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The College Search Process: An Unexpected Avenue Into Your Student's Mind and Heart

27 Aug, 2020
Michelle McAnaney

People often characterize the college search process as stressful for both parents and students. While I agree that waiting to hear from schools is terribly stressful since there is nothing you can do to make the decisions come any faster, I have to say that I really enjoyed all the car trips, hotel stays, essay editing, application strategizing, and overall quality time that the college search process gave me with my daughter. We shared private jokes, had great conversations, practiced driving, and learned more about each other.

We visited over 20 schools, and although the particulars of most of the schools blurred together, we still giggle at the memories of the woman who made a weird face at us when we walked into the library, the kid who was trying to impress the student tour guide, or the ornery woman who yelled at our tour guide for not letting us see a ceramics classroom. We stayed in a funky old hotel one night and spent half an hour walking through the halls and reading the artifacts in the display cases. We still listen to funny podcasts we discovered on these road trips, such as My Brother, My Brother, and Me and Mortified.

I always let her give her opinion of the schools first, and I was amazed at how similarly we viewed most of them. We had conversations about what was important to her, and my usually reserved daughter would tell me more about what she values and what she finds interesting and what she thinks she might like to do in the future.

I know she would not say she enjoyed writing her application, but for me, it was a chance to reflect on all that she has accomplished. We talked about the challenges she has overcome and what all of her activities reflect about her personality. These conversations would probably not have come up were it not for the necessity of writing college essays.

It’s hard to get teenagers to open up, but the college search process was an unexpected avenue into my daughter’s mind and heart. By the end of it, I knew that wherever she ended up, she’d be okay.