Advice for Parents of College Applicants-Inspired by NFL MVP Julian Edelman

Julian Edelman firing up his campers in Sudbury, MA July 20, 2019. photo credit: propicsusa.com

It is preseason season! The MVP of the NFL, Julian Edelman is in Detroit as his Patriots share the practice field with the Lions in anticipation of their preseason match up Thursday night, and in my world it’s the start of the college application season. With the recent college scandals creating even more confusion about the process, we need to be prepared to support the Class of 2020. As adults, it’s hard to just watch from the sidelines, but how much playing time should we really have in the college admission process?

A few weeks ago my ten year old son attended Edelman’s football camp in Sudbury, MA. 600+ campers sweated through the extreme heat. It felt familiar. Although I used to coach in swampy Texas weather, the perspiring parents actually reminded me most of families in my college counseling practice. A few left the field. Others scurried under the rope sideline to check on their child, and some yelled directions—over the coaches’ commands. Most stood where we were supposed to and tried to keep an eye on their camper.

I was sweating right with them wondering if I should be doing more, and realizing that this is exactly how parents feel during the college application process. Edelman’s opening advice included staying true to the basics because “we depend on fundamentals in high pressure situations.” What are the best fundamental practices for Class of 2020 parents? I suggest starting the season by considering the benefits of LATERAL plays.

*Learn about college options. Assume nothing. Research price, fit, admission criteria and application processes to gain a working knowledge of the language. Read everything from your school counselor. Check the school website for updates. Create your own Common Application so you can see how it works.

*Ask questions about how to support the applicant’s progress, but don’t ask your child to teach you about it. It is stressful enough to navigate without being peppered with questions. Ignore friends’ well-meaning advice as it is biased at best. Spend time on college admission websites. Ask colleges questions. It is their job to answer your questions.

*Talk about shared goals with your family. Set up a weekly time to discuss college. Topics could include taking ACT/SAT, budget, final college list approved by all, creating timeline on a shared calendar, student organizing application tasks, parent offers to edit (not write) essay.

*Empathize Children want to know that their parents are a safe zone (not a red zone) to share feelings, opinions, fears and hopes. They will feel overwhelmed and confused about choices, change, process, denials, and admits. That is normal. Refuse to share in the anxiety of the moment. Do not try to solve the problem unless asked to. React with calm support. 

*Resist the urge to ask about college all the time. If you have created a schedule for discussing and completing, stick to that set time to ask questions. Resist filling out applications to “get it done.” Such actions infer that the applicant can’t do it, and he or she absolutely can.

*Acknowledge that denials will be part of the process and are a result of the needs of the college not the strength of the application. Be clear in your expectations and make sure that they are rooted in the best interests of your child. Be honest in sharing your own ideas and concerns as well as respecting your child’s. This is personal to each of you.

*Listen from a place of love, not fear. This process is daunting to all. Unknowns are scary, but you as the parent have the ability to determine how this process will be remembered by your family. College orientation should feel like the start of anticipated joy, not the end of a grueling marathon.

This LATERAL offense allows parents to be proactive while their student takes ownership of the process. It acknowledges that there will be disappointments, but that the student will never be defined by a SAT score or a college decision. Students falter when parents compare and discuss their child’s process publicly, and I always throw a flag when parents post on social media about multiple college admits. Not the parents’ news to share until the deposit is sent.

Pregame tips: Stay inbounds by discussing college during designated times. Redirect overwhelmed applicants with a suggestion of exercise or a “what is the worst that can happen” discussion. Protect your child from the hype of it all. It is normal for parents to feel stressed about best steps for your college applicant, just don’t overreact in front of him or her. Keep the process productive by praising the positive and keeping the coauthored game plan on track.

Julian Edelman talking answering questions and talking about what football means to him. (photo credit: author)

My biggest takeaway from Edelman’s camp was not the drills, but the effort he made to interact with each camper. He may have locked eyes for only seconds, but the boys noticed. I bet they remember the feeling of being acknowledged by Edelman even more than his parting words: “Life is gonna be tough, today you pushed through it and made me happy and proud. It was worth it! Tough times don’t last, tough people do. You lasted. Let’s Go!” 

Here’s to your family kicking off a winning college application season filled with “happy and proud” moments as you watch your own MVP complete a successful process with a little help from your sideline. Good luck this season! Let’s Go!

©Eva McGregor Dodds