How to Not Screw It Up

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An excerpt from the intro to
4 Keys to College Admissions Success
by Pamela Donnelly

Dr. Spock was right. Raising a child comes to most parents naturally. When we do what comes instinctively, many aspects of parenthood just fall into place. The trouble is, by the time college applications loom on the horizon, many parents become stuck. They don‘t know how to strategically position their sons and daughters for success.

This blog series offers what many parents have told me for years they‘ve been looking to find—a comprehensive outline helping them usher their teenager out of the nest and into a bright future, both academically and personally.

It‘s funny. We use checklists for the simplest things, like buying groceries for a special menu. Forgetting the right spices for a pie seems pretty mundane compared to leaving out a needed ingredient for the recipe of effective parenting. But make no mistake—some of these rarely discussed missing ingredients are crucial. When we do not adequately prepare a child to become a successful young adult, the consequences will be far more serious and longer lasting than if we leave out nutmeg from the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

I‘ve personally seen the information I share help thousands of teens navigate one of the most challenging rites of passage in adult life, and that same knowledge can help your family, too.

Let‘s admit one thing here and now: helping our children from cradle to graduation can feel like a series of locked gates. None of us gets handed a big ring of keys when our babies are born, but we somehow find our way, year by year. We are simultaneously teacher and student. As we diaper our sons and daughters, eventually teaching them how to walk and then run, they teach us the most central lesson of life: how to love more deeply and unconditionally than ever before, and then, how to let go. I have yet to meet a mother or father who isn‘t determined to get this parenting thing right. We just need the strategies to get us there.

I counsel parents who work with my staff, offering tutoring in Los Angeles, to begin with the end in mind. That end result is not merely getting teens into the right college. Sure, that‘s often part of the plan, but college is a vehicle, not a destination.

The true end result most parents long for is seeing their sons and daughters enjoying the personal and financial freedom to share their abilities and talents with a grateful world. Of course, this often begins with college. Because there are so many worthy callings in this life that do not require a college education, let‘s acknowledge that for some students a trade school (plumbing, electrical, cosmetology) is a more appropriate alternative. I know one young man who disliked school so much it troubled his parents terribly. He bypassed college to learn underwater welding, and now earns more money per hour than many college graduates repairing bridges while wearing scuba gear. So, there are many ways our sons and daughters can find their independence. This  article presumes you know that yours is college-bound, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge the many non-academic options out there.

Shockingly enough, after 18 years of committed effort as moms and dads, a funny thing happens. We simultaneously celebrate loudly and inwardly grieve. Our babies are gone. At that point, all we can do is hope we have prepared them properly. One parent I know recently joked that my writings should be handed out in every maternity ward in the country. I laughed, but in a way it made perfect sense. It never hurts to know what lies ahead, and it‘s never too early to prepare.

Here‘s a little reality check: if you‘re the parent of an incoming high school freshman you have exactly 180 weeks before they graduate. That‘s it. Done. Finito. A mere 45 months to be sure they are fully equipped. Look at how quickly time dwindles down:

This list should evoke a combination of relief and urgency. The time is now to get strategic.

When we can anticipate the twists and turns of adolescence, we make informed choices in our responses to the bumps along the terrain. You may be in the thick of it, and feel so much pressure you want to throw your hands in the air in frustration over the behavior of your teenage son or daughter. If that‘s you, take heart. Realize that it is completely possible to help your teen forge a fantastic future, no matter how frustrating things get. I‘ve seen lots of mayday situations turn for the best with the right support in place.

Suffice it to say, parenting teens is less a science or an art form than a craft. We must learn to think on our feet or get knocked off of them. Unlocking the potential of another human being is not for sissies. Our goal as parents is to raise adults who are independent, not codependent. College admissions staff members want to see the same thing—and that doesn‘t happen without a plan.

There are no shortcuts—Dr. Spock was right. We get out of it what we put in. To effectively unlock the gates to college admission to the right college for our teens is to know deep within our own hearts that we have given this child every advantage we had.  Connect with me by subscribing to my YouTube channel, College Admissions Simplified, joining my private Facebook group, Parent Revolution, and I’ll do my best to show you how to teach your teens to set their inner compasses for a future where they live by design, not by default.

If you’re a parent reading this article, you're invited to connect with Valley Prep Tutoring’s founder Pamela Donnelly for a Q & A session about the admissions process for your teen.

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