By Charlene Liebau|April 23, 2011|7:11 a.m.
College Admissions Editor
“Letting go” is the phrase often used to describe the process, with all the attendant emotions, when parents send their offspring to college. And, a process it is—one that begins early in the high school years.
The activities of visiting colleges, submitting applications, and making the decision about where to enroll define the college search process and are the focus of student/parent conversations in the senior year of high school. But those activities only hint at the larger developmental process taking place.
It just happens that the activities surrounding the college search process take place at the very same time of great social and psychological development for the student. High school junior and senior students are beginning to exert a push for independence from parents. They are beginning to define who they are; they want to make decisions for themselves, act on their own, to take care of themselves. Often these ambitious activities are greater than the student’s preparation and capacity allow. This is when issues of trust, responsibility, and ability emerge as wedge issues between parent and child. In many ways, the issues surrounding entry into young adulthood become part of, and are confused by, the college search process.
For parents, this stage of development has important and interesting implications, especially if going through it for the first time. As the student begins to exert his/her independence parents, too, are faced with challenges. Among their concerns: confronting the new status of the “empty nest”; and that life on college campuses has changed considerably over the past twenty to thirty years.
What happens when an offspring is off to college and the ability to be involved (even to know what is happening) is cut off? In response, some colleges and universities are creating new lines of communication to keep parents generally informed of campus programs and events to help reduce the pressure on individual students to “report back.”
In short, the college planning process comes at a distinct and important developmental stage in the life of a student. Sometimes the activity of one muddies the progress in the other. Parents, too, are entering a new stage as “send-off” day approaches.
Charlene Liebau is the former director of admissions for CalTech and Occidental College. She is also a finalist judge of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.