I had an appointment with Mark yesterday, put on our calendar a few weeks ago.
It was the "Sit down and figure out what we need to do to help our firstborn navigate getting ready for college" meeting.
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This is not the first time we have thought about it, but it was the first time we sat down and tried to make a to-do list for ourselves. Part of me is tempted to say, "Hey, 15-year-old, this is for you to figure out." It's not our job to make him hit all the deadlines, I know it isn't our job to fill out his college applications or to tell him what to do.
On the other hand, ordinary students in ordinary high schools have guidance counselors. It's their job (ostensibly) to let kids know when they can take the ACT, to help them find information from different post-college programs, and to review each young person's high school plans for consistency with what they say they want to do afterwards. If I am homeschooling, I figure that "guidance counselor" is one of my hats. And I want to be one of the good guidance counselors, not one of the crappy ones that I often hear about.
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It's my first time navigating through this from the homeschooled-student point of view, and we are slowly getting a handle on how to scrape together the information we need.
We've done a little bit of work already. Mark went to a workshop a few years ago about record-keeping and credit-accounting, and that's been helpful as we planned the high school program. He stopped in at one potential university a few years ago to find out what they want from their homeschooled applicants, and that information has guided my attitude towards grades. (Yes, it's stupid that they want grades assigned by the student's own parents. Nevertheless, if they want them, I guess we'll provide them.) We've queried our student, and he has two specific and different ideas of what he might major in; he wants to know more about them. He seems confident that he wants to go to a big public university, which narrows it down nicely, and which is also compatible with wanting to keep open two specific and different options.
Too many options on the table tend to paralyze; so Mark and I decided on a strategy of outlining in detail a few options at each step and a default high school path, while making it as clear as we can that if he wants to swap out one strategy for another, or change paths, we'll support him and help him figure it out. The ACT people will send your score to four schools for free. If it's the day before the test and you still don't have the first idea where to send them, I'm happy to say, "well, the Universities of X, Y, Z, and Q would all be good places to send them, but by all means, if you have a different idea, send the scores there instead." And so on with other questions. When should he take driver's ed? Should he get a job this summer or next summer? Should he take college courses as a high school student or not? We mapped out some ideas for the rest of high school that, we think, would work.
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Which feels... embarrassing? It is a truth universally acknowledged that offering strong suggestions for what your kid should do for college means that they will write angsty poetry and/or join a theater and/or burst into tears while spending Saturday in detention with the Cute Girl and the Jock. I feel compelled to explain to my son, over and over again, that our suggested defaults do not constitute big bad PARENTAL PRESSURE. The wind blows where it will; we're not just going to let the boy drift. We'll show him some ways to set the sails before we step back.
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Mark had the idea to assign him to write several short research papers. In each one, he'd investigate and describe a particular possible career path and reflect on how his interests and aptitudes intersect with what he has learned. Then, said Mark, he would help our son meet with a couple of working people (not us) and talk to them, or interview them, about their education and work. (Mark called this the "two lunches" plan). It sounds like I will be working this up into a half-credit's worth of high school "career exploration" for the junior year. Because I can turn anything into a syllabus.
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I really hope the kids are listening to us when we tell them, "You know, we are just making this parenting thing up as we go along. Don't ever forget that."