get a C- on your first exam.

How to make peace with the college admissions process

As college decisions begin to arrive in the next few months, some students are going to feel that they weren't treated fairly, that other seemingly less qualified students were admitted instead of them. 

It's important to accept that the system of college admissions–deciding who gets in and who does not–is not perfect.  The same can be said of job interviews, first dates, and just about anything else meant to size up complex human beings based on limited information.  This isn't the hundred yard dash where whoever runs the fastest is the clear winner. 

But remember two things.

1.  Every admissions officer I've ever met works very hard to be fair and thorough when they evaluate students.  They believe applicants should be treated with respect and they never make any decision lightly.  While it might feel bitterly personal when they say no, it really isn't. 

2.  Just as most qualified work seekers still end up with jobs and good people still end up in relationships, nice kids who work hard still get into college.  It may or may not be your first choice, but you'll almost certainly get to go somewhere.  

If you wouldn’t put your name to it, don’t do it

Mark Memmott of NPR reminds blog readers in this story:


Finally, here's a suggestion based on my more than 30 years of reporting and editing experience. Before you submit a comment, ask yourself this question: If I had to put my real name with this, would I hit 'publish?'  If the answer is no, the better move might be to hit 'delete.'

This is actually good advice even when you're not trying to be annonymous.  While the internet makes it easy to share anything, it also means that you're on stage all the time.  Every email, status update, tweet, photo, and video goes out with your name or image on it.  And anybody who receives it can spread it to a much wider audience you might never have intended to see it. 

Before you hit "Send," "Submit," "Upload," or "Post," ask yourself this question: Would I feel OK if this were shared with (a lot of) other people without my consent?  If this answer is no, don't share it.

Another reminder for seniors

For seniors, whether you're scheduling a college interview, reserving spaces for a reception a college is holding locally, making arrangements for a campus visit, or even just calling the admissions office with a question, please remember one thing…

Don't let your parents do it for you.  You should be doing these things yourself.  Colleges will notice. 

And parents, unless you're making an inquiry about financial aid (which is fair game for parents to take on), don't hijack these jobs from your kids.  Let them find their own way and show both you and the colleges that they're mature enough to handle these administrative tasks themselves.   

Proof that colleges want YOU

Yes, we've all heard about is the competition for admission.  But it's important to remember that most of the over 2,000 colleges in the country have plenty of room.  In fact, they're spending a lot of money to attract students, and I don't mean just the straight-A, perfect SAT-scoring violinists-who-invented-photosynthesis kind of students.

Here's an example of just how much colleges are relying on marketing.  Today's "The Choice" blog shares the story of how Ursinus College nearly tripled their applications in just one year after hiring a direct marketing company. 


Like a baseball player choosing to bulk up on steroids, Ursinus came to the conclusion in 2005 that it needed to get bigger.  Specifically, the college wanted to increase its freshman class by about 100 — to just under 550 — in part to bring in students who might fill classes in new disciplines like biochemistry, environmental studies and the performing arts.  To do so, (vice president of enrollment) Mr. DiFeliciantonio hired a direct-marketing firm from Virginia called Royall and Company, and its initial recommendations were that Ursinus waive its $50 application fee and its essay requirement. The results were immediate: in one year, from 2005 to 2006, applications to Ursinus more than doubled, to 4,413, from 1,725. Two years later, they grew yet again, by another 40 percent, to 6,179.

I'm sharing it here because for better or for worse (I'd call it "for worse,"), colleges are spending big marketing dollars to find, lure and secure new students.  But the reason they're doing it is encouraging–there are more spaces than there are students to fill them.  The colleges want you, and they know they aren't the only ones.

And hats off to Ursinus who, as the article describes, ultimately abandoned their new direct marketing strategies, saw their application numbers plummet, and is still perfectly OK with that. 

A tip for nervous seniors

What you do in college will be much more important than where you go.  So if you're feeling nervous while you're waiting for your college decisions to arrive, if you're anxious about who's going to say, "Yes," here's a tip.  Daydream about what you're going to get to do in college, not where you'll get to do it.  It will keep you focused on the positive and remind you that you're in for an amazing four years wherever you go.   

And if you need some inspiration, here are 50 things you can do in college, whether or not you get into your dream school.   

If an activity isn’t important to you…

…why would it be important to any college?

Don't do any activity just because it "looks good to colleges."  Colleges don't care what you do.  They're more interested in how much you care about what you're doing.