The College Prep Pressure Cooker 

Preparing for college is a pressure cooker of emotions for students. The process is complicated. College costs are astronomical. Students are more stressed than ever before.

What can parents do to help their teens cope with stress, and at the same time, help them cope with the college prep pressure cooker?  

In a recent study, almost half of the students recently surveyed were chronically stressed: stressed about school, grades and activities. For today’s students who are looking forward to college, they also face the stress that comes with the anticipated admission. Though parents are essential to the process, they can ease this stress if they avoid being overly involved with the college prep requirements 

The first and most crucial role that a parent should play is as an advisor. While parents should let their teens take the lead in the college planning process, parents should be encouraging.  

“The college application process can be highly stressful for students,” says Susan Marrs, director of college counseling at The Seven Hills School in Cincinnati. Because their accomplishments will be judged by people they’ve never met, students can often feel vulnerable and overwhelmed, Marrs adds 

Parents can help their teens by being supportive and being a sounding board as their teen works through the college process, says Dana Rolander at Midwest College Consulting. “But students should take the lead in managing the process, she says. 

Because the college prep process can be complicated, parents should do what they can to learn about the process, the financial implications and the study path that students need to know to get to college. “The overwhelming majority of colleges consider students’ grades in college preparatory classes as the most important factor in the application review,” Rolander says. “This is followed by overall GPA, the strength of the curriculum, ACT or SATs, and the personal statement essay.”  

Parents should find out information on their financial options for funding college. College debt is a huge issue, and more parents are asking how to help their kids avoid debt by addressing the issue of college affordability with their teen. Right now, 80% of colleges accept more than 50% of their applicants and use generous financial and merit-based aid. “Sometimes, colleges with higher sticker prices may end up being more affordable, Rolander says.   

Finally, parents can play an essential role in helping their teens choose a college that is the right fit for them. “It’s a good idea to show students a large school (25,000+), a medium-sized school (10,000-15,000) and a small school (2,000+), making sure that they also see a school in the city, one in the suburbs and one in a college town,” Marrs says. A campus tour in these places will give a student a good sense of what life is like on these college campuses. 

College is about learning: learning new things, learning to live independently and discovering the kind of person your teen will be. Roalnder says that the college search process gives students a chance to become more independent, exercising decision-making power over their future. Colleges want students to do well and to provide them with the tools they need to do it. Teens committed to going to college want the same things, too. 

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