A woman at the gym struck up conversation the other day. She recognized me from our girls’ high school, although her daughter is a few years older than ours. She asked, with real compassion, “So, how’s the college thing going?” There is this shared experience among parents, an empathy that transcends the chitchat, around this topic. Her daughter is already in college, a freshman at Penn, she told me with a suppressed smile of pride on her cheek. Our girls are in junior and sophomore years, so we are just beginning the journey.
This mother said to me, “I know you haven’t asked me for any advice, and maybe you don’t want it, but here is the most important thing anyone ever said to me about the college process, and I wish they had said it sooner. Colleges are looking at what your child IS, not what she ISN’T.” She said, “We parents are so caught up in what they don’t have, what they haven’t done, that we really lose sight of how great our kids are! It’s such a shame.” We went our ways, and as I started up on the treadmill, I really was captured by what she had said. Of all the pieces of advice one parent can share with another about this process—make sure you start looking at schools in junior year; have her take the SAT at least three times; you should make sure she applies to at least two reaches and at least two safeties; try to pick a favorite and apply early decision—her advice seemed the best, so simple and honest.
In this race that our children are engaged in, it is easy to have the focus shift from what is there to what is not, from all the great things they have done and promise to do to gaps in the resume. We must work hard, for our children’s sake, to keep this from happening. For all the good they will gain at the great colleges they are sure to attend, we could really undermine the glory by not being their cheerleaders, their greatest fans. One huge element of success in this world is the confidence to do things you’ve never done before. They don’t teach that in high school, or college. We teach it at home. So, the next time someone asks you how the college thing is going, I hope your first thought is about what your child IS, not about what she is not.