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Decision Day: Preparing for the College Admissions

by the Staff of the NYU Child Study Center

High school seniors wait in anticipation in April, when final college admission announcements are made. We offer tips to help you and your teen get through this rite of passage.

For teens it seems like the most important event of their lives, and indeed it does start them on a particular course for the future. For parents it can seem like a reflection of themselves. However, you should keep the whole college application and selection process in perspective. Above all, remember that acceptance or rejection is not a measure of the child's worth nor does it guarantee eventual success or failure in life.

Be prepared

  • Keep realistic expectations in mind. It's fine to have schools that are a "reach" but don't set your heart on these, and don't feel that the "safety" schools are a last resort. All schools have something to offer.
  • Don't confuse your ambitions or past disappointments with those of your child. Parents have the benefit of age and experience and they want the best for their children. Although teens can profit from parental advice teens must experience things for themselves.
  • As much as we would all like to imagine otherwise, there is no such thing as a perfect college. There is such a thing as a perfect fit, or a good enough match to make the college experience an enriching and enjoyable one.
  • Have a plan for what will happen based on the outcome of the decisions. Know ahead of time how you and your teen rank order schools, list the pros and cons of each different place.

Once you get the news

  • To open or not to open. The old fashioned way of judging the decision by the size and weight of the envelope may no longer hold up. Nevertheless, talk to your child about how the mail delivery issue is to be handled: phone calls home from school and letters read over the phone vs saving the mail for the teen to open.
  • Elicit your teen's feelings about the decision: elation or dejection or relief that it's over. Be aware that feelings may not be readily apparent or registered right away. Have some gauge of the peer group culture and standards, as well as how tuned in or competitive your child is with friends.
  • Recognize that the move to college represents a milestone in life for both parent and child. Regardless of how close or far away the campus, college signifies a move towards independence and adulthood that should be acknowledged and celebrated.
  • Monitor your own attitude. The manner in which the parents and family handle stress and disappointment and their feelings about higher education will influence how the teen copes with the situation.
  • Realize that you and your child's reactions may be related to a host of other feelings and issues: fears and desires about moving on. "The letter" represents a concrete separation and the fact that there will be a change in the family. Even if the teen remains living at home during the college years, the roles of parent and child no doubt will shift as teens take on new responsibilities.
  • For the child with multiple choices this is a time to consider advantages and disadvantages of each option. You may not want to think about it, but nothing is forever and many students transfer.
  • Take time. Regardless of the decisions, plans become clearer over the course of the next days and weeks and feelings of either joy or sadness become less intense. It takes time to adjust to whatever decision you make as a family in spite of the decisions made by college admissions counselors.
  • Breathe a sigh of relief. No matter what, at least the decision is made! Now everyone can move forward.

Content provided with permission from NYU Child Study Center, www.aboutourkids.org

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This content was last modified on: 04/28/2017

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