There is a Lot to Learn About the College Planning Process

insidewink’s new monthly column about the college-planning process you and your teenager may be living through or planning to tackle in the foreseeable future.

Hello!  I’m Anne Cochran.

What qualifies me to lay out my endless and at-times controversial notions about this topic?

Besides being a lifelong enthusiast and intensive observer of this particular business — and rest assured, it is indeed a business — I traveled through this maze with my own two kids and learned a ton of information about successfully mitigating it…and there is indeed a lot to learn.

Also, I completed a college counseling professional training program at UCLA, toiled as a private college counselor and started a successful college counseling program from scratch at a Los Angeles charter high school — then co-founded a new charter high school that’s nowadays called Valley International Prep (VIP) where individualized four-year-college planning and choice is the centerpiece of our school’s mission.

I wear the school’s executive director hat, but unlike virtually any other small high school on the landscape, a major aspect of my school-leadership position is to oversee our students’ college-going process and hang with them in their related foxholes, so to speak. A cornerstone of what we do at VIP is to educate parents on the topic as well as our future graduates.

Ok! Let’s ponder for a moment the veritable sea of published college-related advice.

If you’ve attempted to tiptoe into these waters, you’ll agree that the body of it is deep, often cold and turbulent, and difficult to judge in terms of figuring out how and where to initiate your swan dive. Rather than offering up yet another “How To” column with info you can glean in bucketloads all over the internet, instructive books on Amazon, and from your kids’ school counselors, I intend to provide you with my own take on the process — one people tell me is a unique one.

Every month we’ll look at a single “Curious Thing” on the list, take a test ride and kick its tires.

Here We Go!

Ten Curious Things Parents Do To Mess Up Their Kid’s College Journey

Curious Thing #1

Trusting Your 16-Year-Old To Totally Handle College

For years now, I’ve watched parents go fish-eyed and brain dead as their kids enter this arena of thought and activity. They say “Oh, I want Johnny to handle this whole thing himself. It’s entirely his activity and decision!”

I swallow hard and once-in-awhile speak (or at least always say to myself) something along the lines of :

“Mom. You don’t trust Johnny to do much of anything for himself. You fight self-created battles with his teachers and administrators on his behalf; you don’t make him attend school every day and when he does attend, you chauffeur him to and from school so he’s saved the discomfort (and lesson) in taking public transportation; you make his meals, give him money and wash his clothes; you don’t trust him to make a good decision about how he budgets his free time — the two of you constantly battle over mindless time spent in front of screens and substances he freely smokes; when his lack of attention paid to school work hits the wall, you call the school and holler at them on his behalf…

So I’m asking you…why would you now entirely hand over a six-figure-costing process and decision to this helpless adolescent?”

Makes no sense.

As you’ve certainly learned by now, your job as a parent is to keep your kid alive, healthy, and running on life’s track. You’ve certainly learned by now that left to their own devices, teenagers don’t exactly make the best decisions. Their brains are still undeveloped in key ways. They take stupid risks– every single one of them do, you just don’t know the extent of them. It’s key to their nature and time of life. It’s a top reason why they still need you. You endeavor to keep them on the right side of the line.

I think creation of the ten-year-old “Helicopter Parents” handle has actually hurt a lot of families as the potential shame of parents being labeled as such have caused them to take too-far-of-a-step backward. More often than not, a parent says to me “Things are very different now from when I went to college” or “I didn’t go to college, so it’s an alien process.” So it appears that by calling out one of these two truths, it excuses one’s involvement and oversight as a parent. You’d never done most things as a parent until it was time to learn and you did them. Why is this particular endeavor so different?credentials?


Anne Cochran Changes Lives Every Day

Meet Anne up-close and personal in her interview with insidewink.


Read Julia Rael’s article on her own experiences and transition to a new college.

Here’s the deal. You can find any number of advice givers on the internet who will tell you with confidence that your kid’s college is the next-to-largest investment you will ever make within your lifetime, second only to the mortgage on your home. I know it’s the truth and so do you. So why would you the parent just hand off the whole shooting match to your kid? Or perhaps even worse, to some private college counselor you don’t know from Adam, so to speak, except that, say, a mama from your kid’s school — someone you can’t stand — highly recommended this stranger with dubious credentials?

“Your kid’s college is the next-to-largest investment you will ever make within your lifetime, second only to the mortgage on your home.”

Forbes Magazine just ran an article about the impending demise of many financially ailing small colleges and within it, a single passage jumped out at me: “Consider what it must be like to run an institution whose success or failure, year after year, depends largely on the decisions of 18-year-olds.” Transfer that observation over to your own household.

Why do so many kids waste time and money via dropping out of college (or even worse, by not going at all, thereby creating a lengthier, more traumatic exit from the family’s operating budget)?

I believe that in many cases, the college fit wasn’t a good one in the first place and parents remained on the sidelines while it cooked up. God forbid they go to the mat with their Johnny types. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t play the top role. But parents, handing the entire shooting match off to your kids while you fixate on other aspects of your lives can easily become a financial disaster to you, not to mention a major source of frustration and lack of a successful outcome for your kid.

There’s a sane and happy medium between “helicopter” and “hands off.” For years now, I’ve been saying “Helicopter parents? What helicopter parents?” Where are they? We could use a few of them to counterbalance the current trend I see of them looking the other way.” So many of you seem to be afraid of your own kids’ typical teenager-y disapproval and obstinance. It comes with the territory, yes?

What if you do everything right? Your kid’s college-fit process was masterfully executed on both ends, and it still doesn’t work out?

That’s life and as you know, it’s a mysterious and sloppy process. Surprises are always in store for you. But if you do your homework and play an active role, you can at least know everything was done and delivered to the best of your ability. At least you will sleep well.

Get educated and minimally speaking, oriented. Read some books and articles every night before you turn out the lights. After all of these years of constant reading, I still recommend two old standbys — the now-classic Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope (buy the fourth/2013 edition) and The Fiske Guide by Edward Fiske (it is updated each year). I know an excellent college counselor whose work I deeply respect who started out as a parent who kept The Fiske Guide on her nightstand and read a chapter or two every single night.

There are a many great websites. Two of my faves are the blogs with Collegewise’s site, and PrepScholar’s blog. Also, check out just about anything written by Lynn O’Shaughnessy. I think she walks on water.

Read Part Two Here.

Anne Cochran

Anne Cochran is an award-winning leader of a small and passionate team of educators who opened Valley International Preparatory High School (VIPHS) in August 2018. — a new charter high school dedicated to providing 21st-Century-informed college options to grades 9-12. As a former marketing veteran within Hollywood’s film industry and small-business owner, Anne redirected her career interests nearly 12 years ago to addressing a need she observed within secondary public education, which is to bring optional college options to public school-educated teens who would otherwise be presented with very limited choices. Anne has been married for over 45 years to Chuck Cochran, creator and namesake of “Chuck Cochran’s Music Lab” at VIPHS, and they have two grown children.

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