Helping Your Child Find the Right College “Fit”
Asking the Right Questions
One summer, our son had the opportunity to attend a U.S. Coast Guard Academy summer program. The admissions department offered a presentation on helping children find the right “fit” for college. The college process was presented in terms of finding “the glove that fits your hand.” It was very interesting and approached the process of the college search in a unique way.
Returning home, we decided to apply the concept, and to start we asked our children the suggested question: What is the most significant decision you think you will make in your life? Surprisingly, the #1 answer was who they would marry! Second was what they were going to do after high school (to attend college or not, and which one).
The second step was to ask further questions, included below. In answering the first three questions, the goal is for them to ultimately discover and study their “hand.”
As your student prepares to apply to college, consider asking him or her to think about the following questions and answer them truthfully.
1. Why do you want to go to college?
2. Who are you? What is your life story? What interests you, and what activities do you enjoy? What do you see as your purpose in life? What kind of personality do you have?
3. What do you want to do? What do you see yourself doing? What would you like to dedicate your life to? What were you called to do?
The final step (or question) is basically “glove shopping.” Where do you want to go? To figure this out, student and parents then look at prospective schools in terms of whether the schools match the answers to the first three questions. This is the process of finding out if the “glove” fits the “hand.”
A Parent’s Role: Trusted Adviser
The advisers at U.S. Coast Guard Academy explained that parents are children’s most trusted advisors. However, they stressed the importance of finding balance in this role. Occasionally, well-meaning parents push strongly for what they believe is best, and the child feels left with only one choice—to follow in the steps of a parent or a legacy. Tune in to your child and their desires. Really listen, watch and look for the talents that set them apart, that they can build on and expand to create their own story in the future.
When Guidance is Needed
With that said, there is value in the role of “parent as guide.” Parents know children best, and have the responsibility to guide, taking into consideration individual talents, needs and desires. Sometimes, children just aren’t sure of their needs or desires. In this instance, parents must take a strong guidance role, but must be willing to step back and re-evaluate if needed.
Who Makes the Final Decision: A Personal Case
In our family, in one case, we felt very strongly about which college should be attended. The child in question wanted to follow friends to the college of their choice. I sought advice from a wise and well-educated friend about how to help this child. Her advice was as follows:
“Parents are critical in the college decision making process. Eighteen-year-old children sometimes do not have enough experience to know what is really going to impact their lives—for the better (or worse). They don’t know, yet, what kinds of formation will make the whole rest of their lives easier. They often don’t even understand themselves very well, so they don’t know what will make them happy. God made parents, and gave them parental authority, because He knows that children are not yet ready or able to run their own lives—though, of course, that is what we are trying to equip them to do.”
“My gut reaction is that your child will be grateful if you just decide for him/her, even if nothing is immediately said. It is a little like the dorm rules. They are a help to the student who wants to do the right thing (go to sleep at a reasonable hour, not have members of the opposite sex in the room, etc.) but isn’t comfortable saying so on his/her own. It’s not that he/she couldn’t or wouldn’t say and do the right thing, it just takes the pressure off.”
We concluded that it usually made more sense for parents to make the final call, especially good parents who really have the child’s happiness (eternal versus temporal happiness) in mind, than for the child to make a final decision. In our case, we ultimately made this child’s college decision and, although there was anger at first, we heard in November of freshman year, “This is the best decision I ever made—coming here.” The child had embraced the decision and made it his own.
May God bless you all as these life-changing decisions are approached, considered and decided. Please reach out to me if you have any questions! I am happy to help and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions. —Cyndy Quinan