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Excitement, Anxiety and Everything In Between - High School College Transition

By Susan Smith
This article was written for CollegeTipsForParents.org by Susan Smith, who is a mother of four in various stages of the their education. She discuss the decision making process which both parents and their children go through when selecting which college to attend. Susan describes how each of her children made their decisions, and how she involved herself in the process.

Do you have a child who will be going off to college in the next year? Or maybe you have a child that is a freshman in college now? Either way, you know what I am talking about when I say that emotions have been running high for some time in your household.

That senior year of high school is a time of extreme activity, anticipation, test taking and often confusion. Sometimes tempers flare and things are said without thinking. It is a time though for parents to try to guide their emerging young adult child through this tumultuous time with as little conflict as possible.

It would be great if your child's senior year in high school could be experienced without the added pressure of being accepted into the college of their choice and whether or not they will score high enough on that SAT or ACT to get a good scholarship. We, as parents, often forget how angst-filled that last year of high school is.

I am the mother of four. My first two children have bachelors degrees, one has her masters now and the other is working on his masters. My third child is a junior in college. Our youngest is a senior in high school. So believe me when I say that I understand what you are going through. I've been there, done that, and am still going through it!

Each of my children went through a different experience of getting ready for college. Each one had their own ideas of what they wanted and where they wanted to attend school. No two kids have the same abilities, grades or goals that another has and so they will be coming from different vantage points. Unfortunately, parents often have their own ideas of what is best for their child and expect them to just agree and go along with what Mom and Dad say. This, of course, is where much of the conflict comes in.

We experienced a very different situation with each of our oldest three children when it came time to choose a college. None of which followed any textbook formula. So I have to say we had to “wing it” through with each child. This in itself can be a harrowing adventure. Our oldest was adamant that he was going to go to an east coast or west coast school. Being the independent and dauntless one of our children, he wanted as far away from home as possible. Rather than discourage him, we discussed the choices he had narrowed his list down to and asked if he would at least consider a couple other universities that were not on one of the coasts (but still out-of-state, to make him happy).. He compromised with us and applications were submitted to eight schools. Two of the schools offered him very good scholarships, which helped with the decision process.
I have to say, though, that the biggest factor in choosing his school was making a visit, experiencing the atmosphere on campus and talking with students and administration.
Our son ended up attending a university in the southwest, which originally he was not interested in. Visiting the campus made the decision easier.

I cannot overemphasize enough how important it is to visit any of the colleges that your child is considering. It is without a doubt one of the best ways to see first-hand the workings of the school. Talking with students on campus can also give your child a good idea of what the pros and cons of that school are. I suggest you tour the campus, making sure to visit the freshmen dorm rooms, eat in the cafeteria and ask a lot of questions! If your child knows what area of study he wants to pursue, be sure to visit that specific department and talk with the chair or one of the professors. A visit to financial aid is necessary also to discuss any possible scholarships, grants, awards or loans that your student might be eligible for.

The college decision process for our next two children, girls, was completely different from that of their older brother, neither of them wanted to go as far away. Our oldest daughter was certain that she wanted to attend a large university two-hundred miles away from home where many of her friends were going. We also had several relatives living in that city. She did not want to consider any other colleges. Once again though, we asked for a compromise. When making an important decision, which is also a major investment, it is wise to have more than one choice to be able to make comparisons. It is good to compare large colleges to smaller ones as well as public schools to private ones. Our daughter didn’t want to apply anywhere else, but we asked if she would at least apply to the smaller private university. After being accepted by both universities, we went with her to the orientations for each school. Then it came down to her making the final choice. Once again, the visit and interaction with students, as well as the way the orientations were run, made her see some differences that she had not thought of before. At the last possible minute to make a decision, she ended up choosing the smaller university, even though it was 900 miles away. She much preferred the individualized attention given from a smaller school and the family-like atmosphere.

Our next daughter applied to three private colleges in three different states. Making a choice of where to attend was much harder for her. A visit was made to each. One was eliminated after the visit because it didn’t really offer what was needed in her major and the town was very small and isolated. The university she planned to attend was one where her best friend from high school would be her roommate and where she knew a few other students. At orientation they registered for classes, were assigned a dorm room and we assumed the choice was made. As the summer passed, our daughter thought more about this choice. She started considering the third college that had accepted her, but it was the farthest away and none of her friends were going there. She decided to attend the orientation there to reinforce her previous decision and not have any regrets. While going through this university’s orientation and with much deliberation, a change of mind was made to attend this school after all.

From my experience, let me advise that you allow your child to make as many of the personal decisions for himself. That is not to say you should stand back and let them make all decisions without some guidance. Of course, we as parents have more experience and knowledge of how things work or what can be a pitfall and should thus steer them in the right direction. We can also give our opinions and say what we think, but not in an overbearing or “because I say so” manner. By the time a child is in their senior year of high school, they definitely have their own sense of what they prefer and are just aching to be let loose to fly. And as difficult as this is to say, I do think there are times when we must let them go and hope we have taught them well enough to choose correctly. If they make mistakes, we also hope they will learn from them.

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