The school year has barely started, but concerns about future education options are already brewing. While you may be far from the preschool to professional career pipeline, many parents can't stop themselves from worrying about college even in the earliest years of education.
Before you scoff and ask who in their right mind would worry about college when their kids are so young, remember that we all have our worries. And this is one I hear from parents so frequently that it’s time to address it head on. Luckily, I know just the person to address our educational anxieties: college admissions counselor Heather Parry.
Parry spends her time immersed in helping parents and teens navigate the college application process. What excites me about her is her mission. She does not view her job as getting a teen in to the best college, but helping students identify the best college for that individual based on their own unique self. Parry knows this can be a stressful process for families and one of her core objectives is to help parents and teens stay connected and conflict free during this time.
I recently sat down with Parry to get her take on the early college worries. Here’s what she had to say.
What are some pieces of advice you have for parents of younger children who are already anxious about the college admissions process?
Everything is going to be okay. Your child’s preschool placement will not determine his/her future college and career prospects!
Elementary and middle school are not the time to stress out about college, but rather to encourage your student to develop good study habits, communication skills, curiosity, and give them the freedom to be a kid. This is the time for them to explore different activities and interests and build up their confidence so they have a better transition into high school and beyond.
I’d also encourage parents to read Frank Bruni’s book "Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be." This book reminds parents that a “name-brand” college will not determine whether your child grows into a happy, healthy and successful adult.
When should parents start talking to their kids about college?
Honestly, planting the seed early is not a bad idea. I encourage parents to take students to museums, cultural activities, and other events on college campuses so they can experience the college environment early on. Often that gets students excited and motivated to take the right classes in middle school and early high school.
However, I don’t think parents and students need to talk seriously about college until eighth grade, which is often the point at which students will choose whether to begin a foreign language or sign up for a more advanced math class (such as algebra). Some of these choices will impact the student’s course options going into high school.
What are some of the biggest sources of tension you see between parents and students?
Many parents (especially moms) view the college admissions process as the culmination of their parenting, and think that where their child goes to college is a direct reflection of their parenting skills. This often translates to a parent that pressures the student into looking at colleges that are not necessarily a good fit for that student’s personality, academic interests and preferences. I find myself navigating these conversations with families quite a bit in the early stages of our work together. Ultimately, the most important thing is finding a college where the student will be comfortable, will thrive and will graduate!
Another source of tension is money. Students don’t understand just how insanely expensive college has become, and how much of a strain that can put on their family. I encourage families to have open and honest conversations about college financing and expectations early, and to use this information when putting together an appropriate college list.
What is your background and what do you do with students and families?
My background is in college admissions and recruiting. I’ve worked with a few different colleges over the years, including Claremont McKenna College and the University of Washington. While I loved reading hundreds of applications per year and recruiting all over the country, I realized that students and families were struggling to keep track of everything in this complicated process, causing a ton of anxiety. I started my own college counseling practice so I could work with families as an independent party, helping them to maintain healthy relationships during this stressful time.
I primarily work with high school juniors and seniors in the midst of the application process, helping them identify colleges of best fit and guiding them through the process and timeline. I absolutely love getting to know students over a longer period of time and helping them remain calm and confident as they transition from high school to college.
Okay, so you have heard from the expert. Feeling better? Ready to set those worries aside for a few years? I hope so.