Published : Wednesday, June 11, 2014 | 7:22 PM
“Under Pressure: Student Anxiety in the College Admission Process,” a recent Flintridge Preparatory School seminar for parents, covered a range of topics related to student stress in the high school years. A panel of three experts addressed how parents can aid their children by helping them learn to cope with the inevitable stress of time management, grades, tests, applications, acceptances, rejections, decisions and transitions.
Headmaster Peter Bachmann kicked off the evening, commenting that at Prep there is a “constant collaboration” between academics and human development, between “process and product,” resulting, he acknowledged, in a delicate, almost daily balance that allows students to enjoy high school and have fun, even as they pursue a rigorous curriculum and academic excellence.
Director of College Counseling Gloria Diaz Ventura created the evening program with colleagues in the world of admissions, college counseling, and university-level student affairs. She urged the audience to release their own anxieties (“your kids will land really well, and the outcomes are practically guaranteed; it’s the journey that is crucial”) and listen to the experts as they talked about parenting styles that create independent, capable students who thrive in high school and college.
Dr. Jeffrey Prater, a psychology professor at Fuller Seminary also in private practice, told parents how to identify stress. He urged them to address the causes, as well as any underlying issues that can create spikes in anxiety. He recommended that parents really listen to their children, noting that “we have two ears and only one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak.” He listed common identifiers of stress (see below) and recommended that both parents and children let go of perfectionism. Finally, Prater stressed that parents must model good coping behavior, showing but not telling teens how to avoid, identify and deal with stress.
Maria Furtado, executive director of the nonprofit Colleges That Change Lives, put parent and student anxiety in perspective. Furtado, who has spent nearly two decades in higher education, noted that there are 2,764 four-year colleges in the US; overall, they have a 70% admission rate, and most students get into their number one choice. She told parents to look beyond the Ivy League and the nation’s most selective schools, noting that non-“name brand” colleges often have excellent programs and teachers, with hands-on research opportunities that create enticing resumes for careers and graduate schools. She gave parents tips for visiting colleges (respect your student’s visceral reaction to a campus; remember that you will have some stress of your own in unfamiliar areas; incorporate a family fun side trip in each visit). Furtado also advocated “keeping your car a college-free zone – don’t talk about it when you are driving around.” Finally, she recommended setting aside an hour once a week –and only that hour once a week – to talk about college together.
USC’s Donna Budar-Turner, Assistant Director of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards, provided a view from a college administrator who deals with troubled students. She said that when students have not learned to handle life – stress, failure, academic challenges, job searches — on their own, they may arrive at college depressed, with alcohol and drug dependencies, with few social skills and a lack of interests outside academics. They may think drinking will make their situation less awkward or their academic challenges diminish when just the opposite is, in fact, the case.
Budar-Turner advised parents that to create a student who can handle their college life, they should let their children learn from their mistakes. She told parents to let their children enjoy high school let them find their own way to do things without undue parental interference. “Mistakes and perceived failures spawn resilience,” she said. “Let your kids fail in elementary and high school; they are safe places to make mistakes. Learning things on their own creates strong, resilient college students.”
Diaz Ventura reported that many parents thought the one-night panel was extremely helpful. Learning to monitor and model healthy behavior was invaluable, according to one. “It was like a parenting class,” enthused another.
Diaz Ventura plans for her department to host discussions and panels for parents each year, as the school’s 15-month college counseling program continues its successful track record of helping students find the college that truly “fits.” A member of a Stanford think tank called Challenge Success, which promotes healthy practices for students on high school campuses, she believes that a powerful, positive outcome of education – a life well-lived by each Prep graduate – “starts with ensuring a student-centered process. It’s what we try to do every day for our students, and now we are letting the parents in on it.”
The free College Essay Writing Bootcamp for Prep’s rising seniors will be held June 9, June 11 and June 12 from 9 am – 1 pm each day. The sessions include college essay drafting, critique from college admission reps, and information sessions about interview skills and the UC system, as well as panels with Prep alumni and directors of admissions from Harvey Mudd College, Occidental College, and USC. Some of the other colleges and universities represented will include Loyola Chicago University, Pitzer College, Pomona College, Scripps College, and Whitman College.
To attend the bootcamp, students must register with Claire Kinder, (818) 949-5510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flintridge Preparatory School, 4543 Crown Avenue, La Cañada Flintridge, (818) 790-1178 or visit www.flintridgeprep.org.