Surviving College Application Season

Sue Schellenbarger $$$:

It’s a monthslong ordeal that could change the course of a high school senior’s life, leading to a choice that could cost tens of thousands of dollars or more. No wonder the college-application season can torpedo the holidays for teens and their parents.

Many students labor to meet early-winter deadlines for college applications, often under the anxious eyes of their parents. The resulting stress can damage family relationships if parents fail to set good boundaries and keep their own anxieties in check.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks can pretty much be ruined by a poor college-application process,” says Stephanie Meade, an educational consultant in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “Parents talk about how it’s the last year the student will be living under their roof, and the last thing they want to do is to be fighting with them.”

The path is often rockiest for the oldest child. Pavanaja Reddy of New York was frustrated when her older daughter, now 20, resisted her suggestions on where to apply. “She could get into the Ivies. But that’s not what she had in her mind. It was a really bad time for both of us,” says Dr. Reddy, a physician. “There was a constant struggle with me telling her, ‘I’m the parent, I know what’s best for you,’ and her saying, ‘I know what’s best for myself.’ ”

Looking back, Dr. Reddy says, “I was thinking about what I would do rather than what she would do.” She sees now that her daughter, a junior at Case Western Reserve University, was well-informed and well-equipped to make her own decision.