Decide. Don’t slide.

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Real College Matters

By Ginger Mayfield; 11/9/20

Part 2 in a series

Fear and anxiety are kept at bay when a family allows these three words to be the guiding principle of the college search and application process. This phrase was first introduced to me by Caroline, one of my former college advising clients. Caroline attended the University of Denver and would update me a few times a year on her experience and her favorite classes. She was fortunate to take a psychology class on the psychology of love with one of the founding faculty members of the Center for Marital and Family Studies (CMFS). After doing some more of my own research on her professor, I learned that the CMFS at the University of Denver has directed large scale research on couples and families for 40 years. The concept of “deciding vs. sliding” is born out of their many years of large scale research and work with couples. The CMFS has determined that couples will have better outcomes if they intentionally make decisions together rather than letting inertia govern their lives.

Make a plan

My intention is not to conflate marriage with college admissions, but I am of the mind that simple constructs that can meaningfully transcend contexts are very powerful. The CMFS researchers enumerate in many of their writings and research that when an upcoming significant transition is on the horizon, all parties should sit down and decide what the guiding priorities should be in advance of the transition. I have observed in my work with families that a positive outcome in the college admissions process is directly correlated to the amount of time the family has spent discussing these six factors:

  1. How much the family is able and/or willing to spend out of pocket per year 
  2. The student’s strengths
  3. The student’s weaknesses
  4. The student’s general academic interests
  5. The family’s collective values
  6. The student’s personal values

In life, many transitions can take us by surprise or feel forced upon us. Even though the college admissions process looms large and incites anxiety, a family should never be blindsided by their student’s senior year of high school. Ideally, a family should have agreed upon their priorities long before the name of any individual colleges are brought into discussion.

 Sadly, many families slide through the college planning process intending to “just see what happens” without a clear agreement on the essentials. I have observed that sliding usually comes with an unnecessarily high cost. Many times it is an opportunity cost for the student, but there can also be long lasting relational and emotional costs as well. By choosing to decide and not slide, families have the power to increase equanimity in their child’s final year at home and beyond. 

Ginger, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, is an RCM-affiliated college advisor in Birmingham, AL.