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Reach Schools, Safety Schools, I Let My Daughter Decide Where to Apply

I just read the article about the college selection process in Your Teen Magazine. I loved reading how parents should let their kids be in charge of the college journey. Here on the East Coast, most parents are models for the articles about helicopter parents. They are writing their kids’ essays, filling out the applications, and pretending that it’s all about them.

Do You Need To Make Your Teen Choose a Reach School?

I feel like a terrible parent for choosing to let my daughter decide where to apply and how to study (or not) for the SAT’s. Many parents are bothered that I’m not making my 17-year-old daughter apply to reach schools. “She should apply to the best schools possible. It’s about meeting the right people and making good connections and getting the best job,” friends tell me.

My reply? First of all, I can’t “make” my daughter do anything. I’ve never been able to make my daughter do anything since she was very young, let alone now, when she is a teenager. She wants to work in the field of education, so I don’t think connections matter as much. And the state schools she applied to all have top education programs. None of the Ivy Leagues appealed to her—and if they did, she would have had to study her butt off to pull up her scores.

Instead, she chose to spend her time doing other stuff that seemed equally as important. Like band camp—which was mandatory. And going to Italy with us on a family vacation. These were her choices and why should I pressure her? We took her to Georgetown and Boston College—they didn’t appeal to her. She wants warm weather. Suggested other top tier school—again, they just didn’t call to her.

I Let Her Make Her College Decision

I’ve got a friend who even bribed her daughter to take an SAT Class and get tutored and take practice tests so that she could raise her scores and get into the mom’s dream college. She got in and now the mother is so proud of herself. She told me to try that approach with my daughter. I bucked this pressure and just let her drive the whole process.

I am not saying that my daughter’s decisions were the “right” ones or that they made the outcome easy. For example, all of her friends and my friends’ kids have gotten into top schools and their first choices and early decision schools and Emily is still waiting to hear. But my daughter owns her outcome.

When she gets in (which she likely will since none of the schools were reach schools), there is no guarantee that will she be happy. But I have two thoughts on that subject. One, I think kids can get out of a school what they put into it. And two, if she hates it, she knows she can transfer.

But will she be ticked off at me years from now when she looks back on her college choice. Will she say to me, “Mom—You should have made me study. You should have made me apply to more competitive colleges!”

Oh well, maybe I’ll remember that I wrote this blog and I can show her this one and hope she understands my perspective.

Valerie Newman lives in Connecticut with her husband and two kids. When Valerie started mixing up her kid’s college applications with her mother’s nursing home applications, she knew she was part of the sandwich generation.

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