Less Stress College Prep

Are you prepared to send your child off to college?

boys notre dameI am slightly obsessed with discussing college options with parents of kids of any age who are not completely overwhelmed by my enthusiasm and endless questions. My middle-school-aged boys have “top 5” ever changing lists of their prospective schools, which they frequently shuffle after such significant events as who won the last college world series (Vanderbilt) to which school will allow them to bring their dog (University of Washington). While I know/pray my kids are going to mature and develop into more academic and wiser applicants, I think the idea of discussing different types of college environments and visiting schools while they are in the young grades, before it gets really “real”, will lay a foundation of interest to help alleviate the pressure once they are in their later years of high school. Plus, I can’t help myself. Not only is it a fun topic to visit with all the romantic nostalgia of my own college years coupled with promise of new adventures to come, it will be a life-changing experience for my kids as well as for me.

We discuss types of schools frequently at family dinners so my boys can get an idea of what may be in their interest such as student body size, geographical location, sports opportunities, access to professors and many more factors in light-hearted conversation. The trick is not to outwardly cringe when one of your children declares he’s absolutely applying to Cal Poly, not because it has a top engineering program, but because it has easy access to Pismo Beach.

Discussing college can be very stressful when it comes to grades, test scores,  extra-curriculars and, oh, yes, let’s just get it out there…tuition. Gulp. At this point we all realize that the college application process is not only markedly more competitive than it was when we went to school, but crazy expensive regardless of how early we started our kids’ 529 plans. My goal for my family is to enjoy the possibilities a bit, dream a little, let all our fantasies bloom and then slowly let the more serious aspects enter the conversation when we are all a bit more ready.

A few suggestions:

  • For each travel sport game on the road, holiday vacation or family reunion, my plan is to expose the kids to various types of college campuses, even if it’s just a quick stop in the student center for a treat. If we can squeeze in a walk through a quad or around a beautiful, historic building, that’s a bonus.
  • Save the tours for when the kids are actually prospective students. The time you spend on campuses with them at this age is all about making impressions, not inducing them into a vegetative state from information overload.
  • Write it down: So far my boys have tabulated their notable on-campus experiences while watching a World Cup game at a pizza shack at Ohio State, wandering around the gold dome building at Notre Dame, attending a Kent State baseball game, getting a glimpse of fraternity life while heading to the Cal soccer stadium, swinging on the hammocks at High Point University in North Carolina, and watching lasers shoot around a chemistry lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

While our conversations will eventually be riddled with hot button topics such as essays, deadlines and student loans, we are taking this time to enjoy more remarkable highlights of the college experience such as handling the live Buffalo mascot running down the football field (CU) and soaking in the jacuzzi hot tubs in your dorm room (High Point).

Incorporating the idea of college as part of your life with your children at an early age will not only make it easier when the deadline gets closer – it will allow you to have a little fun and share lasting memories together in the process.