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Compiled by Eric Weld   Date: 8/17/10 Bookmark and Share

Q & A with Deb Shaver, Director of Admission

After advising parents of college-bound kids for a quarter century, Deb Shaver, director of admission, found out it’s easier said than done to keep from becoming overly involved. Shaver blends her years of experience in admission with her firsthand parental guidance in an essay she wrote for a new book, I’m Going to College—Not You!, a compilation of short pieces by parents of the college-bound, edited by Jennifer Delahunty, the dean of admission and financial aid at Kenyon College.

Shaver’s essay, titled “The Kids are Alright (with Apologies to The Who),” (she insists she came up with the title before Hollywood released a popular comedy by the same title) comically pans her perspective of her son John’s circuitous search for post-high school education, including: his ill-advised basketball star fantasy; an out-of-the-blue interest in culinary arts despite lack of interest in cooking (“I like to eat,” he argued); a decision to skip college and be a rock star (not just a musician, a STAR); and finally his finding the right college for him.

Shaver joins authors such as Anna Quindlen, Jane Hamilton and Neal Pollack in documenting her experience, as well as several writers with backgrounds in admission. She recently responded to questions for the Gate.

Gate: What is the biggest challenge, from your perspective, to parents with kids heading to/searching for college?

Deb Shaver: One big challenge is the anxiety parents have about the process. I tell parents that they need to acknowledge their anxiety, understand where it comes from and then get over it. It comes from the right place—we all want our children to be happy and successful. However, our kids are under enormous pressure and need our well as a reality check concerning the hype around the process. Our kids shouldn't have to add our stress to theirs. Our job is to provide perspective...we're the parents after all. Our anxiety leads to boundary issues. How much involvement is too much? When do you push and when do you step back and just support?

Gate: How do you look back on the process of guiding your child beyond high school?

DS: I went through the process three years ago with my son. He's currently at UMass, Amherst (although is contemplating taking a leave to pursue his dream of rock 'n roll—see the essay).

Going through the process with my son was the best professional experience I've had in admission. As you might imagine, I lived for this moment—especially because I'm the first in my family to go to college and didn't have any guidance through the college process. Yet, even an "expert" like me can find the process to be a wild ride. The lesson I learned is that it'll all work out in the end. Kids land where they belong and there's a place for everyone.

Gate: How did you come to pen an essay for I’m Going to College—Not You!?

DS: A staff member told the author that I had a good parent story. I sent it to her and she loved it, and used it as one of three chapters to shop the manuscript around.

Gate: What is your most frequent advice to parents of college-bound kids?

DS: It's all about fit—it's not about the name, it's about the match. My favorite quote is by Frank Sachs, a college counselor: "Admission is a match to be made, not a prize to be won."

Remember, you are not going to college, your child is. This is not a do-over for parents. Stay quietly to the side and let your child control the process. In other words: back off! Expand your horizons, look at lots of different colleges. We obsess over the top 50 colleges yet there are many wonderful places for our kids. The sticker on the car is not your grade as a parent. This is your opportunity to serve as a role model around a good role model to help your child negotiate the disappointment that will come with this process.

Above all, do not call the director of admission and call her a "stupid woman" if your child does not get in.


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