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What I Wish I Knew During the College Search Process


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©istockphoto.com / YinYang

They say hindsight is 20/20 so we asked parents who’ve been through the college process to share what they learned and their advice to those just starting out. Honest, moving and chock full of wisdom you need to read these heartfelt responses as you embark on your college admissions journey. 

“I’m going through the college process for the second time, and I now realize I owe my oldest child an apology. So much pressure is placed on the oldest throughout their young lives, and when it comes to college, it is no different. (At least in my case.)  I expected my oldest to attend an ivy or the very least a highly ranked university. She was so excited to receive a full scholarship to a university she loved, only to be made to feel, by me, that it wasn’t good enough. I cringe now. After being deferred by her first choice (our choice), she was devastated and embarrassed. She literally fell face down on her bed and did not look up for hours. In hindsight, it was me she was hiding from. When she gained some confidence to share her “ideal” school with us we would not listen. Instead we insulted the school.  Feeling insecure and out of control she chose to EDll instead of waiting to hear from the deferred school and out of fear she would not get in anywhere. In my gut I knew it wasn’t the right fit and it isn’t. Sadly my child is not thriving and possibly coming home for a semester, and yes, I feel partially responsible. I’ve learned that kids do end up with choices and that many kids who were deferred do get into their top school. But more importantly, I’ve learned you need to trust your child’s instincts. Choosing a university is the first big choice many of them get to make, and they need to feel confident about the decision. This second time around I am only listening and giving advice when asked." — Tara
“1. Every child is different; what works for one of your kids doesn’t necessarily work for the other.


2. Don’t push your alma mater; it may not be the right school even if it was the right school for you.


3. If your child is auditioning to get into a music or theatre program, be patient, while peers are posting on Facebook, your child will be waiting and auditioning.


4. If you can be flexible check the weather when you visit a school: even the best school can seem gloomy in bad weather. It also keeps the students inside.


5. A great tour guide makes a big difference!" — Jody
“One piece of advice I always tell friends at the beginning of their college admissions process is to focus on the bottom half of their child’s college list.  It’s natural to spend time on the top schools- and ideally, your child will be accepted to one or more of those schools. But given the current competitive landscape, it’s also possible that your child won’t get into their first choices. In that case, it’s really beneficial - for everyone in the family  - if your child is enthusiastic about the schools on the second half of his or her list.  Some specific suggestions: never degrade a school that your child is applying to, always find something positive to say about a school that you are visiting, and most importantly think out of the box. There are great opportunities outside of the US, in the California state school system, and at some of the smaller liberal arts colleges in the Midwest.  Make sure there are a few schools on your list that your child’s college advisor is confident about—where the odds are good—and for those schools make sure that you are enthusiastic. That way if your child doesn’t get into their top schools on their list, your child will nonetheless still have lots of good choices." — Margaret
“1.  Work with an outside consultant. We used the same women for all three of my kids. What came from her mouth had so much more value than if we said it. It also relieved us of the pressure of nagging about deadlines, keeping track of those time frames, asking for rewrites, and encouraging studying...worth every penny. 


2.  Visit schools!  Most kids have an instant response to a school they can see themselves attending. That’s not to say they can’t fall in love with a school on a second visit. But, trust what they feel about a place and keep your opinions to yourself. Don’t press for instant play by play as you’re visiting a school. Let them allow their response to a place to sink in before asking for what they feel. 


3.  Trust that your kid will likely love where they end up, whether it’s the first or second choice. It’s only a small percentage of kids that end up transferring." — Andrea
“My daughter wanted to go to Syracuse from Day One and was especially interested in their small and selective Sports Management program. However, after we visited Wisconsin, my husband and I convinced her not to apply to Syracuse early decision and to wait and see if she got into Wisco. While she loved Wisconsin, had it not been for us she would have applied early decision to Syracuse, showing her interest and increasing her chances of being accepted. Because of our personal feelings based solely on a 48-hour visit, which included an amazing football game, we threw our daughter into a mix with tens of thousands of other regular decision applicants and created the risk of her not only getting into the Sports Management program but being rejected altogether from Syracuse. We were those parents who guided their child according to what we liked best, negating what our daughter liked best. Thank goodness it all worked out, but I can honestly say, I still regret not listening and respecting her true wishes from the start." 
— Elizabeth
“I wanted my daughter, Ryan, to stay somewhat close to home (no flights involved) and did the usual college research based on her grades, where we thought she could get in, the cost of the school, their financial aid packages and what we could afford. As we live in Westchester, we toured up at Roger Williams, and all the Boston schools and then U Del came into the picture.  My niece and two nephews had gone there and LOVED it.  They played sports; all got scholarships and overall had a great experience.  The kicker was my good friend’s daughter was applying there also. Well, that immediately made it MY first choice. As a single mom, I would have a parent to travel with on visits, the drive was manageable, but not too close making for a good start for both of us to learn to live in the “next stage” of our ongoing journey as parent and child. It turned out though that I was pushing for something that just wasn’t meant to be.  Ryan applied to 10 schools, had the grades for every school and we considered U Del a safety.  She had a fantastic interview with the dean of admissions that knew all her cousins (legacy) from their stellar performances on the Lacrosse teams.  Well, she got into 9 of the 10, and U Del passed on her.  GO FIGURE.

Thankfully, what I did do right was explore ALL the other schools on our list including far off schools such as UC San Diego, Boulder, and the University of Arizona.  For Ryan, the choice was simple.  Once she saw U of A, it was a done deal.  From the first few moments, she felt like she belonged— it had everything that SHE wanted.  For me, it was a two plane horrible hassle each and every visit, but she thrived and grew up, and I learned to cut the cord (even if I wasn’t ready).

"

So my advice: keep your options open, don’t get your heart set on only one school and trust that your child will wind up where they belong.  Looking at schools puts you in the driver’s seat—remember you are interviewing the school when you tour as much as they are interviewing you. You go, you see, if you like it you apply, and if you don’t, you move on!" — Jamie
“My child only wanted Michigan. She drank the Kool Aid like many kids in our area and thought being a Wolverine was the be all and end all. I respected that she had a clear vision of where she wanted to go. But when a child’s first choice is Michigan, and when asked what her second and third choice is and the response is “Michigan and Michigan,” you have to wonder if it is healthy to have utter and complete tunnel vision without considering any other options. The stress and anxiety became enormous as we waited to hear. Looking back, I should have been more proactive with my daughter instead of joining her on her emotional ride. My advice: Encourage your child to focus on at least two or three viable and exciting back-ups. Be a cheerleader for those choices, so that your child is ready and open to those schools if she gets rejected from her first choice. Tell your child, over and over again, that whatever school they ultimately attend they will find happiness and success, and that this school will quickly become “their school.” Our children will encounter rejection in their lives; and though being rejected from Michigan would have been heartbreaking for my daughter, as a parent we can’t be so scared of that happening. If I could do it again instead of constantly assuring her everything would work, I would be realistic that rejection was a real possibility and that her world wouldn’t collapse if she didn’t attend the University of Michigan. If we as parents aren’t prepared to pick up the pieces, how can we expect our children to?" — Kate
“I love the idea of sharing my experiences, and it’s so easy to answer now that I have just been down the college road. I will be so much smarter the next time around! I love when people say: “my kid only wants south...they only want big...they won’t go small...they do not want to be cold.” I find these grand sweeping statements by—let’s be clear—kids, should not be solely adhered to. My daughter was one of “those” who only wanted a southern school, did not want to stay in NY— blah blah blah. We spent all our time looking down south only to find her disinterested in all of the schools. We didn’t find a love match, yet we carried on. The last few days before she headed back to school, my husband decided we really should have looked more, and me being exhausted and honestly done, said, “Ok why don’t you take a ride to Colgate.” Well, wouldn’t you know it—my daughter fell in love. The coldest, rural, upstate NY school and that is what she fell in love with. I would tell parents only partially to listen to their kids, and then provide a broad range of options, even if they seem confident of what they want. See big schools, small schools, city schools, and suburban campuses, schools in the north, the south, or out west. Chemistry is a funny thing, and you don’t know it till you feel it." — Stephanie
“I think with both our kids the most successful school visits were ones they organized and did by themselves.  My husband and I each took them to see a lot of schools - and those were often memorable trips.  But towards the end of the process, when my son was planning his southern college visits, he suggested that he do that trip solo.  Through a combination of buses and trains and an occasional taxi he made his way around the south, staying in inexpensive hotels or on friends’ couches.  As a result, he decided which tours to take, which classes to visit (not many!), where to eat and who to talk to. The trip gave him confidence, and he ended up owning the process of applying to all those schools." — Peggy
“My oldest son, Alec, an excellent student, had a range of top choices of schools and chose a small, rural college in rural Vermont, Middlebury, far from our home base in Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, he had two crises in his second year at Middlebury. The first: he was studying biology on his way to becoming a doctor, his classes were progressively more challenging, and he came to realize he did not want to be a doctor. He had chosen his major quickly, and I believe, now, due to subliminal suggestions from me. It’s important to know if your student can switch majors, and how difficult that can be.  For Middlebury, Alec’s dean was kind, approachable and accommodating. He switched majors from biology to film and media studies after taking a full year off –time he needed, and upon his return he finally found his passion. Unless your student has a direction, which most don’t, I would steer them away from declaring a major too quickly. 

 

The second crisis was depression. Seasonal affective disorder could have been a factor in his depression, especially as this is common for a kid who also has ADHD. I would encourage any parent who is sending a child from a sunny location to a place with a long dreary winter to know whether your kid can handle this.  I know what you’re thinking, how would you know? Often it doesn’t rear its ugly head until sophomore year after the novelty of freshman year is over with the prospect of suffering through 3 more winters. It’s very common to experience depression. Secondly, investigate whether the school you chose has psychiatric help and what they offer. It was difficult for us to find the right support, leading to many sleepless nights. I learned it’s important to consider how long it takes door to door to get to your child’s school.  In our case, it was 12 hours, two flights and a 45-minute drive. In retrospect, this distance should have given me pause.  Several times due to inclement weather Alec missed his connecting flight and therefore slept on a chair or the floor of an airport. 

 

It’s tempting to want our kid to go to that prestigious school, or the toughest one they get into, but carefully examine if that is the right fit for them. He/she and you, as parents will pay the price if it’s not.  Look at the distance, the majors offered and when you have to declare them, the flexibility of the school and the support the school offers. These factors are crucial." — Linleigh
“My third child was the clingy child, the one who never wanted to leave home. I expected her to choose a small liberal arts school, a different direction than her older siblings who attend large universities. After a weekend visiting her older sister, a school that was the antithesis of who she is, she announced that was now her first choice. It was the polar opposite of where I expected her to go. I kept my reservations to myself; deep down knowing it might be a mistake. I trusted my daughter, ignoring my gut feelings when she told me that she had grown and evolved and was ready to embrace everything a big school had to offer. Ultimately, I didn’t try that hard to dissuade her. Freshman year has been a struggle, and my daughter now recognizes she would feel more comfortable on a smaller campus. I will never forget the day that she cried and said to me: “Mom.... you knew I wouldn’t be happy here.... WHY DID YOU LET ME COME?” Was I to blame? I still shake my head and wonder if I did the right thing? Could I have forbidden her to go to a huge school? Should I have convinced her that she would be happier at a different school? I don’t know. What I do know—we should have visited more schools, and she should have stayed overnight with someone she knew to experience the school beyond the tour. She got caught up in her sister’s school, seeing it through her sister’s eyes, when she needed to see it with her own vision." — Ella

Liora Yalof and Bonnie Klein started Daytripper University after years of college touring with their kids, and too many bad hotels and terrible meals to count. Happy to relive their Syracuse days, they have been hitting the road spending time on college campuses engaging with students and locals to bring you all the best information to make your college tours fun and less stressful. The website also has numerous resources helping parents navigate the college process.
Read more about Daytripper University here.
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