Right now, many high school seniors are eagerly waiting to see emails from college admissions officers. Parents are waiting too and are often as nervous as their kids. I know the feeling, as I have been through this waiting game three times now. This stage of the college process can feel like the final mile of a marathon that kids have been on for the last four years or longer. Weekends spent on SAT or ACT tests, late-night study sessions, countless hours spent on sports, service, family obligations, paid work, or other extracurriculars, and endless revisions made to personal essays have led to this moment.
At Challenge Success, a research-based education nonprofit affiliated with the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, we know from surveying over 150,000 high school students that the college admissions process can be one of the top sources of stress for young people. This final stretch can be a time of celebration or of disappointment and heartbreak when teens receive the news. And even after they hear the “yes” or “no” from the colleges, students and their families can experience stress as they try to determine which school to choose and what the implications of that choice may be for future success.
Instead of thinking only about the finish line, it may be more helpful for parents – and students – to think of the college admissions process as a time for exploration and self-discovery where teens can consider who they are and who they want to be. The process offers opportunities to navigate disappointment, joy, and tough choices, and to practice resilience and independence.
Here are five practical tips to help families support their teens during this last leg of the college admissions process.
We know that the college admissions process is daunting and can cause kids and families to experience high levels of stress. Even if your teen experiences disappointments or difficulties along the way, we urge you to take a breath, remember what is truly important to your family, and celebrate whatever adventure lies ahead for your student.
Denise Pope, Ph.D., is a Co-Founder of Challenge Success and a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where she specializes in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, and service learning. She is the author of, “Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. Dr. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and integrity. She is a 3-time recipient of the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award and was honored with the 2012 Education Professor of the Year “Educators’ Voice Award” from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences.