News & Media

Teaching Them to Fish

Guest blog by Ann Herbener, recently retired college counselor at Papillion LaVista High School in NE. Ann spent 31 years as a classroom teacher and counselor, helping students earn millions of dollars in scholarships. 

We have arranged their play dates, made their lunches, supervised their homework, conferenced with their teachers, and organized their activities.  Now, when it really counts, we’re supposed to let go so they do it on their own?

Senior year is one of the toughest in our children’s lives.  On top of the usual homework and activities, they have to apply to college, look for scholarships, and decide on the trajectory of their lives.  One of my students once said, “You’ve planned everything for us, but now at the biggest decision of our lives, you’re telling us we’re on our own!”

After working with seniors for thirty-one years, as a teacher and college counselor, I can tell you it is a balancing act.  I get it; I have steered three kids of my own through it. Sometimes it feels easier to do everything yourself.  At least then you know it will get done, right?  But at what cost?

As the old adage says, our job as parents is to teach our children to fish.  We need to teach them to be self-advocates because we can’t teach them everything.  Next year, they will be on a college campus, living in the dorms.  If they don’t know how to register for classes or if there’s a problem with their financial aid, they need to be able to find the answer for themselves.

It may seem like filling out their college applications or calling the college rep yourself is “helping,” but, in reality, you’re only handicapping them.  Teenagers today don’t even know how to talk on the phone!  When I tell a senior to call the college, a look of horror passes over his/her face.  So, we get out a pen and notepad, practice what to say, and make the call from my office.  Could I call myself?  Sometimes, but other times the college won’t talk to me because of privacy laws– so at least I know I’ve taught that student to do something for himself.

I always tell my students, “I want you to get into college, but more importantly, I want you to go BACK for your sophomore year.”  It isn’t the lack of academic preparation that keeps students from going back; it is the lack of resiliency.  They will need to be able to manage their time, money, and priorities.  This will be tough to do when many seniors still rely on their parents to wake them up in the morning.

So, how do you find that line between parenting and over-parenting?  I advise the families at my school to make one day a week “college day.”  Sit down with all the paperwork, emails, and “to do” items.  Decide what is your child’s responsibility and what tasks are parent-appropriate.  Then don’t talk about it the rest of the week.  It’s tough!  Give your senior the ownership to get his or her tasks completed so he or she can feel that sense of accomplishment. It is then their college admission process and not yours.  Parents can help with FAFSA, post office runs, sorting through mail, reading the senior bulletin.  So, what happens when he doesn’t touch his list?  Then, he will have to deal with the consequences, like not getting a scholarship, not getting admitted, or not moving out.

It’s hard, but you’re giving your child the skills necessary to make it on his own.

John Baylor is a father, husband, author, Stanford grad, broadcaster, and owner of OnToCollege. The mission of OTC is to help families and schools create two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt. 


© OnToCollege. All rights reserved.

ACT® and PreACT® are registered trademarks of ACT, Inc., which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product. SAT® exam is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product. The use or dissemination of any of the information contained in this website without the express written permission of OnToCollege is strictly prohibited. OnToCollege is not associated or affiliated with Baylor University, nor are any OnToCollege goods or services.