Family and the College Search Process
The college search process is a family affair. I have no problem with significant parent involvement because many times the parents make a large financial investment in the student’s education. Plus, I want Vanderbilt to be a place where the whole family feels at home – a sort of home away from home. As a result, I think it’s absolutely right for parents to do some of their own research, to attend information sessions, and to ask questions. However, I am concerned when parents become the drivers of the search process as opposed to backseat supporters. Some days I receive more phone calls and emails from parents then from students. My Dean commented a few weeks ago that sometimes parents monopolize the conversation and talk over their student. There’s a phenomenon in the 21st Century where you see more and more parents talk about “we”: “we” are considering Vanderbilt, “we” are planning to major in biology, etc.
Students need to own this process. The college search process is the beginning of their adult, separate life. They will live the result of these decisions. I’m not callous to the stress and anxiety this process causes for parents, though. Here are my recommendations for both students and their parents as you move towards college:
- You’re going to live on campus, take classes, and ultimately live the path you chart – what do YOU want to do?
- That being said, your parents have raised you the past 18 years (and we know it wasn’t all roses), listen to what they think as well; my mom can drive me crazy when she disagrees with me, but more times than not she has a good point
- As your admissions counselor I understand that you’re new to this, I understand if you ask lots of questions or have to call back with more later on
- Don’t sit back and let one or both of your parents commandeer this process; let them know you will be scheduling visits, emailing counselors, and making important decisions
- Talk to your parents about paying for college; unless you’re independently wealthy, they’re likely involved in financing your education – what do they value? How much are they willing to pay out-of-pocket? Do they expect you to contribute financially – how?
- Be nice! This is also an exciting and nerve-wracking time for your parents, their lives are changing too
- If you have questions, ask your student first; if they don’t know, ask them to find out – this allows you answers while your student remains in the driver’s seat
- Your student will probably make a mistake (forget a deadline, submit an essay with a typo, clam up in an interview, etc.), be there to support them when they do so, but don’t decide they’re incompetent or don’t care – remember you’re the life vest, not the cruise director
- Talk about money – what do you value? How much are you willing to pay out-of-pocket? Do you expect your student to contribute to their own education?
You know those reality TV shows about bridezillas? Both parents and students can get a little crazy and resemble a bridezilla in the college search process. Try not to be a bridezilla. More communication is better communication. The world does not revolve around you. I know this is a stressful process, as are most important stages of life. Use the resources available to you.
Keep asking great questions!