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Easing Pressure on Schools & Families Through University Admissions Programming

By Jennifer Ann Aquino
Easing Pressure on Schools & Families  Through University Admissions Programming

It seems that the university admissions process has become a dreaded annual cycle that creates anxiety, stress, and unhappiness among students, parents, and school staff members alike. Much of this is due to the changing nature of university admissions. Indeed, in 2017 we have seen an increase in the number of applicants, greater options for international students who apply to multiple countries, more and more rankings to consider, and savvy marketing and data “manipulation” creating a falsely-educated consumer. Yet much of the stress associated with finding the right school is also due to how we manage the process. Too often we give the press too much power, get caught up in the machinery, and ultimately succumb to the influence of irrelevant sources (read: rankings). Rather than perpetuate the cycle of anxiety-stress-unhappiness, exploring the university admissions process should be an opportunity for our students to learn more about themselves and to embrace their unique interests. For those of us whose job it is to guide them, it is our chance to encourage these students to make the sort of choices that will ultimately allow them to live a life of purpose. Unique programming for your school can be tailored to best serve the needs of your students, parents, and community. This often includes collaborating with external experts who work with schools to develop and deliver programming—seminars, workshops, open Q&A forums—focused on demystifying the seeming behemoth that is university admissions and post-secondary school life and plans. While the programming itself may be unique for each school, the questions, concerns, preoccupations, and anxiety are not. Take for instance Grade 12 students. Here’s a picture of the scene, as they prepare to turn in their applications. Student: Stressed. Second-guessing. Hopeful. Has yet to truly experience rejection. Parents: Anxious. Perhaps demanding of the counselor and the school. Some still very unrealistic. Still hoping for black-and-white answers in a sea of questions that offer only grey responses. School: Trying to manage expectations. Hopeful. Fielding complaints, repeat questions, cater-to-my-son calls. Counselor: Bearing the brunt of it all. This is just a snapshot of what’s going on in Grade 12. Many Grade 9 families at this time of year wouldn’t dream of passing up the opportunity to learn about current trends in university admissions. And many are flustered when I suggest that, rather than sign their child up for the next summer program on a university campus, they should instead be encouraging their kid to learn something new, take a risk, embrace her interests… No test prep? No! From Grade 9 to Grade 12, the entire secondary school is interested in this topic, and in need of guidance. Bringing in an external expert at this stage who can work collaboratively with the community is a remarkably effective way of closing the anxiety-stress-unhappiness loop. Here’s how: • Reinforces what the school and counselors have been saying all along: an outside source can lend credibility to the school and also help parents and students to accept the realities of the process (“No, X university would not be a fit for your child. But Y university would be!”) • Offers an opportunity for parents/students to complain and thereby relieve their stress on someone other than the school, realigning the parent/student with their school and counselors. • Gives parents and students the feeling that people are listening, that they are getting “insider information” from a source that their school has brought in specifically for their benefit. • Allows for new conversations and discussions to develop through open seminars and workshops tailored to their needs. • Allows the school to show it is committed to the community, responsive, and ready to go the extra mile to help students and families by offering special programming. • Calms everyone down. The last point is so critical. Parents, students, and the entire secondary school community can actually learn to calm down during this incredibly stressful period in the school year. Perhaps this ease will only be fleeting for some. Our job isn’t to change people on the path to university admissions, it is to help guide them towards a deeper understanding of the process and encourage them to embrace their own unique identities.

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