By Rus VanWestervelt, NDP Dad to Maddie, class of 2020
We’re in a tough place, aren’t we?
As parents, we want what is best for our daughters. We attend the winter meetings about course registration, and our heads start spinning with anxiety and dread.
Will her grades be good enough for college? Is she taking enough challenging classes? Should I be requiring her to do less socially and more academically? Is there time to make up for that less-than-stellar semester where things fell apart?
If you are stressed about these issues, just imagine how stressed your daughter is. Regardless of whether she is a freshman, sophomore, or junior, the stresses of preparing to apply and being accepted into college are often overwhelming and burdensome.
They don’t have to be, though. We, as parents, can do a lot to help alleviate some of that stress just by providing compassion and assurance that everything will be okay.
As we look through the possible course choices with our daughters (and it is critical that it is a shared experience), we can keep a few things in mind that will help us make the right decisions for our daughters’ overall wellness.
First, be comforted in the fact that there are plenty of “good-fit” schools for your daughter. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are nearly 800 more college choices for our daughters than there were just 15 years ago. In 2013, high school students had to cull through more than 7,200 different degree-granting institutions in the United States alone. There is a good match for your daughter; in fact, there are probably ten or more good matches for your daughter where she will be challenged and will succeed in her post-secondary ambitions.
Second, your daughter’s success in college (and beyond) is founded in more than just academics. Her mental, emotional, and social wellness all contribute to greater academic success through confidence and mindful awareness of who she is and how she wishes to transform the world. We should be paying as much attention to these areas as we are to her grades.
Mental wellness refers to our individual understanding of how we learn. It’s all about how we apply our optimal learning abilities (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, tactile) and thinking skills (concrete or abstract, random or sequential) to solve problems, academically and beyond. Our confidence is strengthened when we can use these tools effectively.
Emotional wellness focuses on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and even self-calming when things get stressful. This includes our understanding of what releases stress: physical activity, creative expression, or meditation.
Social wellness, while focusing on the development of strong and meaningful relationships with others, also recognizes our understanding of our place in social groups and having the ability to separate ourselves from bullying, judging, and other negative stimuli that can seem like a personal attack on us as individuals.
Third, I have great faith in the counselors at NDP, who are phenomenal at finding the right college for our daughters. When we were looking at potential schools for Maddie (class of ’20), it came down to NDP’s outstanding and unparalleled emphasis on wellness at every level — not only while at NDP but in college and beyond.
The game still exists as they march toward college, though, and we know it. What we, as parents, need to keep in mind is that there is so much more than just academics that colleges are interested in (and more schools than you might think). Yes, a strong GPA and good standardized test scores do matter, but so does an investment in diverse activities, the participation in sports or other physically demanding programs, and an investment in strengthening our community through service and charity.
Consider NDP’s most recent statistics. The graduating class of 2016 had a 100% acceptance rate to four-year colleges and universities. A deeper look at the accolades from this graduating class shows just how NDP respects and embraces the diversity of their students. It is comforting to know that NDP sees our daughters for who they are both in and out of their saddle shoes.
With this in mind, we can remind our daughters that it’s okay to enjoy their high school experience with a healthy balance of academic courses and activities, as long as they remain challenged and mindful of their goals while they maintain their personal and overall wellness. Encourage them to participate in electives and clubs that they are passionate about. Outside of school, provide opportunities when your daughters can have “down” time with you, where they see that you recognize them as individuals and not merely as test scores vying for that Ivy-League acceptance.
As parents, we want what is best for our daughters. Recognizing the need for overall wellness beyond their academics empowers them to take greater control of their learning and strengthens their confidence in what they are doing at NDP, thus leading to more authentic and opportunistic choices in their post-secondary endeavors. It’s good to challenge them; let’s just remember that no matter how many AP classes they might take, their well-being is what is, and will always be, most important.