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We Are Applying to Harvard

Or, "What not to say to your child during the college search"

by Blythe Butler  |  1711 views  |  0 comments  |        Rate this now! 

Supporting your teenager as she makes one of her first adult decisions -- where to attend college -- can make you both wish for graduation day.  Here are some phrases to avoid when discussing this important and emotional topic, and suggestions for getting the conversation headed in the right direction.

1.) “What are you going to major in?” It seems like a safe-enough question, but this is an area where even the most benign show of interest can seem like pressure.  It’s a little bit like asking someone what she’s going to order for dinner when she hasn’t yet chosen a restaurant.  Some kids know what they want to study at age 17, but most don’t even realize their options yet.

Say this instead:  “Have you thought about what you’d like to study, or are you interested in a lot of different areas?”  Even better, help her come up with a comfortable answer to this question, because everyone from the lady across the street to her violin instructor is going to ask.

2.) “If want to go to an expensive school, you’re just going to have to figure out how to pay for it on your own.” You probably mean that your family does not have an unlimited budget, and you wish you could pay for his wildest dreams, but you can’t. That’s likely the case with many major purchases in your family, but in your haste to get this difficult topic out of the way you’ve just given your child the impression that he’s going to have to deal with a complicated financial situation all alone.  Instead, use the opportunity to begin a frank discussion about how you can work together to find a way to pay for college.  Be honest at the outset (there’s nothing worse than waiting until after he’s found the school of his dreams before dropping the bomb that you can’t afford it) and help him realize the possibilities and responsibilities of scholarships and educational loans.

Say this instead:  “We’ve saved $X for your education. You should apply to at least one college that you like and that we can definitely afford, but we’ll help you research scholarships and loans if you would like to apply to a more expensive college, too.  Cost will be one of the factors you’ll need to consider when you make your final choice. ”

3.) “The colleges that your counselor suggested just aren’t good enough.  He’s an idiot.” He may be an idiot, but if he’s spent time coming up with suggestions, he’s probably done his homework.  Keep in mind that college admission rates at highly selective schools continue to hit record lows (Harvard admitted less than 8 percent of its applicants in 2008), but there are literally thousands of high-quality institutions that have room for your child and where she’ll get a good education, even if you’ve never seen their coat of arms on a sticker on somebody’s car window.  The counselor might have put them on your daughter’s list because not only do they fit her interests, but she has a reasonable chance of being admitted to them.

About the Author

Blythe Butler is the former Associate Dean of Admissions at a selective liberal arts college. She is also an American mom who lives in Germany, loves to travel, and daydreams about Mexican food.

Read more by Blythe Butler

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