Willpower doesn’t grow on trees.
If someone you love is applying to college, you might be starting to feel some heat. They’re stressed, you’re stressed, and the mountain of university ads in the mailbox isn’t helping.
Neighbors might ask about safety and reach schools. You might even have well-intentioned relatives cross-checking your loved one’s favorite universities with projected postgrad earnings. This time doesn’t feel like one characterized by compassion and mindfulness, but it can. Here are some different approaches to getting through the selection process.
In the same way mindfulness allows us to be aware of the layers of sounds around us, or eat more slowly and enjoy our food, it can also allow us to notice individual aptitudes and needs in people we love. By integrating this healthy stillness and heightened awareness into your child’s, friend’s, or niece’s college search, you can open yourself up to learning about their hopes and goals. You could ask them to create their own list of things they’d like to learn about or give them some time to tell you what they’re looking for. You’ll pave the way for less conflict at the dinner table and more effective communication during the school search.
Each year new college rankings try to show us which schools are best. What they don’t tell us is that focusing more attention on numbers than on personal interests before applying can lead to unhappiness after the semester kicks in. Maybe your loved one scored higher on the SAT than the average student accepted to their favorite school. Rather than assuming they should aim higher, you can note that something about this college excites them. This can be an opportunity to dig a little and find out what that is. For example, if the college has a variety of intramural sports, maybe together you can find additional schools with the same perk. Once you start investigating your loved one’s favorite schools, you may even start to agree with their choices. Either way, by putting aside the SAT range for a minute, you can learn more about your child and their priorities.
For example, I attended a college where accessible research is a big perk. It’s easy to find a professor at this school to include you in their lab work or paper writing. This is an impressive gig for undergrad students, but if your child doesn’t get excited by collegiate research, the gold star is irrelevant. He or she might be better suited at a school where the student-faculty ratio is small, or the most popular activity is community service.
Design-your-own-majors have become popular at many universities. Many times, working with a department to write a personal interdisciplinary curriculum is rewarding. A student can combine their favorite subjects in an engaging way. Other times, students use this option in an effort to create possibilities for themselves that aren’t supported by the school’s resources. If your child wants to create their own major at a school with the classes and faculty to help along the way, that is excellent. But, if they’re latching onto this option as a way of coaxing themselves into attending a school that doesn’t have the resources to support their personal goals , they may be better off researching other options.
Visiting campuses can prevent tunnel vision when glossy admissions packets make every school look good. Tours let you immerse yourself in a school; you can check out the cafeteria food, peek in a dorm, and socialize with current students. During the tour, observe how your child is responding to the new environment. Talk to them as they poke around the campus bookstore or navigate a map of the school.
So often families show up on campus with hopes of landing a solid interview for their child or knocking out some lightning speed networking with freshman professors. While an interview is a fine reason to visit a school, don’t forget to explore a little and really take in the place itself. Venture past the manicured hedges and step into some shops, restaurants, or even a theater. Even if your child doesn’t prioritize the notion of a great college town, see how they’re reacting to the place they may be living for the next four years.
I have seen peers thrive in college while others second guess the choice they’ve made. No matter the school, many students can find a way to make their four years meaningful. But when you apply compassion and mindfulness to the search, you set them up to find the meaning from day one.