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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/23/2010

Senior to parents: Let kids pick their own college

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Adam Turay, a senior at South County Secondary School in Fairfax County. He is editor-in-chief of his school paper, The Courier, a member of his school’s "It’s Academic" team and plays guitar and keyboards in a rock band.

By Adam Turay
Over the summer and at the start of this school year, I was one of many college-obsessed young students. I checked out numerous schools and tried to figure out which would be best for me. I looked at class size, best programs of study, and requirements for admission. All in all, I did a pretty good job of deciding where I wanted to apply and what I wanted from each of the schools that I chose.

I thought I had more or less figured things out. Between information sessions at school and all the research I’d done, I felt prepared to begin applying to the colleges I’d chosen. I had taken the classes, sat for the standardized tests and written the essays. Bring on the application process! I was ready to go.

Or so I thought.

In one hour, my parents dismantled many of the decisions I had been working toward over the previous months: My first choice school wasn’t prestigious enough. I didn’t need any safeties. My tentative majors were ridiculous. My essay topics didn’t showcase the “best aspects of my character.”

I fought tooth-and-nail but, of course, had to make some compromises.

I applied to schools that I knew I didn’t want to go to, passed up on some schools that I could see myself at, and came up with new essay topics. All with resentment.

I couldn’t help but feel that, for a process that would virtually decide the next four years of my life, I hadn’t had nearly enough say as I wanted.

Of course I realize that parents are an integral part of the college admissions process. I respect that role, but I also feel parents should offer guidance and suggestions in lieu of making our decisions for us. I personally feel capable of making important decisions carefully. While I want to hear input, I also want my parents to trust me enough to think for myself.

Parents, you can’t make this decision for your children. We’re not even really children anymore.

When acceptance letters start rolling in, take a deep breath, relax and let your children take the helm. Finding the perfect school is vital and most of the time, your children will know which ones are best for them.


Previously, Adam wrote on this blog about kids using Wikipedia, and about whether kids and adults should avoid each other on Facebook, and about how hard it is to write a research paper the old-fashioned way--without using the Internet.

Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at it!

By Valerie Strauss  | February 23, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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You have my full sympathies, Adam. Parents today have become increasingly "involved", which often leads to full-blown controlling behavior. At orientation for the university where I teach, we often see parents marching their poor (18 year old) children around, still trying to make decisions that the children absolutely must be making for themselves. (The worst I've seen is when they attempt to manipulate the faculty to get a schedule they think their children need - embarrassing and ineffective for all concerned.)

All the best for the future. You have the intelligence and maturity to succeed - love your parents, but keep thinking for yourself.

Posted by: DDunn1 | February 23, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

As a parent of a High School senior I try to take the middle road. My child will definitely make his own choice, but with one caveat - his parents are footing most of the bill! I am committed to an outcome where my child graduates with little or no debt so I may steer him away from a college based on total cost. I look at at the college search as a great way to work together to come up with a choice that both parent and child can be happy with.

Posted by: prnt23 | February 23, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I promised to pay for undergraduate studies for my daughter (she is currently a hs senior) and I plan on keeping my word. I had to struggle to get where I am and as a parent I want her to be challenged but perhaps have it a little easier than I did. I make a pretty good salary and can afford in state tuition (no tax breaks or need based scholarship--but that's another Oprah show). She choose 3 out of state and one in state school. We've heard from all but one(VT). Penn State, Ohio State and UMD have already accepted her into their engineering programs. I know her first choice is out of state, but the in state school has a very good engineering program and it was competitive to get in. I presented her with a spreadsheet comparing each schools costs, % of students who get aid, etc. We haven't gotten any feedback on merit based scholarships at this time. If we are not offered any assistance, based on my contribution she will be attending the state school. She has the option of paying the difference for out of state so we'll see. That's my story for picking a school and I'm sticking to it.

Posted by: crazyeagle | February 23, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I still have a few years before we are there with our kids. But, my attitude about it is - they are definitely going to college. It's up to them which one they chose to go to, since they are the one's spending at least 4 years there. I fought my parents tooth and nail about my college choice and went to one that I wanted to go to. I graduated in 4 years. My brother let them pick his school and he ended up dropping out and transferring twice before finally graduating.

Posted by: MDL7 | February 23, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Adam - congrats on being one of the few high school seniors who is prepared to make decisions for yourself. The opportunity will come soon enough.

I got in one of the biggest fights of my life with my mother about being accepted to college. In the early fall of my senior year, I happily announced at the dinner table that I had been accepted to the state universtiy, which we all knew I would be going to. My mother began screaming at me, "how did this happen????"
I mailed in the application and they sent me a letter accepting me (this was in the 80s before essays, recommendations, etc.) "When...How could this happen"!!!! She kept yelling...I was inconsiderate and selfish, she yelled... Turns out that by applying early on my own initiative I deprived her of the joy of filling out applications together. It's not like it happened in secret - they drove me to the school to visit, took me into the bookstore to buy a catalogue (which had the application in it), and my dad must have given me a check for the application fee. Talk about curbing someone's enthusiasm!

Posted by: CowboyGirl1 | February 23, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

"Finding the perfect school is vital and most of the time, your children will know which ones are best for them."

Now a decade removed from college, I would argue that there is no "perfect" school. There are bad fits, good fits and better fits. I hope high school seniors don't get too caught up in this myth. Especially if they don't get into the one they thought was "perfect." You'll go somewhere else, get a good education and make great friends. In the end it's what you do with your education, not necessarily where you got it that will determine your success.

Posted by: VAPuck | February 23, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

"Of course I realize that parents are an integral part of the college admissions process."

News flash, dude. They're not. Sack up, grow a pair and stand up to your freaking parents. Will they accompany you to interviews? Make phone calls for you? Need to start acting like an adult sometime, this would be a good start.

Posted by: MACCHAMPS04 | February 23, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

For a lot of reasons--reading the "New York Times" every Sunday at age 10, interested in history in a school that stressed science, part of the only family in the neighborhood that went to museums on Sunday instead of hours-long church services, farm area with few girls my age in the neighborhood, and some health problems in high school--I grew up a pretty much of a square peg. Realizing that dormitory life would probably be torture for me, I decided to go to the local college and commute from home. (Also, I had been able to take courses there while in high school and already had several credits there.)

My older brother and my father were totally opposed--social life was important, I'd never make friends, I wouldn't join any clubs on campus, etc. Several years after I graduated, my father said, "We should have refused to pay for that college and forced you to go away--you would have gone to parties or joined clubs and met more people." He was stunned when I told him that not living on campus was the excuse I used to avoid that sort of thing. (I also pointed out that in those days you could get arrested for "being in the presence of drugs"--if, for example, you accepted a ride and the driver got caught with a joint in his pocket.)

I did go away for a year of graduate school, but in graduate school we lived alone or with a roommate of our choosing and associated after class as adults--no partying after the big game or late night drinking sessions, etc. And I not only keep in touch with grad school classmates but have made many close friends at work. I just needed to wait until those I was associating with grew up to match me.

Parents--find out WHY a student wants to go to a particular college before you start pushing another choice--your "advantage" might just be the reason the student is avoiding that college.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 23, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Adam, I hope you keep this essay to look back on when you have kids of your own applying to college. One fact you are sure to learn: you do not know everything at 18. As you get older, your parents will get smarter. Also, I'm curious. You say you are not a child anymore. Are you self sufficient? Did you receive scholarships? Are your parents paying the full tuition? Another fact of life: when you are depending on someone else to support you, they do have a say. If by some slim chance you are paying for your entire college education, then absolutely do not listen to a word they say. Do exactly as you want. I'm guessing your dinner table is really interesting tonight. I doubt it was as one sided as you are portraying it. Your parents love you and want the best for you and want you to happy. They have loved you and supported you for 18 years. Their success is evident in your success although I'm sure you believe you did it all on your own. They deserve better than this.

Posted by: deblou_20151 | February 23, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

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