A new year means a new start to the cycle

Posted on January 1st, 2018 to College Search

While I can’t speak for all college counseling offices and programs, for us at the Foundation the start of a new year means we begin working with a whole new group of 11th graders embarking on their college admission journey. We also have our 12th grade advisees who are in the midst of sifting through early admission decisions and finishing up regular decision applications.

As I think about the college admission process at this time of year, there is a fascinating tension that counselors, students, and families are trying to keep in balance. On one side, college counselors are in the throes of supporting their 12th grade students and at the same time excited about the new students being welcomed into the fold. On another side, students are managing their own apprehensions and excitement about starting a journey they have been visualizing for much of their life. And on yet another side families are processing their own anxieties around how best to support their student(s).

As both a former admission officer and college counselor I have seen these apprehensions and anxieties manifest in a couple of ways. It’s not uncommon for parents and guardians to privately express to me their own hesitations around this whole college admission thing. Something they naturally fear to admit to their student. “Hi there person I love, care for, and protect I have no idea how to help you <insert cheesey smile here>!” Yeah…I don’t think I ever heard that from my parents or family members growing up.  My advice to the parents and guardians I work with is to do just that. We (adults) have an opportunity to model and teach how to deal with admitting our imperfections. An open and honest conversation goes a long, long way. It then opens the door for everyone to learn together, which can be a powerful bonding experience.

The other way I have seen anxieties around the admission process come out is through over-confidence. I used to see this more as an admission officer, though I do still see it as a college adviser. It usually is the middle-aged family member who went to college and thinks that just because s/he successfully applied to college 20 years ago s/he is an expert. The last thing I wish to do is diminish someone’s accomplishment, and while their intention is good it is misguided. The fundamental flaw in his/her logic is that the admission process is exactly the same as when s/he applied. While the cycle is pretty consistent from year to year, much has and does change. When I am/was in those situations I always tried to harness the good intent by redirecting the adult’s comments towards an area more helpful to the student. I always felt it was a respectful way to educate the adult on the changes in the process, while also providing relevant guidance to the student.

Newness naturally brings with it a nervousness about the unknown future. I think one of the most important things counselors, students, and families can do is be aware of what is happening, embrace it, and be patient with it. Every time I reflect on the new year and a new start to the cycle I’m reminded of a scene from JRR Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo is talking with Samwise Gamgee, and sharing advice his uncle, Bilbo, bestowed upon him:

He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”

Certainly Tolkein is not offering anything new or profound; it is, however, an important idea. It takes an immense amount of hard work to maintain a sense of openness around new things. For situations involving children (or in this case students), another challenge is presented to adults–we are supposed to be the experts (at least in our children’s/student’s eyes). Of course this couldn’t be farther from the truth, and it can be scary to admit that. When moments of unknown come up we are placed in a great position to model behavior around learning new things, being open to new experiences, and openly admitting our weaknesses. All it takes for us is to step out onto the Road and see where our feet take us.

Wishing everyone in the midst of the college admission process and just beginning the journey a happy 2018. May the upcoming year be everything you need it to be!

photo credit: www.india.com

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