Anytime I mention "Helicopter Parent" to a parent of a high school kid, they are quick to deflect any possible affiliation with that label.
My response, I think that a parent who isn't a "helicopter parent" during the college process hurts their child.
Now let me first delineate between the two types of helicopter parents.
There is the helicopter parent who provides their child low ground cover.
And there is the helicopter parent who provides their child low ground control.
The former parent helps their student manage the stress that comes with the college process.
The latter parent contributes to their student's stress that comes with the college process.
And there will be inevitable stress.
Recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education, there was an article on how pets experience stress during the college process. The study revealed that pets aren't petted enough by their owners during the waiting period, which as a result, heightens the pet's stress level.
So if pets experience stress during this process, you can bet that parents will. And certainly the student.
Too often we forget that this is the first foray for many of these kids into the "adult world". This will be the first time they are critiqued, judged, evaluated, accepted, or rejected. In our hyper therapeutic, self-esteem culture, our kids have grown up being told how amazing they are. It's like the kid who sings in the living room to an audience of family members one day and the next day is standing in line to audition with 20,000 other living-room singers for American Idol.
It's one thing right to sing in front of Aunt Bethany and Uncle Fred and Grandpa Glenny. It's quite another thing when it's Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson.
This summer I had a chance to sit under the teaching of Dr. JoAnn Deak. Dr. Deak is the leading field researcher at The Ohio State University on adolescent brain development.
In her session on "Understanding the Adolescent Brain," she opened by saying point blank: "You are going against neurobiology. The adolescent brain is not equipped to handle the stresses and strains that 17-18 years old are put under, especially when it comes to the college process."
Dr.Deak explained how the Corpus collosum is under massive construction during the teenage years. Dr. Deaks compared the Corpus collosum to a 10-lane highway, like I-5 in LA. In order for teens to be able to think, organize, judge, and make morally sound, non-destructive decisions, "all lanes" on the Cc have to be open. What often happens though is that stress causes the Amygdala (feeling center) to swell, which then triggers a suppression of the Prefrontal cortex, which then causes the "highway to shut down". What ensues is a series of emotional, academic, and volitional "crashes".
This series of events often happens more in boys than girls. Ever wonder why your 17 year old boy acts like a 5 year old? Now you know.
So what the new brain research shows is that adolescence is the worst time for organization. Many times kids are trying to juggle 10 balls with one hand and a finger.
This is then why we need to help create a flight plan that prevents our kids from crashing into a mountain.
So with that said, let's look at 6 ways we can help our kids navigate through the turbulence and around the mountains that are sure to come.
1. Map out timeline(s).
There are three timelines you want to help map out for your student.
Standardized Test Timeline. You can sign up your student to take the ACT by clicking here; the same for the SAT I/II here. Remember: students are responsible for sending all test scores to colleges. You get 4 free schools to send scores to and then you pay for additional schools. (My advice is for you to send all test scores). The goal is for the student to take both tests once, and one of the test a total of three times. Students applying to highly selective schools will want to take 2-3 SAT II Subject Tests in May or June.
College Visit timeline. Map out dates/times during breaks that you can visit schools. Parents should take the lead on coordinating visits. College web sites have information regarding tour times. They also have info regarding state/school admission rep. For the "tourist season", you will want to catch a tour and try to schedule an informal meeting with our rep (email rep to schedule time). For the "buyers season", the colleges often contact you to try and get your student out for a "shopper's preview".
College Application time line. The key is to get down where the student will apply, when they will apply, and what kind of application they will submit. We encourage our students to apply to "rolling" schools (often public universities) in Sept/Oct, then focus on "Early" applications (whether Early Decision [ED], Early Action [EA], or SCEA [Single Choice Early Action]) in Oct./Nov., and then "ED2"/Regular admissions (2nd Early Decision round - schools like Vanderbilt, American, NYU, Davidson offer this).
Rolling: non-binding; public institutions; apply July-May; quick turnaround with results.
ED: Early Decision; binding; public/private schools; usually Nov. 1 deadline; mid-Dec. results.
ED 2: Early Decision; binding; usually a Jan. deadline; mid-March result.
SCEA: Single Choice Early Action; non-binding > May 1 to decide; apply to only one school (public universities are excluded); Nov. 1/15 deadline; "bear trap" watch out! ("hook" students only).
EA: Early Action; non-binding > May 1 to decide; usually a Nov.-Dec. deadline.
Regular: non-binding; May 1 to decide; usually a Dec-Jan deadline.
2. Do your homework/have a plan for highly selective schools (25%-6% admit rate).
Click here to view Early Admission results. Click here to view Regular Admission application volumes at 50 highly selective schools. It's important to do your homework:
- Application requirements: SAT Subject Tests - how many? required/or recommended? Teacher recommendations (1-2)? Peer recommendation? Interview?
- Early vs. Regular admit statistics (app.volume/accept %)
- Colleges within University admit statistics (engineering vs. liberal arts)
- Mid-50% range for test scores (Early vs. Regular admission)
- Hook: What is my hook? (Legacy, athlete, underrepresented minority, 1st gen, underrepresented gender)
- Application Type I: Common App. Universal App., Institutional App.)
- Application Type II: Early Action (EA)? Early Decision (ED)? Early Decision 2 (ED2)? Single Choice Early Action (SCEA)? Regular?
- Supplemental essays (click here to find what students were recommended/required)
- Create Contact History - email/visit non-binding (EA or SCEA) schools
- Apply to 3-4 schools other than ED 1 early (1-2 rolling; 1-2 early action) I compare this strategy to a archery target. If your "ED" school is the small bulls eye, then add a couple target rings that are easier to hit. That way your student gets a handful of "Yes" letters before or during the time they receive good or bad news on their "bulls eye school".
- Additional recommendation letters (alumni, local dignitaries, youth pastors, people beyond school that can speak to character, leadership, excellence).
Examples of cosmetic consultant: grammar, punctuation, spelling, family information [employment, job title, email, name and year of college] on the application, etc. I have found that our texting, Twitter, and Facebook generation tends to slip into those modes of writing on applications. I can't tell you how many times I've had to "touch up" acme on the face of an application that is peppered with i's and u's.
Examples of content consultant: the overarching goal in revealing a student (not packaging) involves what I call the "framework work" in the application: this framework work involves narration (telling the student's story well), synthesis (connecting-the-dots of major themes, points of excellence, salient traits), and distinction (elevating that student from the pack; revealing what separates them from the massive blob of high test scores and numbers; and hurdling any preconceived "stereotypes" [i.e. the preppy rich kid; the ditzy blond; the dumb job; the brainy textbookcentric Indian kid; the poor black kid on scholarship, etc.]). This is never an easy task. And no student (or counselor) can create this framework without the parent's insights.
So what I encourage parents to do is help identify the major "spheres" of their child's life, and then help the student and counselor identify "narrative moments" that have a colorful "word picture" within that moment that we narrate. Winston Churchill once said, "The ear is 1/10th the organ of the eye." College admissions need more than reasons to accept a student. They need visions. We want to connect then not only with the admission officer's mind, but their imaginations. Too often we forget that the mind is not so much a debating hall as it is a picture gallery. So help think of key images, frozen "action moments", and metaphors that the student and counselor can pull into their essays, interviews, rec letters, etc,
4. Aim for 75/25. To your left is a picture of a class discussion from my Honors English class last week. Modeled after the Harkness Table, we have days in class where the students dialogue about the text we are reading, and I chart the threads of conversation between them. What I've found is that our Harkness Table days are my best days as a teacher. And it is not so much because of what I'm saying or doing, but because of what I am not saying or doing. My silence isn't absence; it's presence. And in my silence my students can hear the words, "Take ownership of your education. Make it an extraordinary experience. Take the conversation in directions that challenge, fascinate, and energize us for going further up and further in.
So here is the point: The more your student can “own” the college experience, the more satisfied they will be with the journey and end destination. Aim then to foster an environment where the student does 75% of the “college talking” – in meetings with college counselor or college reps, on tours, in info sessions, and in post-tour conversations.
Pre-Tour: Encourage student to research schools before they visit campus or visit with rep (on campus or at Casady).
Pre-Tour: Have your student write down 5 questions in their Phone to ask the tour guide.
Tour: Encourage students to jot down “Notes” on phone of major impressions, cool programs, specifics.
Post Tour: Ask reflective questions:
"What did you learn about yourself on this college visit?"
"Why do you think this school may or may not be a good fit for you?
"What are one or two specific things you liked about this school?
5. Help "lower the red line" (aka "stressed out big time"...aka "neurobiological crash"... aka "meltdown mode").
Senior Academic Schedule - consider allowing the senior to substitute out one class they don't look forward to taking in their senior year. Still aim for 5 core classes with upward traction rigor-wise in at least 4 of them.
College Application "Class" Schedule - help students think ahead and set aside a couple major blocks of time to work on college applications. It's amazing what a 3-4 hour, uninterrupted morning or afternoon sessions will do to help students get stuff done.
Create "Decompressor" Spaces - make sure to create time and space for non-college conversation and activities that are fun, relaxing, and stress relieving.
College Application Volume - You've heard the maxim: "Eight is enough." Try to cap the application volume at eight*. And aim for balance - 1-2 Reach Schools, 2-3 Target Schools, 1-2 Financial Likely Schools (these are getting tougher to find).
* Casady seniors averaged 4.7 apps in 2011.
6. If you place a premium value on affordability, then you need to consider "going merit-based", "going private", and "going high".
To "go merit" means you look at schools that are merit-based and not need-based. Most schools that are "highly ranked" and "highly selective" give only need-based aid.
To "go private" means you look primarily at private institutions where you will find more merit monies. State schools are not going to "show you the money" based on massive budget cuts (click here to read recent Times article on the emerging crisis). Most state schools will only give students money based on strict objective criteria (GPA; test scores).
To "go high" means to look at schools where your student's academic credentials (GPA; test scores) are higher than most in application pool (top 25%).
In closing, parents who provide this kind of "low ground covering" will help this student make what is often the most difficult and challenging transition in their life.
From childhood to adulthood.
God knows I needed my parent's help when I went through this tumultuous transition.
And I'm so thankful that they were there to help navigate me through to a safe landing.
Below is the "Prezi" I used for my presentation to parents.