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The College Conversation: Tinker your words and improve outlook with it

January 08, 2011|By Lisa McLaughlin

I have a New Year's resolution that we can achieve together. It's really quite simple: Let's be mindful of the language we use to describe colleges and the college admissions process.

First, let's be conscious of our use of pronouns. Saying, "we won" might be an acceptable way to describe your favorite sports team's amazing victory, in which you only played the role of spectator. However, using the pronoun "we" to describe "your" child's college admissions experience should be avoided. This is not "your" experience — it's "his" or "hers" and actually you are kind of a spectator in this process as well. Stating publicly, "We want to apply to Stanford" speaks volumes to your child about whose process this really is.

Second, let's avoid the terms, "safety" or "back-up," when talking about colleges. Years ago, I consciously stopped using the word "safety" to describe specific colleges on a student's radar screen. Same with the word "back-up." These terms imply those institutions are not good and the only reason one would attend is "if all else fails." A better nomenclature is to use, "good bet" meaning a student's chance of admission is high and that particular college is a good fit for the student regardless of its name recognition. Along those lines, keep in mind that your child's "good bet" is another student's "reach." Always know your audience, mind your manners, and remember your P's and Q's.

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Third, when considering your child's college selection, avoid exclaiming to all that you want him to get in to the "best" school. Instead, let's all work together to help your teen figure out what makes a college the "best" one for him or her. We need to trumpet the fact that finding that "right fit" college is better than the one whose name looks good on a bumper sticker.

Finally, let's be mindful of how we communicate about your teen's college plans. Limit what you share with other parents about your child's college admissions experiences. But, if a nosy acquaintance or friend riles you up, assert yourself and don't feed into the competitive college talk on the sidelines, at dinner parties, or anywhere else parents are gathered. Create a "No College Discussion Zone" around you and within your home, to give your teen a safe haven from all the banter and outright bragging that goes on amongst students.

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