How do I cope with the fact that I am failing my youngest daughter? She’s a senior in high school and I know she wants to go to college. Her father makes enough money to send her to a public university, but I don’t know how to advise her, I never attended college. She seems lost and unable to find her way as much as I am. Her dad is waiting for her to come to him with plans and details and I think she just doesn’t have much of a clue about what she wants to do towards her education and future. It feels like I should know how to advise her, but I don’t. She is a good person and I know if she ever finds her niche she’ll do well, but how will she find it between now and high school graduation? I want to support her, but feel so inadequate because I have no real college experience. Her dad travels a lot and is swamped at his job and wants her to handle all the details and I think she is as overwhelmed as I am. How do we do this and stay sane?
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Organizing a college search can seem like an overwhelming task, particularly if you’ve got no experience with it. But really, it is like any type of task that requires some sustained attention to complete. You get through it by breaking it down into small parts, prioritized by the order in which they have to be completed. Then you work through each part, piece by piece until you are done. The first thing that you have to do to get started is to find a way to relax a little. Rome was not built in a day and neither was your daughter’s education. But Rome did get built, and if your daughter wants to have an education, she can get through that too. Someone will have to lead this project. It doesn’t sound like this person will be your husband, or your daughter, so you might as well elect yourself. Your daughter will play a big role here and will have to do a lot of work to make this all come together, but perhaps she is not the architect of this project. You need a plan, and you don’t have experience to draw from in building one. So draw on other’s experience. There are lots of books at the library concerning how to get into college. There is also a lot of information online on the Internet in various websites. There are also numerous college educated people around you who will probably be very willing to advise you as to the steps involved. Finally, there may be guidance counselors at high school who can help. See what methods of accessing the information you need will work best for you and use them to form your plan. The basics aren’t that difficult: Figure out how your daughter’s academic performance compares to others by looking at her grade point average, and test scores. If she hasn’t taken it, the SAT is generally required for college entrance. Develop a list of schools that are not too far away into which your daughter will have a reasonable chance of getting into based on her scores. Pick at least one school to be a safety (who will admit her almost certainly) and one or more that might be a stretch but which seem more exciting. Make sure that all schools are either affordable or offer some sort of financial aide. Collect the application materials for each school. There will be forms to fill out, essays to write, test scores to coordinate and application fees to send. Fill out the applications for all schools that are serious candidates. Check for deadlines and make sure that all materials are submitted beforehand. Applications are generally sent out in the fall with an early winter deadline. There are books and consultants and websites that can help with how to best word the the forms and essays for success. Have your daughter check with the bank or credit union about student loans if that will be necessary. You may need to countersign so that the loan will be approved. Wait for response from the colleges. Letters of acceptance are generally sent out in early Spring. Your daughter then picks from the colleges who accepted her, and away she goes. It’s not really that difficult, actually, and there is a lot of room for failure. If you mess it up the first year, your daughter can work for a year and then apply again the following fall, having benefited from the experience of the previous year. She’s young and has time. Working for a year might motivate her too – as she’ll see that having a college degree is a valuable thing that helps you get paid more in today’s economy. Good luck.