It’s hard to be the parent in the college process

At dinner with my brother recently, he (not so jokingly) said I must be a nightmare on college visits. Its definitely hard to remain neutral. I have strong opinions on what should be included by the college to help the student learn the most about the school. And because my recent visits are for my own son, I want him to be happy and succeed. But I also know what he doesn’t yet know.

I have a crush on several schools we have visited. I also dislike one or two, but understand why my son likes them. I have my heart definitely set on a favorite. There are places I absolutely don’t want him to attend. I have been incredibly impressed by the outreach of some colleges and admission officers, and disappointed in others (like the Saturday visit where the tour guide met us in the parking lot, and couldn’t get into a single building because everything was locked–yes I did fill out the evaluation giving low scores). I hate when schools only offer a tour and don’t include an admissions visit. I hate when we don’t get the itinerary until we arrive (I want to know who we are meeting and how long the day will be). I am appreciative of schools that build in faculty visits–my son is a strong student who likes personal attention. It helps to know who he will be in classes with and what he will learn. I know he has to choose where he will be happiest. I already got to pick my college (and graduate school). No place will be absolutely perfect. But I can’t help have favorites.

I choose my own college, Indiana University, and my major, telecommunications, for weak reasons. I went to a small, all women’s catholic high school in NYC that both my sisters and my mother attended. I wanted to attend a school no one in my family had attended and no one from my high school was attending. My sister was at Boston College and seemed to enjoy going to games and having lots of activities–so I wanted a rah rah type place as well. Indiana is a pretty campus. I didn’t like anywhere else I had visited. I got in fairly early in my senior year. Everyone seemed impressed I was going there. So I went. I didn’t research the curriculum. I liked tv shows so thought I would enjoy making them (I really should have done journalism, marketing or PR). I didn’t know anyone there except a family friend who was a year older. I had a good experience but probably would have enjoyed a school with smaller classes, more personal attention, no sororities (after an all girls high school I didn’t really want to be in one but most of my freshmen year friends pledged, leaving me feeling socially isolated). I wish I had stayed closer to NYC. I should have built more criteria into my college search.

As I watch my son visit schools, the knowledge I’ve learned working in higher education has me looking at things differently than I did for myself. I know he enjoys when teachers know him and like him (so small classes would be better). He loves being part of his cross country and track teams, even though he isn’t the fastest runner. He needs a community or activity to join (he is planning to do ROTC). He likes to get away and have alone time (he’s never shared a room) so he probably will wan to be able to come home once in a while (but I don’t want him home too much either). He forms deep long term friendships but I don’t see him enjoying the party scene of fraternities. He wants to be academically challenged but won’t want to drown in work. He wants credit for his AP coursework, that actually helps him save time towards his degree. He wants to study abroad and do internships. He wants modern facilities with study space, outdoor space, workout space and technology. He wants to study history and political science and has criteria for what those majors include.

I just finished another year of working with a great group of seniors. They are in many places. Some are excited about the school they selected. Others are still struggling to help their child decide or waiting on waitlists. Some are frustrated by the financial aid packages or disappointed by places that didn’t admit their student. And sometimes sad their child isn’t picking a certain school, because they fell in love with it during the process but their kid didn’t. All I can say is there is a college for everyone. No matter what school their child attends, that child can make it the right place for them by getting involved, getting to know their faculty, taking their school work seriously, and going to events like speakers, professional development activities and performances. They should do an internship and consider studying abroad. These activities will help them feel connected.

Parents may always feel some disappointment (my mom still wishes one of us went to Notre Dame, sorry mom). But knowing your child is happy and engaged, has to satisfy you. Now its time to get to work with the next group of seniors.

Coffman Consulting is always happy to help your student with their college search. We are currently enrolling students from the class of 2024 and 2025 as well as a limited number of class of 2023 students.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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