A College Guide: From Getting In to Going
By Dr. Robin F. Goodman, VOICES Director of Family Programs
College is not just a place – it is a rite of passage for teen, parents, and the family. But first and foremost, college is a process and experience on many levels. Thinking through and planning for the financial, academic, and emotional issues can help make college successful. The following highlights some of the many small steps involved in the process
Going down the college road:
• Deciding where to go: The teen and caregiver must do their homework and research where to apply. An abundance of information can be accessed including: books, internet college guides, friends, school counselors, and family. Having a top choice is great but not necessary. It is important to cast a wide net and consider various options, for example – going away or living at home, attending full or part time, going to a large or small school, going to a community or 4 year school, and being in a big city or rural town. It may even be best to postpone attendance. A final decision will be made once acceptances are received.
• College visits: The spring and summer before senior year are traditionally the times to "make the rounds". Seeing a campus and getting a feel for college life is an education in itself. Prospective students should ask themselves "can I see myself here".
• Getting through the paperwork: The details and deadlines can be overwhelming. It’s best to have a plan up front for how and when things will get done. Teen and parent need to be open and honest about how they work best and what each does best. Discuss how to divide tasks, how much responsibility each will shoulder, how gently nudge or when to give a nagging reminder.
• The college essay: Students who had a parent, sibling, or significant person die on 9/11 wonder if this should be part of their college essay. This personal decision should be based on the content; how the event addresses a specific application question, as well as the feelings; how the student feels about revealing very private thoughts.
• Planning finances: There is great value in higher education but it comes with tremendous financial cost. Parents need to be pro-active in learning about academic scholarships, monies and programs available for students bereaved by 9/11, and existing college and government financial plans.
Making the transition
• Forming new friendships: Once in college a teen is often eager to get a fresh start. There are abundant opportunities to form new relationships But feeling comfortable can take time. Before leaving, it is useful to a think through if, how and when one’s 9/11 experiences and history will be shared with new friends.
• Starting a new chapter: The transition to college is an adjustment for everyone. Both parents and teens can feel a sense of loss as well as new found freedom. Siblings left behind may struggle with their own complicated feelings, new responsibilities, and changed relationships. It’s important to acknowledge that although different for each individual, change affects everyone in a family.
• Establishing new relationships: Once in college, parents no longer have the same knowledge of or control over a child’s life. This can be hard to accept. Likewise, a teen may be grateful for the independence but not yet confident or savvy about how to handle all the choices and demands – from studying to partying. It’s important to maintain communication and establish new ways to relate to each other as adults.
Keep in mind:
• Managing the pressure, worry, emotions: Teens and parents can feel enormous pressure and worries at all steps – getting good grades, getting into the right school, being able to afford it, living on one’s own. It would also be normal to have the college process trigger sad reminders of someone who died on 9/11, fears of leaving family behind, or upset at missing friends. Use previously successful coping strategies can help, in particular, maintain perspective, find physical outlets, and make time to share relaxing and fun time together.
• Rallying a support and resource network: Identifying a "team" can help everyone get through what can be a daunting process. Pre-college the team can be parent and child or it can include the larger community of support – a writing tutor, a college counselor, a supportive teacher, neighbor, an older sibling, or relative. Once in college, the student should make sure to access academic or mental health resources whenever they might be needed.
• Be flexible: College is an exciting and challenging time of life and a time of discovery. Like any experience, there are likely to be ups and downs. As students learn more about themselves, their interests, and their goals, adjustments may be in order in course work, friends, and even the college itself. Ideally parents and teens find welcome change during this new phase of life.