The college application process is an exciting time for any family. Your child has decided to further their education, consider different career paths, and begin the first stage of their adult life. You are proud of them and simultaneously anxious about the choices they will make. This is one of the most uniquely stressful times in a teenager’s life, and it can be easy for any parent to feed off of their child’s stress and worry about whether they are making the best decisions for their future. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you help your child navigate this transitory time.
Encourage them to seek joy
I recently had a parent session with the father of one of my clients who is a junior in high school. He shared with me that his son’s school counselor looked at his choice sheet for his senior year classes and asked him, “Where is the joy in your schedule?” This is such a beautiful reminder that teenagers need balance. Even though AP and IB classes look great on college applications, you have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate to your child that it is necessary to prioritize their mental health and focus on things that make them happy. Start a conversation with them about their schedule. Be curious about the subjects they are interested in, and take note of the electives, sports, fine arts, etc. that make them come alive. Ultimately, colleges pursue students who jump off the page. GPAs and test scores can make an application stand out, but admissions officers are not looking for robots. They want to see students who have passions and varied interests. Reinforce that your child is human, and this is the time in their life to try new things and decipher what makes them feel joyful.
Help them prioritize their overall wellness
There are so many things that demand high schoolers’ time and energy. Your child is likely coming home feeling exhausted from balancing assignments, tests, extra-curricular activities, friendships, studying for the ACT or SAT, and completing college applications. This often involves overextending themselves and putting their wellness beneath the things on their to-do list. It can be hard to balance helping your teen stay on top of their responsibilities with inspiring them to care for themselves. Here are some behaviors to look out for that indicate your teen needs help to put themselves first:
- Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
- Appetite changes
- Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities
Remind your child that they will not be able to perform the way they would like to in their classes or on their standardized tests if they are not regulated, well-rested, well-fed, and well-connected. Most importantly, children learn by example. If they see you prioritizing your wellness, they will follow suit.
There are many moving parts to college applications like login information, resumes, deadlines that vary according to school, recommendation letters, essays, transcripts, and more. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that houses executive functioning, organizational skills, impulse control, and decision making, and it does not fully develop until around age 25. With this in mind, it can be difficult for teenagers to keep track of all the things they need to acquire and submit for their college applications. They will have plenty of questions for you, and they will need your assistance to stay on track. Listen to their concerns, reflect and validate how they feel, and collaborate with them to find solutions to their problems.
Seek professional help
Teens have many things to consider when they apply to college. This process brings up various existential questions like “Who am I?” “What is my passion?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” It is beneficial for teens to have a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental space to address these questions. Meeting with a therapist can empower your child to care for themselves and face this uncertain time confidently. If your child needs support with the logistical aspects of the college application process, here are some referrals for wonderful college counselors in Austin:
Rebecca Putter of Putter Academic and College Experts
Jen Hendricks of Hendricks Education
Kendall Guess of Path to Admissions
Your teen is looking to you for encouragement, support, and guidance through this incredibly turbulent time. Above all else, remember to focus on connecting with them and maintaining a curious disposition as they communicate their interests to you. Trust that they have the skills within them to see this process through and make decisions that align with their values and desires. Additionally, trust that you are capable of pacing them through this time while helping them embrace their autonomy.