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Difficult Conversations

In the last two years, I've provided a wide range of services to high schoolers working to gain slots at our nation's top colleges. I've edited essays, helped build college lists, developed long-range strategic college plans, brainstormed compelling summer activities, etc. While I believe all of these services have been helpful, I'm increasingly convinced that the most useful service I provide is in establishing an organized structure and plan upon which students and parents can have honest conversations about college.

In many cases, the topic of college has become a real source of tension between students and parents by Junior year. As a result, the ability to sit down and have a valuable conversation about the application process and what the student is looking for in a college experience is very difficult, if not impossible. While this is understandable and incredibly normal (believe me, I see it ALL the time!), it also complicates the application process and adds stress to a situation that is already very stressful.

So what can be done if you find yourself in this situation as a parent? The answer ultimately depends in each case. Typically, I find the highest tension between parents and students when neither party has firm views on expectations for the student's college experience. In this case, it might make sense to bring in a neutral third party (someone like me, or even just a family friend who can approach the issue from neutral territory) to facilitate the discussion.

If the student has a fairly strong view on what they expect in a college, the ability to have a valuable discussion might be a bit easier. In this case, it might make most sense for the parents and students to set aside a designated hour or two each week to focus on college discussions. This may seem incredibly obvious, but I am increasingly finding that with the busy lives we all live, parents and students are not able to sit down and have these types of discussions without distraction unless they are events that are scheduled and consistent.

Ultimately, the goal for everyone involved is the same: gain acceptance and have an incredible experience at a college that best fits the student's interests and goals. To reach this goal, clear and consistent lines of communication between students and parents are both critical and attainable.

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