The Empty Nesters

To parents of hight school seniors, the middle of March means only one thing...Dum da dum dum....those pesky college thumbs up/thumbs down letters will soon be appearing in the email or snail mail box nearest you!!! You senior has most probably checked out and the flurry of activity between now and when the final decision is due on May 1 will lead your student back to business.

Those 12 years of hard work have reached the moment of truth and you will finally discover   if have you been a good parent or bad parent: Berkeley or Yale... good,  Arizona or SMC... bad.   

Now wait just a minute...if the past few years have taught the Empty Nesters anything, it is that those assumptions are bull! Of course if your senior is accepted to Yale you should be very proud of their accomplishment.  However, if an Ivy League education is not in your child's future, there is no need to throw your hands up in despair.  There are many schools outside of the New York to Massachusetts corridor that offer fabulous, well rounded educations.  The most important part of this process...that we repeat ad nauseam...is for your child to be in the collegial setting right for them.  One hour or six hours from home, ivy league or schmivy league doesn't matter because what really matters is what is right for YOUR CHILD.

Hopefully, your almost college student will have many choices.  Much has been written about the ripple effect the economic meltdown will have on this year's acceptances.  Many private colleges will be over accepting and offering more financial aid to make sure they achieve their "desired yields."  Some public schools (especially here in financially insolvent California) are planning to limit enrollment.  So rules that have existed up to now will be thrown out the window and the only certainty is uncertainty.

College is as much about the best possible education as well as a successful and smart social life.  After a secondary education that included upwards of 35 hours a week of classroom time before after school activities, the average 15 hours a week class time in college can be a shock to the system.  That leaves a lot of time for individual choices...from clubs to student government to parties and sex.  Those choices are at the core of what makes the college experience special and scary for everyone: parents, students, and educators.  Will your child be mature enough to take the smart fork in the road most of the time (few people make good choices 100% of the time) or will they choose the road that leads to a 1.0 GPA?

The most important advice is to know your child.  Some are not meant to be 3,000 miles away from home and that is ok!!! For others, two years in a community college is a fantastic opportunity to mature, develop good study skills and then transfer to a Berkeley or UCLA or SUNY @ Albany.  Others will thrive in a new environment and find the independence they never would have discovered if they didn't repeatedly get stranded in bad weather at O'Hare.  The most important piece of this puzzle is what they do with this gift of higher education, wherever it may be.

As parents we have worked tirelessly to give our children the tools to fly.  Now is their time to take flight and it is important to remember they will still need our help, both financial and otherwise for a long time.  Opening the letters and making the big decision is just the first step in their take off towards adulthood.  Please remember, whatever decision is made on May 1st is not written in stone.  Transferring is not an anamoly and certainly a viable option if the university you thought was the best thing since sliced bread turns out to be a stale bagel!

So take a deep breath as you enter this runway with your high school senior.  We've learned most freshmen are happy with their choices.  If they aren't and you observe problems, trust your instincts and be proactive.  Our role as involved parents doesn't end, it just evolves.  We are not going the way of the dinosaur just yet.  

Good luck.  The next few months will be quite a ride.

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