Mar 17, 2006
A Post For Parents, Part 1
Posted in: Process & Statistics
Applicants, if you're reading this, I hope that MIT is one of the schools that sent you a "fat packet". Regardless of where you were admitted, however, you have some serious decisions ahead of you in the coming weeks.
I am giving you a hall pass for this blog entry. This entry is for the people you call Mom and Dad. (I'm sure that you call them other things when they are not looking, but that's another entry). So call mom and/or dad to the computer, bring up this page and walk away. WAIT, WAIT! DON'T GO TOO FAR! They may get freaked out if your IM pops up and your best friend begins to talk about the party that you were not supposed to go to. Disable your IM and then walk away.
Welcome to the Nance Effect! For the last six months I've spent time in cyberspace talking to your offspring about the College Process. I must say that they have handed themselves with extraordinary grace, intelligence, maturity and savvy. Even though they won't clean their rooms, stay up too late and drink way too much coffee, you should be proud of them. (Let's keep this between us. As it is you need a shoe horn to get their heads through the door)
This entry has been on my mind since this time last year. My college roommate called for advice because his oldest daughter was going though the application process. When I got off the phone I was struck by how little he knew about the process. This really bothered me because I've known him for 20+ years and he's one of the sharpest people that I know. Finally, it dawned on me this is not the same process that it was just 15 years ago. There is more pressure and information that seniors must endure. We never had to sift endlessly through web sites or spend our summers studying for exams and/or stuffed on a bus or the back seat of the car on the never-ending campus visits.
I know that this process is equally stressful for you. In less than 6 months your child will go off to college. Complicating matters is the fact that you have to help guide a hormonally driven young person through arguably the biggest decision of his or her life. As a wise man once said, "I feel your pain." Or as my grandfather was fond of mumbling to his 13 grandkids, "Youth is wasted on the young."
In this post I hope to give you a few pointers that will help you and your child flourish together as you sift through the college decision process.
- No matter what they say, they listen to you and take their lead from your reaction. Remember this when they come home excited about being admitted to Existentialists University. The frown on your face may be related to some completely unrelated thought. To your child, it's a frown of disapproval.
- It's all about them. Always. For example, if you called to say that your brand new Mercedes was just stolen from the mall parking lot, don't be surprised if the 2nd question is "How am I supposed to get to the Prom" (Of course the first question is are you alright? It may be all about them but they still love you). THIS IS THE LENS THROUGH WHICH THEY SEE THE WORLD AND THIS PROCESS.
- This process is overwhelming! They are being asked to make the biggest decision of their lives with 4-6 weeks of deliberations. If you attended college, the process has changed drastically since you applied. If you have not attended college, not to worry, the process is just as foreign for the college-educated parent as it is for you.
- The only way for your children to make this decision is to think their way out. Be there as a source to ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions that are designed to spur internal dialog. This is where life experiences come in handy. Draw upon your life's journey for inspiration.
- As such, very few teenagers have the expertise to separate the message from the messenger. The moment that you lock into 'decision making mode' for him or her is the moment that you have made you voice irrelevant.
- Do not take advice from family or friends about this process. Would you let you uncle fix the brakes on your car; or let your uncle do your taxes; or let your aunt give you a perm and a trim? The same principle applies to choosing a college. Just before accepting this position at MIT, I had a close family friend pull me aside and tell me not to go to Boston. When I asked why, he reminded me of the issues surrounding court-ordered busing in the 1970's. When I pressed him to be specific and about MIT, he complained about the time his car broke down on Mass Ave and how no one stopped to help him. Tragic for him, but not a reason for me not to choose MIT.
I think that I've given you enough to ponder for now. If you take just one thing away from this piece let it be the following: Deciding on the right college is as much about the process (journey) as it is the outcome. Try as you might, it is impossible to account for all variables or know all the facts. It is only through diligence and hard work associated with the process that you and your children will acquire the tools necessary to arrive at a proper outcome. Please allow your children to learn and grow from this process. Let them tap into their inner voice and embrace that which separates the children from adults: Well Reasoned Decision Making.
The second part of this post will come next week. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts.