One year ago today, I posted some recommended new year's resolutions for high school students and their parents. This seems like the right day to revisit those (some resoultions are worth remaking every year)
1. Be excited about the opportunity to go to college…any college. I'm not saying you should give up and just be happy with any college that takes you. I'm saying that if you decide there are only three colleges where you could ever be happy, that puts an awful lot of pressure on yourself. The hard work you're doing in and out of school shouldn't just be about trying to get into Stanford. It should be about learning, finding your passions, and enjoying your teenage years. Wherever you go to college, you're going to meet new people, learn and have fun. That's reason enough to be excited. So, keep working hard, but try to enjoy yourself while you're doing it.
2. Quit something worth quitting this year. Almost everyone has something in their life that's not making your life any better, something in which you're just going through the motions, or that's actually making you unhappy or unhealthy. Identify one of those things in your life and quit. Quit it today and replace it with something that improves your life. If you used to love swimming but now you secretly dread it every day, quit and take the art classes you've been dying to take. If you're tired of hanging out with kids who aren't nice to each other, quit the group and find nicer friends. The message here isn't to quit and do nothing. It's to replace the thing you quit with something more positive and productive. Happy and successful people do that all the time.
3. Stop getting caught up in high school drama. Some parts of high school are wonderful. Other parts, not so much–like the popularity contests, backbiting, and social insecurity. The happiest and most well-adjusted students I've met don't engage in the negative dramas of high school. They're happy being themselves and don't care what other people think of them. They're nice to the kids other students aren't nice to. They don't gossip or speak badly of their friends or worry about what's popular. It's hard to disassociate from the social dramas of high school, but you'll be much happier if you do. And believe me, once you get to college, you'll see for yourself just how petty a lot of the bad parts of high school really were.
4. Do more things for yourself that your parents have been doing for you. When you make your parents do things for you that you can and should be doing for yourself, you're making it easy and maybe even necessary for them to run your life. If you're having trouble in a class, don't make your parents contact the teacher. If you have scheduling conflicts, don't make your parents talk to your counselor to resolve them. If you have questions about a college's application requirements, don't make your parents get that information for you. These are things you can and should be doing for yourself. So start doing them. You'll be happier, your relationship with your parents will improve, and the colleges will be appreciative of your independence.
5. Look for ways to make an impact. One of the best ways to feel good about yourself (and frankly, to get into college) is to find ways to make an impact. You don't have to be the captain of your soccer team to host the team dinner. You don't have to be the smartest kid in your English class to participate and contribute to class discussions. And you don't have to be the editor of the school paper to take a journalism class over the summer and then share what you learned. Titles, leadership positions and awards aren't the only ways to demonstrate that you're valuable and appreciated. If you make efforts to contribute and try to make an impact, you'll feel good about how you're spending your time–and people around you will take notice.
Why not capitalize on the annually-renewed sense of self-improvement that comes with the New Year and make some resolutions that will help you not just survive, but actually enjoy your student's ride to college?
Here are my top five college admissions-related resolution suggestions for parents.
1. Put college admissions in perspective. Your student's college future deserves to be taken seriously. But if you're panicked because your son scored 1900 on the SAT and "that's just not good enough for Princeton," you've lost sight of the big picture. Going to college is important. Going to a famous college is not. Don't make the acceptance into one particular school the end-goal. Instead, celebrate your student's opportunity to attend college–any college. Recognize it as just one step in what will be a lifetime process of education, growth and life experience. And while you're at it, pat yourself on the back for raising a good kid who's college bound.
2. Spend more time celebrating your student's strengths than you do trying to fix weaknesses. The pressure surrounding college admissions often breeds far too much focus on kids' weaknesses. "Her test scores are low." "Her GPA isn't high enough." "She doesn't have enough leadership." Focusing too much on weaknesses just hurts kids' self-confidence. Don't forget to celebrate strengths, victories and other achievements that are worthy of parental pride. Is she great at her job at the daycare? Is he well-respected by his peers at the church youth group? When she didn't get the lead in the school play, did she cheerfully offer to run the lights instead? You know your kid is a good kid–so take the time to acknowledge the reasons why. And remember that a GPA, test score or decision from a particular college do not measure your student's worth (or your worth as a parent).
3. Don't run with the wrong crowd. Some parents seem intent on turning the college admissions process into a status competition. These are not the parents you want at your next dinner party. They talk about how many hours of community service their kid has done and how expensive the SAT tutor is that they're housing in the guest room this summer. They ruin the ride to college for everybody and, sadly, they don't ever seem to find any joy in this process, even when the most desirable schools say "yes." So don't join in. Associate with other parents who care more that their kids end up happy in college than they do about whether or not those schools are Ivy League schools. They're more fun to be around at dinner parties anyway.
4. Encourage your student to take responsibility for her own college process. Being a supportive parent is something you should be proud of. But you should resist the urge to do things for your student that she can do herself. College-bound kids need to develop their own initiative and independence if they want to get in and be successful at college. Let your kids approach teachers when they're struggling in class. Let your kids talk to college representatives at college fairs. Let your kids fill out their own college applications and write their college essays. Parents can be supportive partners, but you shouldn't take over the process.
5. Enjoy this time as much as possible. The worst part of the frenzy surrounding the college admissions process is that it ruins what should be an exciting time for both parents and students. You're only going to go through this process once with each kid. So enjoy it. Resolve to find the joy in it. A positive attitude won't make things like the SAT go away, but it will help you revel in the parts that should be fun, like visiting colleges, discovering new schools that fit your student well, and watching kids make the transition from home room to dorm room.
Happy New Year…