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College Knowledge 101: What Parents Can Do

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Nov 8, 2013 2:29:00 PM

What should parents do with and for their children to nurture success in school, work, and life?

This is the first post in a series of “info-blogs” on how to create a framework for parents and students to communicate and collaborate through the college process, from middle school through senior year.

Today, we’ll start with an overview, and discuss three key steps and strategies to help you and your children succeed—happily, even—at every stage of the process: middle school, early high school, junior year, and senior year.

 Middle School

Middle school can be tumultuous. It’s important to keep your child expanding, to listen to your child, and to provide clear guidelines and consistent discipline to guide his or her social and emotional learning.

  1. Expand their strengths
    Children often experience their parents’ criticism more fully than their praise: “I came home with all A’s and one A-, and all my mom noticed was the A-.” Leadership gurus suggest we should focus on identifying and nurturing our strengths instead of trying to fix our perceived weaknesses. Here’s a book for your children to find their unique combination of strengths.
  2. Let them explore what they love
    Nurture your child’s love of learning. Is there a hobby they have taken up, a subject in school that really excites them, some place they want to visit? Ask questions and support your child’s unique interests. You are fostering study skills and nurturing intellectual independence.
  3. Schedule recharge time
    Everyone needs a break, and in our fast-paced world, rest can be hard to come by. Make sure your children get enough sleep for their mental and physical health (that’s 9+ hours for teenagers). You might also remind them that it’s OK to take a day without work or scheduled activities—every now and again—to do nothing and just be.

Early High School (9th & 10th)

The transition from middle school to high school is complicated, and it takes many children a year or two to get used to the increased pace and intensity of high school. That’s why many colleges don’t look as closely at ninth grade as the later years. Help your child get the strongest start possible, but also be open to signs of confusion and distress. These basic learning tools make the road through high school smoother, too.

  1. How to help them make decisions?
    Perhaps the most important role parents can play in the lives of their teenage children is helping children learn how to make wiser decisions. We all know that you can’t tell a teenager what to do; the minute you start pouring your wisdom into them, as if they are a waiting vessel, they dance away and whatever you are saying is left all over the floor. But if you sit quietly and listen, children will tell you what happened and what is real for them. In those moments, your job is just to listen and ask the questions that help them figure things out for themselves.
  2. Keep them stretching in new directions
    It’s quite easy to narrow focus in high school, to stick with the courses that are easy A’s, the activities where your child knows he or she is good, the people who look and act like them. Nearly every expert in adolescent psychology—and most admissions officers—urge just the opposite: They should try new things, hard things, things that will keep them fresh and curious and a novice in the game of life.
  3. Teach them to be organized
    The best way to be more effective in school and life is to manage your workload, rather than letting it manage you. When students hit that point in high school where the only solution seems to be staying up all night, that’s when it’s time to take charge and organize their work and life! Here’s advice from the experts about how to encourage organization.

Junior Year

If you are the parent of a junior or senior in high school, we recommend you read the rest of this article and then turn it over to your child—because the most important thing you can do is follow their lead in the college admissions process. If you jump in—making the list, planning the visits, asking the questions in information sessions—you will deprive your son or daughter of the opportunity to learn and lead through this process.

  1. Plan daily and weekly
    Junior year can often feel like a crush of tasks and deadlines. This is a great chance to ramp up planning rituals to the next level by planning not only daily, but also weekly and even monthly. When it feels like you are too busy to take time for planning, that’s when you need it most! Check out MindTools for smart strategies.
  2. Help your child say “no”
    When planning activities, it’s probably time to do fewer things and do them better. Nearly every college admissions brochure says the college is looking for a well-rounded class, not well-rounded individuals. Talk to your son or daughter about what part of their college community they’ll lead, and how they’re currently preparing. Listen, and support.
  3. Treat AP exams as college tests
    Encourage your child to take AP exams in classes that cover AP-level material. It will give him or her a taste of college-level work and develop the strategies college students use to prepare for finals: buying study guides that review the material, including sections not covered fully by your teacher; forming a study group; creating outlines.

Senior Year

Senior summer is a great time to pause, take stock of what you’ve done together and where you’re going, and begin to plan out the rest of the college process.

  1. Visit colleges
    Though the students aren’t there—so the view you get is a bit stilted and superficial—summer is when most students visit colleges. Make the most of each visit by researching the school in advance—encourage your son or daughter to research special programs, arts facilities, and coaches or program directors he or she’d like to meet. All of this takes planning and organizing—and it really doesn’t look good if you make those planning calls and emails for your child, so be supportive and cheerlead their interests.
Provide your child the resources to complete the Common App confidently

Resume how-tos:

Arts & Sports supplements:
If your son or daughter is an artist, athlete, or has another special talent, check the specific application requirements of each school. Some have supplements that require additional resumes, personal statements, and videos. Make sure to register and follow NCAA guidelines if your child is planning to play collegiate athletics.

Mapping out the fall:
Use to help you pull all of the details together for the application season.

  1. Take advantage of your support system and opportunities


  2. As early as possible—in the summer even—encourage your child to sit down with your guidance counselor and talk about their list of colleges, achievements, and any gaps that need to be addressed.

    Take advantage of interview opportunities. This is your son or daughter’s best chance to present his or herself to the college, and great practice for all the interviews he or she will have for the rest of his or her life! Offer to help them practice, or brainstorm, but remember: Let them take the lead and come to you with questions and concerns.

And finally, to any seniors reading this—do your parents a solid, and keep them in the loop. Give a couple, occasional updates. It will lower everyone’s stress level, we promise.

This article was originally published by College Prowler. For the original text of the article, click here.

This post was adapted from Story2’s e-book, 50 Strategies for Families to Survive the College Admissions Crush. Check out the original for 38 more strategies! We’ll see you in a couple days to talk about what life skills students can learn from the Common Application, and how to help them develop those skills.


Topics:college admission