The Role of Parents in the Post-Secondary Selection Process
Parents often ask us what role they should play in the post-secondary selection process. They are conscious of the fact that their son must take the primary responsibility for selecting and applying to post-secondary institutions. However, they also realize that laying the groundwork for such a life-changing decision is a daunting prospect for an adolescent, so a certain level of parental guidance is both essential and appropriate.
1. Recognize that this process is an important developmental stage in your life as a family. Be aware that as your son moves from adolescence to adulthood, both you and he will have some ambivalent feelings. As much as you desire your son to be self-reliant and self-confident, you may occasionally feel profound anxiety about the changes ahead and how well he (and you) will handle these. It is hard to stop feeling protective, especially when the decisions ahead seem to have such enormous consequences. Expect that both you and your son will be excited by the possibilities ahead and nervous about how these will affect your relationship.
2. Understand that the post-secondary selection and admissions process will be different for each young person. Even if you have been through this with an older child, be prepared to adjust your expectations and actions to suit the boy in front of you. Some boys need a nudge; some need reassurance; others need breathing space.
3. Keep the lines of communication open. Mostly, this means listening rather than talking. Encourage your son to consider the basic questions: Why does he want to go to university? What are his most important needs and goals? Don’t make university the only topic of conversation in the household, but seize the opportunities when they come up. Try to keep your anxieties in the background; your son will have a hard enough time dealing with his own!
4. Be informed. Read the weekly editions of Future Ties e-mailed to you as part of Heads Up. Talk to your son’s university counsellor. Expect your son to conduct his own research as well. Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in the rumours, myths, and half-truths that circulate among parents; your son will be getting too many of those already from his peers at school! It is your job as the adult to provide a broader context and perspective when the process threatens to become too emotional and overblown. Choosing a university is important, but it is not a life-or-death situation: it does not guarantee either success or failure in the future.
5. Help provide structure to a complex process. Assist your son in developing a list of priorities and outlining the steps needed to achieve his goals. Sometimes providing something as basic as file folders to organize information and a wall planner to track key deadlines can reduce anxiety levels. Arrange transportation for university visits. Many boys only make their choice when they actually step onto a campus. Whatever you do, however, do not take over the whole application process yourself. This will cause resentment and reinforce dependence; patient, steady encouragement seems to work best for most boys. If you do all the work, your son will learn nothing from the process.
6. Keep your son’s strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes front and centre. Remember you are not looking for the perfect university: you are looking for a university that is a good fit for your son. There is no one “ideal” choice for any boy; many universities would suit your son equally well and allow him to develop and learn in a positive way. Remind your son that the school that suits his friends or siblings may not necessarily be a good match for him. Indicate by your actions and your words that you have every confidence that your son—with some support—can make a good choice.
7. Try to set aside your own prejudices. Universities inside and outside Canada have changed a great deal since you were a student. Be open to exploring schools that might not immediately spring to mind. Don’t get hung up on where you went to school (or where you would have liked to go!).
8. Be realistic about money. Have an open, honest conversation about finances with your son. How much can you, as a family, afford? How much do you expect him to contribute? Take a long view if you suspect your son is planning more than one degree. Remember that professional programs—even in Canada—can be expensive.
9. Don’t live your dreams through your son—let him have his own. At this stage, don’t get too preoccupied with how he will make a living. If he is studying things he likes, he will excel and he will eventually find his own way to a good career.
10. Be emotionally supportive. Reassure your son that he will find a suitable school and that no matter where he goes, you will love him and respect him—just as you always have.
Please keep in mind that the University Counselling Office is here to provide assistance for you and your son in what often seems to be a rather intimidating process. We are happy to help in any way we can.