Graduate School Admissions Counseling

GREs. Recommendations. Grades. Research. May we add an upcoming lab, 17 hours a week of part-time work, midterms, and regular classwork?

I felt like a Graduate School Admissions Counselor.

But more importantly, I felt like a trusted resource to my son, who was calling on my cell as I pulled into the driveway after my own tiring morning.

I was the parental sounding board I always hoped to be.

My firstborn is a senior in college, extremely independent, and asking for my counsel is a reminder of the bond we share, and his respect for my opinion.

A newly minted 21-year old, my son has traveled the world for many years, studied as well as worked overseas, and is essentially working his way through college via a combination of scholarships, loans, and part-time jobs.

He’s a remarkable young man. And I consider myself extraordinarily lucky.

Parenting Style: Helicopter? Attachment? “De”tachment?

I have not been an attachment parent.

I have not been a free range parent.

I have not been a helicopter parent.

I do not associate myself with any such classification currently in vogue or, for that matter, under attack.

My parenting style has been “take your cues from your kids,” trial-and-error, and as a single mother for a decade – “Get Through One More Day.”

College has been no different, with logistical exceptions. Both of my sons are half a country away, entirely on their own, yet both know I’m available to them for love and counsel. But there is no schedule by which my sons call from college, and no expectations of them “owing” me anything. I will also state there is no expectation that I owe them anything at this stage except the annual FAFSA, my love, my wisdom such as it is, and no interference.

Might we call this Detachment Parenting?

One caveat: if I thought either were in real danger, all bets are off.

That said, sometimes two months goes by without a word. But they message, mail, call or Skype when they choose. And generally, I drop everything when they do, delighted to be the recipient of their questions, their stories, or their asking how I’m doing.

Graduate School Admission Requirements: Stamina?

My elder son sounded tired. His workload is demanding, and with the 17-hour/week job along with GREs and graduate school applications, he’s living a “zero downtime” schedule which I understand all too well.

But this slightly quirky kid is tough and innovative; he’s a born communicator and problem-solver. He has been known to advise me – and I listen.

He was also the empathetic seven-year-old who cared for me and his little brother when I was ill for months, and their father was traveling. He was the child whose gregarious nature and endless questions challenged me at every turn. He sprinkled my hair with plenty of gray – and somehow, we both survived.

He was calling to discuss the Graduate Record Exams (GREs), his upcoming graduate school application process, the professors he was considering for recommendations, the schools he is interested in, what they look for in viable candidates, whether or not now is the right time for this next step, and the rest of his “routine” which includes a full course load and his part-time job.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From…

That saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?

In the case of my kids, I’d say it’s true.

On both sides of the family, you’ll find a mix of scientists, engineers, artists, musicians, and language lovers.

My elder son is pursuing study in the sciences, while continuing to indulge his verbal vitality. Along with French and German? His most recent language adventure is Japanese!

As he talked about the prep he was involved in for grad school, I was aware of the extraordinary stamina that is required to juggle everything he – and so many college students – manage on a daily basis. Not only as they prepare for grad school admissions, but getting through four years of college – whatever the field, whatever the school.

And that leads me to the entitlement discussions which frequently show up in the press.

Parenting College Students the Old-Fashioned Way

We hear about helicopter parents interfering with college kids – trying to assist with their work, contacting their faculty and advisers – having done so much for these young men and women for so long that the students are struggling with becoming independent.

I have no doubts this phenomenon is real.

But what about the students like my sons – whether kids of single parents or not – who are doing it the old-fashioned way, because their parents did as well? Or perhaps, because that’s the only option available?

I suspect there are millions of college students across the country who are learning and making mistakes, calling parents when they choose, and experiencing these critical transitional years the old-fashioned way, as parents get on with their lives and accept that this is the natural order of things.

Parenting older teens and young adults in this non-style doesn’t make news. We don’t pretend to know everything that’s going on in our kids’ lives, much less control any of it. And sometimes, we choose ignorance. Yet I doubt I’m the only mother receiving a call to share an accomplishment, to provide an update, and to ask for suggestions – not intervention nor prescriptions for success but dialogue.

Talking and Listening to Young Adults as Adults

After 40 minutes of conversation with my son, I had learned a great deal about graduate admissions today versus 30 years ago when I went through this – and had no one to talk to about the process.

I also offered a recommendation relative to managing his time, which reinforced an idea he had considered which – as I listened to him speak – was the only “give” in a grueling schedule. To the extent that any counsel I provide is welcome and reasonable, I am grateful my sons feel they can turn to me for an exchange of ideas, as adults.

Regardless of the graduate school admissions outcome – the application process is only beginning, and it’s uncertain whether he will choose to apply now or wait a few years – I am reminded that we as parents must allow our children to “own” themselves. This is the path to independence – hit or miss at times, scary for us and them, different with each child.

This old-fashioned “detachment parenting?” That’s how we roll, and it isn’t always easy.

I remember my sons as little boys. I cherish those moments; at times I miss them. And single parent empty nest can bring a stark loneliness that is hard to describe. But it’s also freeing and satisfying – getting your own mojo back, and knowing your children are decently launched.