A friend of mine, Lisa, sent me a message on Facebook asking for advice/insights on navigating (and surviving) her daughter’s senior year in high school (she has five daughters, and this will be her first one to graduate). Where to even begin? My husband and I have learned so much these past few months while navigating (and surviving) our son’s senior year, but we also acknowledge that many times (most of the time) we didn’t know what we were doing; in other words, it was uncharted territory for us and, as a result, there were plenty of tears and moments of self-doubt. But with patience, faith and perseverance we made it. Amazingly. Miraculously. And if we can help the next family going through this, then we are more than happy to share a little of what worked for us …
~1~ The Black Box
Know that you will be inundated with information, so have an organizational system in place. Now. Get it ready. What worked for us was a black file box that we kept in the study by the family computer. We used a labeled folder for each college Nicholas was considering; additionally, we had files for test scores (SAT and ACT), transcripts, letters of recommendation, financial aid forms, student i.d. numbers, and scholarship applications. Also, in the front of the box we kept a list of every single deadline on one easy-to-reference sheet. Everything was in that box.
~2~ The Running Resume
At some point (and this can be done right now) sit down and brainstorm everything your son/daughter has participated in during high school: clubs, organizations, mission trips, community service projects, summer jobs, and volunteer opportunities. Keep a running list of awards, honors, and recognitions. With everything, include dates. Every application will ask for these things, and you will save so much time if you already have everything listed.
~3~ College Visitations
We found that college visitations helped ease us into the application process. Go. See. Explore. Ask questions. With each college visitation you become more and more familiar (even comfortable) with the ins and outs of applying. But don’t waste your time visiting colleges you are not interested in. Keep it real, including whether or not a certain college is financially feasible. Finally, if you plan the visitations the summer before senior year, by the fall you will have narrowed the list of colleges to the few that you are truly interested in.
~4~ The Nitty Gritty of Finances
Our son has a good life. He lives in a nice house, he goes to a private school, he has traveled to Europe, and he has a loving, supportive family. But part of being a good steward of God’s gifts is not taking anything for granted, and my husband and I are not going to just hand him four years wrapped up with a nice, neat bow; rather, he is very involved in the financial aspects of his college education. He knows we will help (a lot), but he also knows that there is the entire family to consider and that he has another brother who is just two years behind. So, he knows he needs to contribute however he can (with a summer job, by being frugal, doing a co-op/work study etc.) and, hopefully, learns how to be a good steward in life.
~5~ Resist Temptation
Many colleges are very, very good at making your son/daughter feel wanted and appreciated. Let’s face it, applying for colleges is a scary process, and when a college calls your son/daughter and makes them feel special they start thinking: They know me! They like me! They want me! But is that really the case, or does that college simply have an excellent recruiting department?
For example, one college bombarded our son with information on a daily basis. They called him. They emailed him. They wooed him. They awarded him a great scholarship before he had even officially filled out an application or visited their campus. Despite the fact that the college didn’t have the program of study my son wanted to pursue, he was very, very tempted to take their offer and adjust his choice of major. But he didn’t. In the end we never even visited the campus; we closed the door on that avenue without any second thoughts or regrets.
~6~ Senior Year = Stress
This falls into the category of something we wish we had known ahead of time. Senior year is an exciting time, but it is like a runaway freight train. This is what our son went through his senior year: college applications almost every weekend, senior photo session, ongoing senior project, SAT, ACT, scholarship applications, 18th birthday celebration, senior trip to Orlando, prom, a new girlfriend, honor’s day, senior prank day, graduation practice, senior breakfast, baccalaureate Mass and graduation, family graduation party.
On top of all that were the endless discussions on everything from test scores to engineering programs to summer employment.
There was never a break, ever.
There was never a break, ever.
In looking back, it was a ridiculously busy time. Today, a month after graduation, our son is happier and more relaxed; Joe and I now realize how stressed (and sleep deprived!) he had been, and we wish we had been more understanding during those times when he was irritable or moody and didn’t seem himself.
~7~ The Decision
Hold on to the fact that not every decision needs to be made at once. Know what, then see where. Decide where, then work on the how. Embrace the process, and you'll discover that after months of planning, researching, visiting, discussing and praying, the information filters down until one miraculous day you realize that a decision has been made. Just like that. For us it came on a family vacation during spring break, and it was if a burden had been lifted.
The peace we experienced told us we were doing the right thing, and here’s what you should know: when you experience that peace ... go with it.
*Now, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary.
This fall she will be rubbing shoulders with Cardinal Dolan and Scott Hahn.