I’m a homeschooling dad of 8 trying to help my kids navigate undergraduate education. College is overwhelming. So many rules, regulations, and limits on what is possible.
Life as (an unpaid) college guidance counselor
So far we have 3 university grads, two in college now, and three more to go. And I remember how baffled I was about how to help my kids find their way. My parents were college dropouts and could offer very little about how to find success in college. I stumbled my way through.
And it’s different to be the parent – when should we step in?
When should we let kids mess up?
The school doesn’t want us parents involved, right?
But we see ourselves as our kids’ guidance counselors. They need some help with problem solving and navigating. It’s our job to work with them.
But how do we engage with the school when the school has no relationship with us other than “authorized payer?” What does it look like to help your kid find a path to graduation?
Over the years, we have seen many times where things did not go according to our original plan. And it’s easy to get upset, particularly when the rules are not documented clearly, or when the application of the rules feels arbitrary.
In this post, I want to talk about the approach we are learning to take with the school when we hit a bureaucratic roadblock. We call it “The Five P’s of Persuasion for College”
When his son joined the army, my grandfather advised my uncle to read the army procedure manual, because, he said,
“If there is anything you want to do in the army, it is contained in that manual. If there is anything you do NOT want to do in the army, if there is a way around it, you’ll find it in the procedure manual.”
My uncle followed my grandfather’s advice, and became a highly valued company clerk during his service because he knew the rules and how to work the system.
In a lot of ways, college and university bureaucracy are like the army in terms of complexity and rule sets.
The (first) answer is no
Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times we have been told “no” by someone in a college setting.
And it can be quite frustrating to learn that your plan won’t work, particularly if there is some weird reason they are saying no.
Of course, your situation won’t mirror ours, but I want to share something that has been helpful to us to find a pathway to resolving these issues.
In one frustrating example, I was told that my comprehensive plan for my second son to attend community college to prepare him for an engineering degree likely would not work out the way I thought it would.
Worse, the university transfer advisor told me that I could not even transfer my kid to the university with his 30 completed hours of coursework because
“We don’t allow freshmen to transfer into engineering in the middle of freshman year.”
This is one of MANY examples, and faced with that feedback, it would be easy to argue, to get angry, or to demand to “speak to the manager!”
(Which, in college speak, is not a manager at all, but likely a dean of something or other.)
But the fact is that direct confrontation often drives the bureaucrat deeper into the rules and that can limit your options. The last thing we want is limited options!
Learning the rules
The most important thing is what my grandfather said about the army.
Read the “dumb little rules” because they are the levers you can pull in the process.
If you learn the rules for the programs better than the staff and faculty, you can often find a creative path to success. Knowing those rules, you’ll know when the administrators are wrong.
When you’re sure you’re right, it is VERY tempting to tell them “A Ha! You’re WRONG!” – at least, I am tempted to do that, but I want to share with you something that we’ve learned in the hopes that you might avoid some of the roadblocks we hit before learning this.
The key to getting them to help you
We call it the “The Five P’s of Persuasion for College”
They have to want to help you
The reality is that most college kids are hugely disorganized and inexperienced. They will flounder through this highly structured system and waste lots of time and energy. (And lots of tuition dollars, too!)
The staff and faculty at the college generally have a lot of emotional energy in their jobs related to dealing with disorganized students, or dealing with obnoxious helicopter parents.
Who needs that stress? Our goal is to not be either of those.
First – be pleasant in your interactions.
This is something to be intentional about, especially when frustrated. Yes, that policy is standing in your way, but none of us wants to be a Ken or Karen, and nobody likes dealing with them, either. Be nice.
Let me go back to “Your kid can’t transfer in during his freshman year” because it’s an example of how we employed this strategy.
The transfer advisor told us that our planned community college classes would not work with the engineering program. She said that our best bet was to get our kid to the university as soon as possible.
But we had planned for him to take another year of community college to finish his senior year of high school.
This was bad news. Also, when we learned this it was about the first week of August – and now there was no time to make changes to the plan.
Would his next semester or even a full year of college be wasted? So frustrating.
The advisor was nice, but her guidance was firm.
I wanted to blow up at her.
But I didn’t. I went to step 2.
Planning is essential. Taking the time to study the rules and to find examples that match your desired plan can earn you a great deal of success.
- Learn the rules for degree completion, both at the community college and the university.
- Study the transfer guides and recommended coursework published by the university.
- Look up the transfer credit tools that can show you what community college course count for which university classes, and incorporate what you’ve learned into your plan.
- Making the time to create a plan, and the time to have an advisor at the school review it, can give you a huge head start.
After I took some time to process the bad news from the transfer advisor, I asked her to clarify for me the exact reasons that he would be blocked from moving forward.
She helped me identify the following rules:
- Because he was a rising high school senior who had not graduated high school, he was not even eligible to be admitted to the university.
- He had not even applied to the university for that school year.
- Even though he had 30 hours of credits, even if they DID admit him, the school considered him a freshman, because his college credits had not been attempted or completed AFTER high school graduation and
- There is another rule that freshmen cannot transfer in to the engineering program during their freshman year.
These were daunting blockers. And we had no time. Fall semester was starting in 2 weeks!
So we needed a plan to overcome those blockers.
Patience is a virtue
Which leads me to thirdly, be patient.
Every school’s policies took a LONG time to create, and every rule usually was created after someone did something dumb. It is rare that an issue needs to be dealt with immediately. This is especially true if you’ve studied the rules and you’ve been careful in your planning and your details.
This planning gives you the luxury of time. Having “extra” time allows you to be patient as your request may be considered by the staff, the faculty or even the head of a program. This can be a challenge.
After manking a request, I often will ask “I’m not pushing for a response on this, but I am curious. When might it be reasonable to expect a response to this request?”
In this case, my poor planning led to a lack of time. And that made it harder for me to be patient.
I wanted an answer NOW. The more patient you can be, the more likely you’ll find a path to success.
Fourth, be persistent.
Most people will give up at the first sign of resistance.
Imagine the thing that is currently blocking you as a speed bump, not a brick wall.
You’re going to clear it, and it will eventually be in your rear view mirror.
Even if it’s a wall, is there a way under, around or over it?
Pleasantly ask for help, persistently inquire if there is a way that could work.
In our situation, I asked the transfer advisor
“What could work? How could my son be a part of the program?
What if he graduates high school during the fall semester?”
“No – to not be a freshman, he would have to graduate high school BEFORE fall semester starts.
He would then have to take classes at the community college and apply as a transfer student in order to be admitted.
This is clearly impossible, so he should take another year at the community college, graduate high school in the spring and then take a summer class in the hopes of being seen as an incoming transfer student with 60 hours.”
My problem with her response was that the available community college courses didn’t overlap a lot with the engineering program, and this was going to probably cost him an entire college year of time and work.
I was not happy. But by being pleasantly patient and persistent in the face of a rule blocking progress, I was able to learn that there could be a way forward.
Finally, remember that it’s PEOPLE you’re working with, not nameless, faceless, heartless rules.
Be intentional about making a human connection with the people who are working on your problems. They don’t get up in the morning saying “Whose day can I ruin today?”
Most people want to be helpful.
In a college setting, most are motivated to get students enrolled, engaged and successful.
Your best goal is to invite them to get what they love by joining you in helping your kid achieve.
ASK FOR HELP.
It’s amazing what can happen if you and the other person can be working together instead of opposed to each other. Be humble, don’t argue and pleasantly ask them to help you.
People do want to help, usually.
In our case, I asked the transfer advisor this:
“So I think you’re saying that if my kid was a high school graduate before fall semester started, and he applied to transfer during the fall semester, he’d have a good shot of being admitted to the engineering school in spring semester?”
She said “Yes, but I don’t think that’s possible.”
Now I knew the rules. And I had some thinking and planning to do with my wife.
As a homeschool dad in our state, I knew that my wife and I could determine the high school graduation requirements and timing.
I also knew this kid – he was a super hard worker, mature, diligent, and ready for university work. (Not all of my kids were or are. Know your kid.)
So a week later I returned to the university with the last of the paperwork to complete my son’s application for admission as a transfer student in spring semester.
The transfer advisor looked at the high school transcript and said
“This shows his high school graduation date as today!”
Indeed it did. Our plan worked. He became an engineering student in spring semester.
That kid just graduated the university with his bachelor’s degree.
He was a 4.0 student in the engineering college and was awarded “Outstanding Senior EE student” before graduation.
Sometimes a plan does work! Sometimes it doesn’t, too.
“Doing your homework” means that you need to approach college problems with
being Pleasant, being a Planner, being Patient, being Persistent, and remember that these are People
This can dramatically increase your success rate.
In upcoming posts, I’ll be talking in more detail about each of the Five P’s with practical, helpful tips on each one.
Share your thoughts in the comment section!
Which “P” in this list is helpful to you?
What problem have you been able to overcome with your kid’s school?