Although most of us would agree it is not a good idea for children or teenagers to grow up too quickly, we also want them to understand that once they reach high school, their grades “count” for college. The intensity and competitiveness around college admissions has grown exponentially due to a variety of factors, and many of the colleges that our generation attended years ago are now much more difficult to get into. I know I would be rejected by my alma mater if they saw my old high school transcript in today’s market. Many parents are responding to the decreased acceptance rates by encouraging an early awareness of the college admissions process, emphasizing its importance and dependence on excellent grades, scores, and extra-curricular experiences. Unfortunately, an overly serious approach creates stress, increased competitiveness, and a plethora of students participating in activities just to fatten their file. Furthermore, it may prevent students from taking risks academically for fear of producing a less than stellar transcript. On the flipside, that sort of pressure rarely motivates unmotivated students to excel. Here are some tips to stave off some of that over-eager parenting and pressure:
- When discussing academics with your teenager, keep the focus on the content of the classes rather than their grades.
- If your teen is curious about college, let them explore it in a relaxed way, stressing good fit, rather than reputation or name. They will eventually need to do quite a bit of research and visiting to figure out what suits them, and that exploration should be fun, starting out broadly and narrowing down over time.
- High school affords a variety of opportunities to try new classes after having more confined selections in middle school. Encourage your teenager to try a new subject area for the sake of curiosity, ignoring the impact, good or bad, on the transcript.
- Let go of your own ideas about what colleges and universities are considered elite. There are many wonderful schools out there that are just waiting to be discovered by you and your child. Additionally, it’s a myth to think that only graduates from the very best schools will gain employment. That sort of skewed thinking puts unrealistic pressure on teenagers. Allow them to discover schools on their own and try to be open to schools you may not have heard of before.
- Please do not encourage your child to do something they are not actually interested in, like run for a leadership position or pursue community service, simply because it will look good on their college application. This damages the spirit of these roles and activities, and ultimately is not a sustainable reason for your teenager to do their best. Instead, talk to your teen about how they can best spend their free time, encouraging paid employment, exploring new activities, and perhaps finding, and then pursuing a passion.
- Do not be concerned if your teenager does not really show an interest in college exploration until late in their junior year. This is fairly typical and it is better for them to develop their own interest than for you to nag and cajole, which can possibly turn them off to the college process.
- If you have a teenager who does show an early interest, encourage them to explore a variety of schools rather than have their heart set on one or two. The admissions process is too unpredictable to guarantee acceptance and so it is important for teenagers to look at a myriad of options,
- If finances are an issue, please be realistic with your teen, while also making sure to follow up with their guidance or college counselors. There are many financial options worth exploring and that is a place where parents can comfortably take the lead.
The college process can be a wonderful time for parents and teenagers to explore colleges and universities, while also spending quality time together. At the same time, 9th and 10th graders need to feel like they are living out their high school experience without an exaggerated emphasis on college admissions. In the end, most college-bound seniors find a good fit, whether they started worrying in the 9th grade, or mid-way through senior year. Yes, it is important, and admission into a competitive school is very satisfying for both student and parent, but it is a developmental milestone and best reached through a natural unfolding of interest and exploration.