Living at home is amazing. I moved back into my parent’s house for the first three months of graduate school and was happy to do laundry without quarters, not worry about the functionality of my wireless internet (Pictured: trying to train my cat to fix my internet) and not have to parallel park every evening. I happily allowed my parents to take over the mechanics of my life again but was very ready to move out, even though it meant having to call Time Warner Cable/Kaiser/everywhere on my own. For many high school students, the college application process is the first big process they are navigating on their own. Certainly we expect parents and counselors to help guide a student, but here are five things I think every high school student should do to help them own the process instead of letting their parents take the lead.
1. Speak for yourself
Every high school student should become comfortable speaking to an adult. It is scary at first, but once you have your intro down it will flow like gossiping with your best friend. Make eye contact, tell me your name, what school you attend, what year you are, etc. I know students can be modest or shy so a parent may speak for their student when meeting me, but it is important that I remember you and our interaction instead of your parent.
2. Make a phone call
I have major phone anxiety so this is something I always try to work on. Once you have your opening spiel down about yourself, picking up the phone to call your admission counselor should feel less scary. I sometimes get the sense that students are shocked I have picked up the phone when in fact being available/responsive is a huge part of my job. The most important thing is providing us the context for your call. When I pick up the phone, I only know what you tell me so it is important to identify if you are a freshman or transfer applicant, a prospective student, if you’ve already applied or not, etc. We are not mind readers so help us connect the dots with you!
3. Admit you made a mistake or need help
It is tempting to let a parent step in when something has gone wrong but taking responsibility is an integral part of owning the process. This process can be overwhelming and confusing, there’s no need to exacerbate it by asking vague questions instead of cutting to the chase! If you accidentally sent your SAT scores to the USC Medical School instead of USC Undergraduate Admission, tell us! Most of the time there is a way for us to help troubleshoot but we can only help you if we know the issue.
4. Ask (your own) thoughtful questions
Parents always have a list of questions that are important to them when considering sending their kids away. It is important that you have a set of your own questions that reflect critical thought about your next steps. What has made your high school experience meaningful that you are looking for in a college or University? Do you really care if freshman are allowed cars or is it more about what there is to do on campus vs off campus? Your parents are stakeholders in the experience but not more so than you are!
5. Fill Out Your Own Forms
Most admission counselors have had the experience of being on the phone with the parent of an applicant when the parent says “Well, I’m in my daughters Common App account and…” I hope you all cringed there with me. I know applications can be tedious and I had little concept of my parents’ educational history until I filled out my college applications but it is important that you do your own leg work. I’m sorry to report that college applications are just the beginning of forms you will have to fill out in life and knowing the nitty gritty is part of becoming independent.
Some of these things may seem silly but I honestly find them still relevant in my day to day life. My parents would not have selected the first apartment I found for myself, but it had all of the things that mattered to me and I felt proud of taking that step on my own. I do my own taxes but definitely had my dad looking over my shoulder the first couple of years. Doing these seemingly menial things yourself is meant to encourage confidence so that when it comes time for an admission/internship/job interview or going abroad or signing your first lease you are confident with all of the steps leading up to it.