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College Search Adventure
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TAGS: Decision Making, Guiding, Listening, College, Communication, parenting, Teenagers

The College Search Adventure

Mollie Allen, M.Ed.
MOLLIE ALLEN, M.ED., is a certified coach, teacher and consultant working with groups and individuals. With undergraduate degrees in Child Development and Special Education and a M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision she worked in schools and in private practice with students of all ages and levels for 25 years.
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The college selection process can be a trying, anxiety making, argumentative experience, or a time for healthy introspection, self-learning and a step toward the passage to adulthood.

In my case, the college selection season was long. As a parent of four it lasted nearly eight years. The experience was a learning opportunity for me and my children as we moved to a new stage of family life.  Before it was complete, I was offering these students ideas on how to choose a college that fit their self-image in the moment and in the possible future.

My first lesson was discovering the number of ways a student could complete college. I went to a panel of post-high school students called "What Comes After High School." One student had gone into the service; another had a "gap year," volunteering while living at home; another went to a community technical college; one went the traditional route; and another was alternating a year at college with hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail.

That panel was helpful because it changed my parental expectations of the college experience, and encouraged a broad look of what that might be like. But the panel didn't get into the nuts and bolts of the actual process of the college search and associated decision making.


To me and my friends, the senior year college search seemed like a massive capstone project, with each student approaching it more or less the same way they took on projects from third grade on. When we talked it was often about the process itself, how it could be distracting and disruptive because it went on so long, how there were so many ways to do it and how ownership was murky. Plus, it seemed, beneath the paperwork and timelines, something was lost. The examination of and attention to what mattered to others outweighed what mattered to students. Other than the essay and a high school resume there was little to suggest a high school junior or senior would benefit from devoting some time to gaining self-knowledge.

By the time I had my stories about the college search experience to tell other parents, I was wondering how to make it an opportunity for students to learn about themselves and their decision-making habits. I offered services to family and friends ("Thank goodness," a friend said. "I don't have to watch or ask, and I still know things are getting done.")

With a hands-off but supportive attitude, I offered opportunities to look at issues not typically considered by juniors and seniors on the "find a college mission." With me they devoted time to learning about their personality and mindset, and how these factors influence their decision-making process.

They investigated the overlap of academic values and learning styles. They looked at their skills, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they liked and disliked. They used the Z decision making model and they went off to campus visits with purposeful questions. When it came time to wondering if a college "matched" there was more to consider than just GPA, test scores, and extracurricular activities.

Over the years, I learned that personality type is not the only factor to consider when selecting a college. In fact, I would caution against operating as if a certain personality will do better in college X than college Y. I believe the more we know about ourselves and our decision-making process, the better our decisions will be, and we should explore all avenues of self-knowledge.

When I heard about the most recent college admission scandals, I was a bit surprised but not shocked. Some elements of the process have become so over emphasized. The student's personal experience is losing its centrality.

The college quest is a unique time and opportunity for students and parents.  It is a threshold of newness in the family as someone steps into adulthood. There are ways for students and parents to honor this passage without letting it become more than what it is: an opportunity to dive into the world and find our place in it.