Planning for College Without Burning Out Your Kid

As students finish their AP and SAT tests, they move onto to thinking about what to do with their summer. For some, it is the competitive student that wants to max out their summer with a job, community service, and college level courses. For others, it is their parents trying to pad their resume and their SAT scores with tutoring and adventures in a foreign country.

As someone who helps families through the college admissions process, I’ve worked with a variety of students and parents who are trying to to figure out the “perfect” resume and application and I’m telling you this mayhem has got to STOP! Which is why I was so excited to read about Harvard’s Turning the Tide Report, where colleges and universities are making the case for why being caring matters in college admissions.

Kids are more than just students. They are human beings and applying for college is more than just getting into a college; it is about their own self-discovery and reflection. As the report so aptly conveys, it’s about getting students to care about and engage with the world around them. It’s getting them comfortable with situations and people that are different from them. It’s about focusing on the factors that aren’t captured by numbers.

As we guide these students that are filled with dreams, talent, and hope, we need to try to cut back on their stress. Below are some key takeaways:

  1. Focus on Quality — Not Quantity — It’s not about the amount of extracurricular activities nor the variety. It’s about demonstrating their passion for what interests them through their time commitment.

  2. Develop them to be a Person — One day, these teens will go into the world and many of them will make a difference. Support their interests in helping others. Don’t make them do community service because you think it will look good on an application. Have them pick service activities that interest them. Figure out what they care about and how you can support that. You don’t have to go abroad to help someone. You can start in your own backyard.

  3. Don’t Select Schools Based on Rank or Name — Each student has their own unique set of values, interests, talents, and skills. Select schools based on those factors rather than a “name.” When I work with families, we set realistic expectations so that everyone wins through working to create a plan that best serves the student. They won’t stay at a school, if they aren’t happy there.

  4. Let them Sleep — I cannot stress this enough. Not only does sleeping more equate to a longer life, but it also allows students to absorb information better. More importantly, they are less stressed and happier when they get more sleep. Try to work on time-management with your child to try and reduce all-nighters. Bad sleep habits early on can lead to bigger sleep problems later on. Take my word for it — I personally developed insomnia in college and am still recovering.

  5. Make it Fun — Take your child on campus tours and balance their work with fun activities. Ideally, if you pick activities based on what your child enjoys, “preparing” for college, shouldn’t feel like work.

Anna Ren is the founder of Elite Advantage Prep and the affordable college planning course, Prep for Success: College Planning for Teens. Get instant access to her FREE college planning mini-course here.

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