Like a lot of my friends, my family has been neck-deep in college planning for the past year or so. And we are currently mere weeks away from our son pulling the proverbial trigger and announcing his school of choice. Now that we’re coming to the end of this time of researching, planning, applying and decision-making, I’m starting to reflect how it all went down. And today, I’m going to share with you my top tip – my favorite thing – the one aspect of all of this planning nonsense that I know we’ll come back to with the rest of the kids in years to come. I call it Project: College — How to Plan for College Without Wanting to Kill Anybody.
*Actually not guaranteed. If your family drives you to madness, you have my condolences but that’s about it. Also? I am not even remotely an expert on this subject. If it’s expert advice you want, look here.
I must say this method worked wonders for our family…once we figured it out. There was some trial and error, of course; times when the passive aggressive comments, eye rolls, and crying got just a little out of hand. (What can I say? I’m not the best under pressure.)
Once we set up Project: College, though, and the three of us (myself, my husband, and our son) got on board with how things were going to work, it all proceeded relatively smoothly.
Sure, there were a few bumps in the road. There were times when we ended up taking a detour or two we hadn’t anticipated. But I can honestly say that once we set up this system, I didn’t want to kill either of them anymore! Well, at least not for anything college-planning related.
“Not it!” – Me.
Whether experts would tell you this is right or wrong, I don’t know. But we didn’t really even start talking college with any seriousness until our son was into his sophomore year of high school. There were a couple reasons for this. First, we wanted him to enjoy his high school experience for what it actually was and not just as a vehicle to a different, “loftier” destination. Second, we didn’t want to make any assumptions or overly influence where he would want to go or what he might want to study. And lastly, and probably most selfishly, we wanted him to stay our baby for as long as humanly possible. Once the college talk started, we knew that things would start to change and I, for one, was not ready for that!
Like most moms, I think, I had been the CEO (ahem, Chief Educational Officer) of our family. I was the one who knew the kids’ teachers, what homework they had, the subjects they were studying. I handled all communication with the schools and did the majority of the volunteering. This isn’t to say, of course, that my husband was uninvolved. Not in the least! He has been and continues to be Master of All Things Science and Math for our kids and it’s been fabulous.
Because of this history, though, we all assumed that Mom would be the CEO of college preparations, too. Until it became glaringly obvious that that wasn’t going to work. I was too emotional, too far removed from academia, and too emotional (did I already mention that?) to lead this charge. “Not it!” I said. And I did the best possible thing I could’ve done.
I handed over the reins of college planning to my husband.
Enter the Project Manager
Now here’s where Project: College really gets going.
My husband is a project manager at work. He leads people and organizes long-term projects with exceedingly large budgets all day, err’ day. Which made him perfect, in my estimation, to lead us through this crazy year together!
He worked with Adam in finding all of the important dates and parameters we needed to work within. He identified the strengths we each had that would benefit the project most. And, in short order, he had us on a schedule, each with our own tasks and roles that would help achieve our ultimate goal: getting Adam successfully to the school that would be the best fit for him.
The “Project: College” Down Low
So here is how it worked for us, friends, and how it can work for you, too!
First: Identify your project manager. Who in your planning committee (i.e. the kid and his/her parents) is the best at time management and keeping track of a lot of information? Who is the best at goal-setting and follow-through? That’s your person.
Second: Name your ultimate goal. Now, since this is Project: College, I’m going to assume that your ultimate goal is “get this kid to college without killing anybody or losing my sh!t in the process.” But we all know what assuming does.
Third: Set a meeting schedule and stick to it. For us, it was Thursday nights at 9:00. Thursday was a night that no one in our house had obligations. By 9:00, dinner would be over and cleaned up and the little kids would have gone to bed. We didn’t meet every week, nor did we need to. What’s most important about this is that you find the time where your planning committee will have the most quality time with the fewest distractions.
Fourth: Break your ultimate goal down into bite-sized pieces. From identifying schools to finding scholarships, writing essays and getting those test scores, applying for financial aid and applying to the schools themselves… There’s a lot that goes into this project. It’s all necessary and it all needs to be done. But what doesn’t need to happen is biting off more than you can chew all at once.
And last, but certainly not least…
Fifth: Talk to each other! Talk about those feelings you’re having. Talk about the various options and opportunities that present themselves. Discuss your hopes and dreams (the kid’s and yours, parents!). Keep each other up to speed on what’s been done and what still needs to happen. Communication is the most critical component of this whole undertaking.
So Far, So Good, So Adaptable
And that’s it, folks! That’s the easy-peasy, no-muss-no-fuss, “promise you won’t want to kill anybody” Williby-way of planning for college. It has served us very well this year and I can’t wait to announce when Adam has made his big decision.
But another aspect of this whole Project: College thing that I love is that it’s given us a starting point for when it’s time to plan with the other kids down the road! We won’t be stuck staring at each other without a clue of where to begin. Nor will we get it wrong at the start and end up in tears of frustration. And I won’t be left wondering which of us will hate whom by the time it’s all done!
And, really, isn’t that the ultimate goal of any family project? I think so.