By Rosemary Black
Apr 15, 2006 (Daily News) — Rhona Maulano and her teenage son Michael have spent the past four weekends jetting around the country, flying out on a Friday night and returning late each Sunday. No, they’re not visiting relatives, vacationing or looking to buy real estate. They’re in the midst of the final stretch of the long, crazy process of choosing a college for Michael.
It’s a frenzied month of madness that starts around April 1 (when acceptance letters are mailed) and ends May 1 (when deposits to the chosen college are due). In that space of time, high school seniors are faced with what is for many the most important decision of their young life: figuring out where they want to spend the next four years.
Michael’s been accepted at schools in all points of the continental U.S., from Boston to Los Angeles to Miami. So for paralegal Rhona Maulano, that means a lot of traveling to visit campuses and attend open houses for students.
“You get a feel for a school by visiting it again,” she says. “It’s a difficult time and it is hard for the kid to make a decision. Basically, you have one month to scramble.”
By the time your high school student reaches the home stretch of senior year, most parents have had plenty of experience offering advice on every conceivable subject. But helping your child choose a college is harder than picking a prom dress or a summer camp.
“Compose a list of pros and cons for each college on the short list,” recommends Sally Rubenstone, senior counselor at collegeconfidential.com and the author of “Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions.”
“If finances are a key consideration, don’t hold back,” she says. “You have to weigh admission offers from prestigious schools against merit-aid offers from those that are less renowned. If the latter will mean less stress on the home front, your child is old enough to know it.”
That said, involve your chills in the decision, advises Bari Norman, a former admissions counselor at Barnard College who is now director of www.mycollegecounselor.com.
The decision should be made on some level as a family and should be based on sound, accurate, and up-to-date information, she says. A parent should be well-informed about the schools, on everything from the campus to academic reputation to the safety of the neighborhood. Read up on it, talk to students. If you cant find any students, ask the admissions office for names of recent alumni.
Invest some time (and, let’s face it, money!) in revisiting the schools. That’s what Peter Edelman did when his daughter, Alita, got accepted into five of the nine schools where she applied. “Most acceptances came within a few days at the end of March, and it was like hitting the jackpot,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to push Alita too much, though I knew which schools I liked the best. I wanted it to be her decision.” (They spent a weekend earlier this month going back to two of the schools she got into. In the end, Alita decided to go to Smith College in Massachusetts.)
While revisiting the schools can be invaluable in helping your child weigh the options, it should be a different visit from your first one.
“Help your child approach the trip with an ‘I’m not just window shopping anymore’ attitude,” says Rubenstone. “Point out that, in just a few months, he or she could be living and studying on this campus.”
Try to provide equal time for each campus, she says. In other words, don’t spend the night at one college and then just do a drive- by at another school.
However many schools you decide to visit, my advice (as the parent of three college graduates) is to try to step back, put things in perspective and keep calm with your student. Don’t feed into her anxiety by constantly asking where her friends are going or reminding her that your neighbor’s son just got a full scholarship to the (prestigious) college of her choice. Let her talk when she feels like talking about it, and be a supportive, nonjudgmental listener. And definitely let her feel she was in on the final decision.
“Students who feel forced to attend a particular college are far less likely to have a positive experience there than those who felt the final decision was their own,” says Rubenstone.
“Of course,” she added, “reasoned parental input may have helped them to make that decision!”