I'm helping my son apply to college from 3,500 miles away. Virtual tours and frequent FaceTimes have been helpful.
- My son is completing his junior year of high school in Spain, while I'm in New York.
- The distance is making the college-admissions process difficult for both of us.
I'm sitting at my kitchen table discussing college options with my son, a junior in high school. He puts his head in his hands and nods, but I can tell he's not really focusing on what I'm saying. I know how hard the decisions he'll be making over the next year will be for him and what they could mean for his future. It's overwhelming for both of us.
I want to put my arm around him and reassure him we'll do this together. But then the WiFi goes out. His face freezes as the FaceTime call drops.
My son is in Spain studying abroad and playing soccer for his junior year of high school. I'm in New York.
We're trying to navigate his future while we're 3,500 miles apart. We have to figure out how to visit schools, contact coaches, and communicate these plans with a six-hour time difference between us.
I quickly learned how competitive the process is
I was surprised by how early student-athletes like my son have to start planning if they hope to be recruited. Between contacting coaches, getting résumés together, and figuring out a major, it can be a lot to handle.
We're not the only ones who are overwhelmed. When I reached out to other parents for advice, they told me their kids were exhausted. In a survey conducted early this year by the Princeton Review, 72% of high schoolers and parents reported having a high level of stress about college applications.
My son, who aspires to play competitive sports in college, can feel even more pressure. First, he has to find which schools would fit with his academic priorities. He then has to hope the coaches at those schools want to make him an offer. It feels like trying to win the lottery.
It's not easy doing all this virtually, but we're exploring strategies to help guide us through the process
When we found a program in Spain where my son could continue his high-school education and play the sport he loves at a much higher level than he could in the States, we jumped at the opportunity. But with thousands of miles between us, we've had to explore ways to move forward with his college search. Unfortunately, he can't tour colleges in person or go to ID camps where coaches can see him play. I worry this will put him at a disadvantage.
We started by setting up a call with his guidance counselor, who helped us put together a list of 30 schools that meet my son's basic requirements for things like size, location, academic majors, and sports.
I recommended looking up these schools online to see if any stood out. During one of our FaceTime calls, I suggested he take virtual tours of schools. The virtual tours won't replace visits to see what campus life is really like, but they've been helpful in narrowing down options — and my son can do them on his own time.
I've encouraged him to attend online information sessions and to look closely at student reviews of each school. If he really likes a program, he can reach out to the admissions office and ask to be connected with other students or alums to find out specifics.
I've also encouraged him to reach out to coaches and introduce himself. Making these connections are extra important since he might not have a chance to meet with them in person.
To take some of the pressure off, we discussed alternative ideas, including taking a gap year or applying to universities in Europe.
I'm doing my best to guide him without being another source of stress
I try to carefully plan when we talk about college and applications. I try not to bring it up every time we talk — though I admit I need to work on this.
Most importantly, I want my son to know how much I support him and the decisions he makes. I've explained that it's a choice to buy into the competition and stress around the college-applications process and that there's a path for every student.
We just have to slow down and do what we can to find the right fit for him.
Aileen Weintraub is the author of "Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir," a laugh-out-loud story about marriage, motherhood, and the risks we take. She has written for the Washington Post, Glamour, NBC, and AARP among others. She also offers editing and coaching services at witchesofpitches.com
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