How best to motivate student? Back off a little

The College Conversation

June 25, 2010|By Lisa McLaughlin

A few months back, a parent requested that I send her sample essay prompts, those asked frequently on college applications. She wanted her son to get a head start on writing his personal statement. He was 12 years old.

And then, it happened again. This time, the call was from a frantic mother.

"I want to register my daughter for test prep," she said. "She's a terrible test taker and needs all the help she can get."

After further discussion, I learned that the daughter was a fifth-grader.

I can't seem to get away from it, even when I am picking up my daughter from preschool.

"Where should I send Johnny to school where he'll have the best chance of getting in to a 'good' college?"

Ay, yay, yay.


While the above examples might seem extreme, it's easy to fall into this frenzy. There are test prep companies who exalt the value of SAT prep beginning in fourth grade. There are others where students literally prepare for 12 hours every Saturday for months prior to each college entrance exam. And when Johnny did those things and scored a 2,200, parents salivate. What Johnny learned there, my son can too.

Test prep should be gradual. Most students won't even have the content under their belt until the junior year of high school, when they learn the curriculum in their high school classes.

Careful planning and preparation are certainly keys to navigating the college admissions process with less stress. Of course it's important for students to pace themselves. But more often than not, I remind parents that this rule applies to them as well.

It doesn't all need to come together at once and so early. Keep in mind that the goal here is to get your child across the finish line. The earlier the pressure starts, the sooner the burnout and apathy will begin. Moderation is key.

Of course, you should expect apathy every now and then. They may not have feelings about college right now. Their teenage lives might be consumed by breakups, caddy friends, and prom dates.

I often hear: "She's not ready to talk about that yet."

Good. Respect that. Take a step back. Get your own insecurities in check. It's not about you — it's about them.

Beware of information overload — don't expect your child to know everything about college admissions right away. And certainly don't relay every detail you heard from Johnny's mom in the school parking lot. The more you compare your child to Johnny, the more your child's confidence will dwindle. No one wants that.

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