Responsibility in High School Admissions

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Many families with eighth grade students are well into the process of looking at potential secondary schools for their children. Although parents naturally want to do everything possible to ensure successful entry into the right school, it is important to recognize the opportunities presented during this process to shift agency and responsibility to children. Engaging with the process can help children recognize what they value in an education, so that they can be more active participants in shaping their lives. 

Who’s Driving the High School Admissions Process? 

When your son or daughter was three years old, you probably took full control over what they wore and, to the extent you could be persuasive, what they ate. Now that they’re tweens, perhaps they decide what they wear and eat within reason. The gray area of who gets to decide what becomes larger and fuzzier the deeper into adolescence your child delves. Creating a line of communication about how the navigate that gray area is key, and the private high school admissions process is an excellent opportunity to show your child that you trust them to make important decision while also setting clear limits about what the non-negotiables are for your family. Clearly, mom and dad are responsible for the physical, intellectual, mental, and emotional well-being of their child. Parents can choose to view this as a time to start transferring even more life decisions and responsibility to their young charge. For most of children’s lives, they have been told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Perhaps they have adopted something of a passive or reactionary role in regard to education, dutifully waiting for mom and dad to make the decisions. With the admissions process upon us, we have the chance to help our children gain more independence and responsibility for their educational development. Students should be applying to schools that offer an environment they find attractive. At every practical step, parents should give children the opportunity to take the lead during this process and help them develop ways of thinking about important decisions, such as identifying what makes a good learning environment. The idea here is to help your children evolve into the best adult version of themselves. Then, they can work together with you, feeling as though they are taking the lead, to move forward thoughtfully and deliberately and gain access to the right fit for high school that everyone will celebrate.
This engaged mentality will very likely pay off in way parents care about. If students are invested in their decision to attend a school, they’re likely to take advantage of its programs, work a bit harder on their grades, and think critically about who they are and what they like to do. Further, it sets a wonderful template for the college search which, difficult though it is to hear, comes just a few years later. By building some critical reflection skills now, students will be far better equipped 

How to Hand Over the Keys to School Research

A simultaneously productive and low risk way students can take more ownership of this process is by conducting their own research about high schools and their admissions processes. Students should visit websites of schools they are possibly interested in attending and take the time to learn about each one.  What are their core values? Where is it located? What clubs or activities can students participate in once there? How do the current students and teachers describe themselves and the environment? What is the school looking for in its applicants? If there are further questions, perhaps mom or dad can help proof a follow up email to gain additional information. Of course, parents will conduct their own research, too. During this process, parents and students can schedule check-ins when they compare notes and discuss differences and similarities between schools. The image we’re going for here is your child energetically beckoning you to the computer screen to show you the neat thing about a particular high school option – not the other way around.

Aside from encouraging the young adult to practice gathering and interpreting information on his or her own, this initial research will prove invaluable when the family starts narrowing its list. When the student begins interacting with school and admissions officials, her familiarity with the school will be evident, especially during interviews. She’ll have clear and thought-out answers about what she likes about the school and why she wants to attend. He’ll be able to discuss in some detail what he likes about the school, and how he can contribute to the community without having to look to mom or dad for validation.

Admissions officials notice and appreciate the student who is prepared and confident throughout the process. There is a difference between the student who has been dragged to an open house versus the one who has chosen to attend. If a student has done the homework, it will not be a struggle to project a higher level of maturity or to communicate his or her ownership of the process. 

Watching Them Turn the Ignition on Academic Engagement

OK. You’re a believer. You’re committed to using this process to help build your son’s or daughter’s independence. What’s the next step?

As discussed above, we can set the expectation that the student will do his or her own research in building a candidate school database and own this process. Here is some language that might help set the tone:

Our current school ends this year, and that means you will have to attend somewhere new next year.’ If your school doesn’t terminate in eighth grade, you can simply state that‘…the start of high school is a natural checkpoint to assess your current educational options. We would love to know whether you’re opening to checking out options and, if so, where you would consider going to school next year. If you haven’t built a list yet, we would be happy to help. When would you like to talk about it in the next few days? If you decide to apply somewhere, you will have to work to do, and so will we. For your part, you can let us know how often you’d like us to check in with you and how we can help you through the application process.’        

Ultimately, we want students to feel that he or she directed the process and gain admission themselves, not because their parents did it for them. Let your child know that he has your support and that you are open to questions at any time. You are there to help. We hope that this approach makes the process less stressful and not only enjoyable but productive beyond just “getting in.”