AS APRIL 1ST loomed closer, I became more anxious. And I was just the mother! My daughter, Susy, a high-school senior, just wanted the waiting to be over. We were eager for it—the letter notifying her she'd either been accepted or rejected by the college of her choice—to arrive.
Today college pressure begins as early as the ninth grade. That's the year your child's GPA begins to count. Chances are, your child will start looking at colleges her first semester of junior year or even as soon as second semester, sophomore year. While senior year is normally application time, if your child applies for "early decision," applications usually have to be submitted by December.
I've been through this process five times with my five children—and I wouldn't want to do it again! But through it all, I've learned a few things that may help you and your child plan for life after high school.
Make Joint Decisions
Sure, your kids still need some parameters in making decisions, but they need a say in where they want to go to school. So decide—together—on approximately five colleges to apply to. If your child's not gung-ho about attending college, brainstorm two noncollege options about which you both feel comfortable. But don't consider any option in which your child will be left without a network of believers.
Check Out Fellowship Possibilities
When your child arrives on campus, she'll be on her own in an unfamiliar setting. Who she decides to be will be greatly influenced by who she spends time with. That's why, in this transition time, it's important your child has the support of a small group of solid Christ-followers.
When you and your child investigate a college, ask about Christian fellowship. Campus Crusade, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes all can be found on most large secular campuses. Get the name of a staff person and an involved student and phone them. Have them describe the group. Find out when it meets. Inquire about small Bible studies. And don't assume a Christian college will be the answer for sustaining your child's faith; it can either foster fellowship or provide a stilted, legalistic atmosphere. Too often we research the best academic fit for our child but fail to research the potential for spiritual growth. In the long run, it's spiritual growth that's most crucial.
When we began the college search, I gave each of my children a journal and wrote in it how proud I was of them and why. I also included Scripture promises to focus on during the search process, such as Proverbs 3:5-7 and Jeremiah 29:11-14. I reassured them I knew God had a special plan for them that he would show us in his time.
Our kids used a section of their book to formulate what was important in choosing a college: the availability of a Christian support network, location, size, cost, etc. During each college visit, they rated the school and wrote down their impressions.
Make sure you visit the campus with your child, especially if you've never seen the school. If possible, arrange ahead for your child to spend the night in a dorm with a believer. It's ideal to visit during the week on the night a campus fellowship meets. By attending the group, your child will be able to see if he can visualize himself a part of that group. Encourage him to attend classes the next day. You get a more realistic picture of college life mid-week than on weekends. And if he chooses this particular school, he'll already have met some believers.
Nurture Realistic Expectations
"I can't wait to get out of here and get to college. It's going to be wonderful!"
Most high-school seniors feel this way—but it doesn't always turn out like that. That first semester is likely to be hard. Many will be homesick. Some will want to drop out. Unless there's an unusual circumstance, insist they finish out the year. Part of growing up involves walking through difficult times. We have to learn we can't bail out when things get tough in life. The child who's unhappy at the end of the first semester but returns will reap the benefits of making it through a tough time.
Our daughter, Allison, came home at the end of her first semester at college in tears because she was so homesick. At the end of second semester, she came home in tears because she didn't want to leave her college friends for the summer!
Realize College Isn't for Everyone
Perhaps your child will benefit by taking a year off before going to college. But if you're wise, you'll make sure this "gap year" is spent in a situation where your child is surrounded by strong believers who'll help him grow up.
If your child wants to take a year off, have him consider doing a missions project, working at a Christian conference center, or taking an apprentice year in his field of interest under the daily direction of a believer. He may not make much money—but the value of a godly mentor in the marketplace is priceless.
This past year, a young friend of mine, Leslie, decided to take a gap year and work with YWAM, a Christian ministry. Her maturity in Christ and growing self-confidence have impacted many other young people in her graduating class. The profound change in her life has blessed me personally.
Remember, God Is Sovereign
Unfortunately, our daughter Susy wasn't accepted into her first-choice college. And we all burst into tears! But God had a "better place" for our precious daughter. Midway through first semester, we got an e-mail from her at God's "better place." It read, "I just wanted to tell ya'll that I'm happy. I know the Lord has a perfect plan for me. He knew I was supposed to be here! I'm learning a lot and feel the Lord's presence strongly. I'm grateful for all he's teaching me."
God knows what's best for our child. He is faithful—and he will lead.
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