An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Tiffany Fujioka, senior associate director of college counseling

Parents and guardians often ask Lakeside’s college counselors for advice on having healthy conversations with younger students about the college application process. While it is not necessary to talk to 9th and 10th graders about applying to college, here are a few tips to ensure you are going about it in the most supportive way.

Maintain perspective

First, it’s important to remember that college is just one step in a Lakeside student’s personal journey, and one they are almost guaranteed to pursue. To paraphrase a current senior: Lakesiders are so fortunate to attend this great institution and have access to experienced, professional college counselors. If they follow the guidance of their counselor, they will attend college. That’s not something every student in this country can say. It’s important to remind our students that everything will be OK. They will go to college and they are very fortunate to do so.

Frame the process appropriately and keep an open mind

Despite what society and the media may tell us, applying to college is not about “winning” admission to the most selective school a student can get into. It’s about finding a home where a young person feels accepted, supported, and where they will thrive academically and socially. The good news is that, for each student, there will be numerous colleges that fit that description. However, in order to find these schools, it is critical for students to look beyond rankings and highly selective institutions. By the time students begin working with us as juniors, they already have a narrow view of what constitutes a “good” college and where they can get an excellent education. There are over 3,000 four-year colleges in the United States; why focus on such a small percentage? This only leads students to experience more stress, anxiety, and pressure throughout high school – not just during the college process.

How can parents and guardians help? Talk broadly about colleges with 9th and 10th graders without focusing on particular schools, especially those with the smallest acceptance rates. Find fun ways to explore schools you both haven’t heard of or don’t know much about. Instead of promptly recycling mail from colleges you know little about, take the time as a family to learn more about that school. Or maybe twice a month at dinner your student can pick a random number and turn to the corresponding page in the FISKE Guide to Colleges, reading aloud to your family about a new college every couple of weeks. 

Visit broadly and responsibly

While it isn’t necessary to visit colleges as a younger student, we understand that families are often eager to do so. But here’s the truth: When we begin meeting with juniors every January, they remember little to nothing of substance about colleges they already visited. Freshmen, sophomores, and first-semester juniors are often not in the right frame of mind to be evaluating colleges. They haven’t taken the time to consider what they value in a community or what they hope for in an academic experience. So, if you go on visits before the spring or winter of junior year, look at types of colleges rather than at specific schools. You can do that without leaving the Pacific Northwest! To get a sense of large public institutions of various sizes and settings, you could visit the University of Washington, Western Washington University, and Washington State University. You can investigate smaller private schools by seeing Seattle University, Lewis & Clark College, or Whitman College. Visiting different types of schools will help your student figure out what kind of environment and community they want to be in. Knowing those basics when they meet with a counselor junior year can be helpful. 

In addition to visiting broadly, it’s important to visit responsibly. Do not take younger students to visit highly selective schools. That action sends the message – well before their application process even begins – that this is the type of school you expect them to attend. That type of pressure is overwhelming and disheartening for a teenager. Instead, when you begin visiting colleges, start with schools where your child is more likely to be admitted (check for acceptance rates above 40-50%). Students who visit likely schools early on quickly realize they could be really happy at a likely school (and therefore many schools); as a result, they tend to have a lot less stress about the entire process. 

Encourage the pursuit of genuine interests

Inside and outside of the classroom, students perform better and feel better when they are engaged in classes and activities they genuinely enjoy. Rather than trying to rack up a long list of activities “for college,” encourage students to focus on engaging deeply with co-curriculars that bring them joy and fulfillment (even if you do not share that joy). Similarly, prod students to pursue courses that spark their interest rather than the ones you feel may look better on their transcript. A note: While we want students to pursue the things they love, it is crucial for parents and guardians to help students prioritize balance over trying to do everything. Especially with increases in mental health concerns, colleges are wary of students who try to do too much at the expense of their own well-being. 

All Lakeside families are invited to explore the college counseling resources page (available through Veracross), read our FAQ’s, watch our college counseling videos, listen to the audio files, and attend our coffee talks. We look forward to working with you down the road! 

Tiffany Fujioka is Lakeside’s senior associate director of college counseling. Reach her at collegecounseling@lakesideschool.org.