We have lost count of the number of times we have had the same conversation with people when they find out we are Independent College Consultants. Everyone automatically assumes this means that the college admissions process will be a breeze for our own kids.  We must admit, years ago when we started on the path to become college consultants, the thought definitely crossed our minds. However, unless breeze means winds of Category 5 hurricane proportion, the college journey with our own sons was anything but a breeze. Amy went through this before with her oldest son. We knew what to expect, of course, but it seems that this process is a little like childbirth. You forget how hard it can be until there you are in the middle of labor, and there is No. Turning. Back.

As we sit back and reflect on the past four years with our sons who are now high school seniors, we are reminded of some lessons we learned (or actually relearned) along the way.  Truth be told, there was nothing new. The lessons learned were exactly what we have explained to countless parents over the years, but somehow when you are wearing many hats (in our case, consultant and mom), one may slip down and cloud your vision. So, we are sharing our lessons with you, partly as a therapeutic exercise for us personally, but mostly because we really do stand by what we say and want to practice what we preach. If nothing else, we will reread these words before we start over with our next children, and while we know the process will never be easy, hopefully next time the hurricane will be downgraded to a tropical storm. At the very least, we will know to batten down the hatches and hold on tight.

1. There is no “we” in the college list. We are not applying to college. We are not the ones packing up and moving out next fall. We are not the ones that are going to have to start fresh in a new place with new friends and newfound independence. The college search must be about your child. It cannot be about a parent’s unfulfilled dreams, desire to relive her college days or the sticker she gets to place on her car. The more stories we shared about our own college experiences and our dreams for their futures, the more our sons reversed course and moved in the opposite direction. The college list must not be about the most prestigious college our children can be admitted to, but the college that is the best fit for them, where they can be comfortable and as a result, most successful. When we took a step back, stopped to listen to what really mattered most to our boys, their lists developed easily and naturally and made sense. We even learned a little bit about their hidden dreams and aspirations. While neither of our sons will be attending our alma maters, we are confident that they both really found their own perfect match.

2. Nagging and motivational speaking are not the same thing. At the beginning of the process, we found ourselves nagging our sons constantly. As soon as they woke up in the morning, we would rattle off a list of what they should have done or still needed to do. “Did you research any schools today?” “Did you ask Mrs. X for a letter of recommendation?” “Did you send the regional admission officer for University of Y a note telling him how much you loved visiting his campus?”  Given our hectic work schedules, our nagging often took the form of harassing texts, which were usually ignored, if not deleted immediately. We quickly realized that if someone else, anyone else, told our boys to do something, they obediently followed directions. We were their moms, not their college consultants and that quickly became very obvious. We decided that we would turn the nagging over to an outside party.  In our case, we simply swapped sons for all things college admissions related and happily pawned them off on our wonderful essay coaches for essay guidance. We treated them just like all the other students we work with. We sent them important information about deadlines and requirements, and our team followed up with them. Having someone else take over the reigns got the job done and took a lot of stress out of our family time.

3. Shoemakers’ kids have no shoes. Sadly, we found that when our sons finally wanted to talk about college and applications, it was usually at the end of a very long day for us. Most days, especially during application season, we spend virtually every waking moment fielding questions, phone calls and texts from parents and students and then meeting with students back-to-back from the moment school gets out until late in the evening. Coming home to find an essay to proof on our pillow was rough. As thrilled as we should have been that they were starting to take this process seriously, most of the time we simply could not read one more essay that day and certainly could not give it the full attention it deserved at that very moment. Realizing that our sons’ futures were as important as those of our students, we decided that we would schedule “meetings” with our sons to talk about college and work on applications. We wouldn’t do it at the dinner table, and we wouldn’t squeeze it in as we passed on the driveway. We would find mutually convenient times and block them out on our calendars.  Not only did this prove to be a more productive use of our time, we actually enjoyed our uninterrupted time together. 

4. Don’t believe everything you read. This is a big one. Today with social media, chat rooms and message boards, information is everywhere, and it is impossible to tell what is accurate and what is fabricated.  We tell our families to be careful of subjective websites. Disgruntled applicants could be commenting on a college they never attend, and random people just wanting to add to the frenzy could be posting false information. However, we understand how easy it is to get caught up in what “everyone” is saying online, and we will admit, we often found ourselves just “sneaking a peek” at these sites and getting quickly sucked in. Thankfully we were able to continually talk each other off the ledge, or in more literal terms, convince one another to step away from the computer.

5. Refreshing the page constantly will only result in speeding up your heart rate and increasing your blood pressure. Trust us. Don’t waste your time sitting in front of your computer refreshing when you “think” decisions may be released. Colleges will release the decisions when, and only when, they are ready. Take a walk, watch a movie, read a book.  In other words, refresh yourself. Besides, this is your child’s journey. Allow him to see the decision first. Seeing your child’s face when he receives that long-awaited acceptance is much more rewarding than seeing some words on a computer screen.

6. It takes a village. It really does take a village to raise kids these days, and we are appreciative of ours. We are thankful to each other and our team for keeping our boys on task and to our friends and family who allowed us to vent or worry just like other parents do when they are watching their children go through this stressful process. 

7. Celebrate. There are thousands of really wonderful colleges out there, and there is a great college for everyone. Put a little trust in your child to create her own path and find her way. Along the way, make sure your child is reminded of how proud you are of all she has accomplished and of all that is yet to come.

CONGRATULATIONS Ari Herzog (Vanderbilt Class of 2021) and Jared Kanter (Northwestern Class of 2021). We couldn’t be prouder of each of you!