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Dreading the College Send-off? Look Forward to the College Visit!

November 10, 2014
UBC Dad Bumper Sticker

UBC Dad Bumper Sticker

To all the parents who are dreading the moment when their first born daughter or son leaves home to attend college, you have my sympathies. Given Thanksgiving has yet to arrive, you are likely in the middle of the college application gauntlet. You are likely trying to help your child while at the same time stepping back and letting your child choose. And as Dublin High School senior and Student Body President Tatiana Bouri notes, ‘Applying for college is stressful, not only because of the essays you have to write, but because it’s probably the first time you’ve had to sit down, stare at a computer and write down what you want to be.’

I’m a parent of two daughters – Emily a sophomore at The University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), and Evelyn a Dublin High School freshman. The senior year college application whirlwind for Emily is still fresh in my mind along with the multiple moments of stress that year brought. I offer advice in five phases.

admissions-office-photoPhase 1: Getting the college applications done. I helped with the clerical tasks, while Emily focused on the college essays required by many competitive colleges. For reasons that baffle me in the twenty-first century, it is necessary to take high school grades from one computer system and then type them manually into another computer system – multiple times. I advise creating a simple spreadsheet with all high school courses and grades in rows, and columns for each college. Tick off cells as you enter the required information, and mark N/A where the information is not required. You’ll be stressing about whether the application is complete, and this will approach will alleviate some of that stress. I also advise caution when providing feedback on your child’s essays – offer advice and help catch typos but do not re-write. Your child’s voice needs to be heard, not yours. And to help with Phase 2, make sure your child applies to at least one college that is as close to a guaranteed acceptance as possible (the ‘safety school’).

Phase 2: Waiting for the college acceptance notifications. I say ‘notifications’ because in all but one case Emily was notified by email. The school she is attending (The University of British Columbia) sent a traditional paper package by mail and it was wonderful – the first sentence was simply ‘Yes!’ which is all the student really needs to know. By the time that package arrived she’d already been accepted by her ‘safety’ schools and had the confidence that college was a reality. She didn’t get accepted everywhere, but was accepted by the school that mattered the most. There is no magic wand here – there is nothing much you can say or do to make the passage of time from college application to college acceptance notifications go any faster so practice deep breathing and celebrate every acceptance letter.

Phase 3: Commit to a college (or be committed). Most stressful for our family was waiting for Emily to commit to a school. She was blessed with choices – and having choices is both a blessing and a curse. Both my wife and I wanted the choice to be hers and it was very hard to stand back. For many students committing to a college is the biggest decision they’ve made in their lives to-date, while for others the choice will be obvious. There are all kinds of tools to help with decision stress – lists of pros and cons, what if’s (like ‘what if school A hadn’t accepted you – how would you have felt? What about school B?) and most effective – the deadline to decide. Rest assured your child will decide and when he or she does a wave of stress will dissipate from your household. I distinctly remember where I was when Emily approached me with the words, ‘Dad, I’ve decided to commit to the University of British Columbia!’.

Phase 4: The college send-off (aka impending doom). You thought phases 1, 2 and 3 were stressful? it gets better! (…if you are into stress that is). Phase 4 spans multiple months including the chaos of non-stop senior year events (each event a reminder of your child’s impending send-off). There are moments of fun, including visits to Beds, Bath and Beyond to stock up on college supplies, but it’s mostly a teary mix of celebration and melancholy. You’ll feel pride in having helped your child successfully get into college, and sadness that he or she soon won’t be sleeping at home every night. You’ll dread the tear-drenched send-off and long drive / flight home. My advice is avoid talking to other parents – they will only tell you how hard and awful the send-off will be.

Phase Beyond: Household minus one. But here is the good news – your worst fears will most likely not be realized. In our experience the relationship with Emily has grown as she’s been in college. Thanks to the Internet, webcams and smartphones we are able to connect with Emily regularly despite the distance: a txt here and a videochat there is effortless. We can see she’s happy, safe and flourishing. In some ways we talk to Emily more now than during her senior year of high school when she was scrambling non-stop on academic and social fronts.

Flying to Vancouver

Flying to Vancouver

And I write this flying back from Vancouver after a wonderful weekend visit. I fly back with a wallet slightly lighter having happily helped with a long list of dorm room supply top-ups, non-cafeteria meals and entertainment treats too expensive for a student budget. With a hug, ‘I love you’ and goodbye Emily said ‘It’s too bad you couldn’t have stayed longer.’ How many times have you heard your high school senior tell you that? And because many of us secretly wish we could return to the ‘college bubble’, visiting your child in college gives you a legitimate excuse to do just that.

So as you move through Phases 1-4 keep in mind Phase Beyond. You are not losing your son or daughter, you are about to get to know them as emerging adults, and that’s a wonderful experience.

Emily has written two articles about her experience at The University of British Columbia a an international student:

You can read many more college experiences written by Dublin High School graduates in the Life in College Series of articles.

UBC Thunderbird Spirit (Emily far right with friends)

UBC Thunderbird Spirit (Emily far right with friends)

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