It is the time of year when many students are facing decision emails from universities around the world. Students are experiencing a myriad of emotions, and now is not the time to push expectations on students who are already mentally fragile from virtual learning, lack of extracurricular and social opportunities, etc. Students and their families are active players in the game of life.
Parents, guardians, grandparents, siblings, extended relatives, well-meaning close family friends, listen up. The university application process and acceptance rate has changed dramatically from when you at university. Dispelling the preconceived notion of a ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ school is one of the hardest things about our jobs as independent education consultants. We are not here to squash hopes and dreams of students and their families, but instead to provide an objective viewpoint that looks at all aspects of university to determine if it is the best fit for the student and their ambitions. We are here to tell you this not a game that is to be won, but a journey. And yes, there is a way to play right during the journey.
We have students who apply to a wide range of universities including well-known institutions such as Harvard, Vanderbilt, Oxford, Tufts, NYU, and St. Andrews. Likewise, we also have clients who take their own path and attend junior college, applied science universities in the Netherlands, known European and North American universities such as Anglo-American University, University of New Haven, Rhodes College, Mount Allison, Dalhousie, and so many more. LAUNCH encourages students and their families to accept that fact that attending university is a lived experience for the student. Parents may have their hopes and dreams, but ultimately the student is the one who has to do the work every day.
Students are the one that has to figure out where to find the tutoring center, their biology lab, a professor’s office, and how to use the interlibrary loan system. They are the one that has to check with their immigration officer on campus, spend late nights writing papers or doing math problems, and navigate unknown social/cultural scenes. They are the ones having to do laundry and ensure they have enough bonus points on their meal card to enjoy some tasty snacks during late night study sessions. They are the ones having to get tested weekly for coronavirus on campus, abide by campus rules, and manage their time away from home. This is a lived experience, and if it does not match what they are seeking, it will not work out in the long run. Then you enter the transfer admissions realm (you will be calling us for help!).
We know families and friends mean well. We understand trying to give helpful advice. We do not ask you to stop caring for your student. We do ask that you reframe where you come from with advice. We have students receive advice about where to apply when people do not know their financial, academic, or learning difference situation. The advice is given based on their own lived experience, which is dated or unique to them. Since YOU (parents, guardians, grandparents, siblings, extended relatives, well-meaning close family friends) are not the ones going to university this year, we want to offer some advice to help your students own the university search, application, and ultimately, the decision process. We want you to play right.
Know your student’s values (and don’t let yours overshadow them). Attending university is a transformative time in a student’s life. It can be scary but beautiful. It can be hard but easy. Your student is the one who has to wake up and face their lived experience every day. You are paying for academic growth, network, connections, and skill development when you invest in university. Many universities outside the top 50 have wonderful resources to achieve this. Make sure you know what your child values, so you can help them match with the right environment for a wonderful lived experience.
Remember that the student is applying to college. I admit you may be the one being asked for your credit card for application fees, to send test scores and transcripts, and to file the FAFSA or CSS Profile, but you ARE NOT the one writing the essays, filling out the application, securing recommendations, and attempting to put your best self forward on paper. You already did that. Let your child learn and grow through this wonderful (albeit sometimes stressful) experience. You may have your expectations, but they may not match your student’s. That is okay. Be okay with them disappointing you.
Encourage and open heart and mind. While you may not agree with the benefits of a liberal arts degree, it may be what your student needs to gain a wider perspective on the world. You may not agree with psychology and be pushing business. You may be pushing STEM without realizing your student’s heart and soul lives in philosophy and linguistics. Encourage yourself and the support systems around your student to keep an open mind about their choices, options, and life goals. Students are individuals with dreams and ambitions that may be different from you and require a different support system at university.
Recognize all fields of study and careers are competitive in some sense. At every school, there is always a top, middle, and bottom third. Don’t believe me, watch this wonderful talk by Malcolm Gladwell. When you get into the workforce, it will be similar. High, mid, and low performers. You will not always win. You will not always be at the top every time. Learn to compete, lose gracefully, and learn from failure. Learn to lead with intention, grace, and humility. It will make them a better person.
Research and understand the social cues and norms. I grew up in a hard work household, but learned over the years that is not only how it works in different industries. Hard work is not the only way up and through this globalized, dynamic, and interconnected world. Networking does not just take place in person anymore. Teach your student to discuss pragmatically within both the personal and professional context. Have them read Dale Carnegie's, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Make them cognizant that their current social bubble has different norms than other social bubbles. You may even grow from the experience as well! Students who can navigate the complex fabric of social situations can understand group dynamics and make the best of situations.
Read, research, and be curious. There are well-read people all over the world (including Third World countries). It is important to know what is going on globally, and you may be surprised to find another country that aligns with your students values. There are good schools in poor countries and bad schools in wealthy countries, along with a plethora along the spectrum. Consider exploring schools all over the world. Also, do not just rely on rankings list. READ THE METHODOLOGY of those lists. It will give you a great amount of insight into how those lists are formed. This is why the same schools appear on all lists honestly. Do not take advice at face value no matter how well-meaning individuals are. Call the school and find out information yourself.
Remember, where they go is not who they will be. While the name may get you through the door, it’s what you do once you are there. Smaller, less-known universities have caught onto the game played by the Top 50. In fact, they often invest significant amounts of resources in placing students in internships, co-ops, and professional development opportunities earlier in their university careers because they understand their name is not well known. Therefore, they know significant exposure to the workforce, networking, and complicated social norms is critical to a students future success.
Love them anyway. I witness parents comparing their student to others frequently, and I will be very blunt - it is soul crushing for your son or daughter. Comparison is the thief of joy. STOP IT! Your student may not choose your top choice, love them anyway. They may choose a different major than you would like; love them anyway. They may choose to attend school further away then you would like; love them anyway. The comparison game negates all effort a student puts forth in the process and inadvertently gives them the message, “You are not good enough.” That is simply not true. They are good enough. They have gifts to show the world. Their path has to be their path as sometimes there is only chance to choose your path. Comparison disempowers them from learning how to take risks, deal with failure, gain confidence through trial and error. No matter their acceptances, denials, and final decisions, love them anyway.
I love working with high school and college students to make their dreams come true. I want nothing more than to see each student succeed and measure success to no one else but themselves. So to conclude, I leave you with a some advice from Kenny Rogers.
“You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done”
Remember the dealing is not done because where your student goes is not who they will be in the game of life. Don’t believe me? Read Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. If you decide to purchase it, try to support a local business and #shoplocal and remember to #dreamlaunchsoar.