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  • Ken Anselment, Lawrence University

Making Space for Sanity in the College Search

My son, a high school senior, shares a roof with a father who also happens to be the dean of admission at a selective college. As a former teenager myself, I know how tough it can be sometimes to follow your parents’ advice, which is why I accepted the invitation last month to offer college application essay-writing workshops to six senior English classes at Appleton North.

My son would be in one of those classes, which meant that I’d have his undivided attention—or at least his inability to leave the room—for 48 whole minutes so I could tell him all the things I wanted him to know about conceiving and crafting his college essay, something that the dad in me knew would be a tougher task at home.

Just thinking about it made me twirl my imaginary waxy villain handlebar mustache (mwah-ha-ha).

The workshops went off without a hitch. I shared a handful of what I thought were helpful nuggets about how to write a successful college application essay. Nobody fell asleep. Mission accomplished.

When I got home that evening, my son shared back with me the piece of advice that seemed to resonate most with him and his friends—probably because they jokingly called it “Sundays with Ken.” (They had been reading “Tuesdays with Morrie,” so I guess that works.)

It had nothing to do with essays.

It’s advice a friend of mine, who works for Colleges That Change Lives, routinely shares at our events around the country: set aside one time per week when you as a family will talk about college.

Maybe it’s a couple hours every Sunday afternoon (our family pick; hence “Sundays with Ken”). Maybe it’s Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Whatever. Pick a day and time, and agree that you as a family will reserve serious college talk only for those times. All other times during the week that college might come up (and that’s pretty much the remaining 166 hours), park it and save it till your next meeting.

The exception, of course, is if it is urgent. (And it’s usually not urgent).

The college admission and financial aid process has a way of creeping into every corner of your consciousness when you’re in the thick of it (so many “do this now” emails).

The process can become a cloud that overshadows so many other moments in our lives, whether they are big things like homecoming or little things like a casual impromptu conversation in the kitchen—something that our family, in a college search for the first time ourselves, more keenly understands than ever.

That way, when a loose end in the college process creeps into anybody’s mind, we don’t immediately wave that loose end—and the stress or anxiety that might accompany it—in front of each other to tie up at that moment. We can put it on the list for Sunday, and talk about it then.

The result?

Eye contact among family members is easier to come by when you’re not avoiding it for fear that it’s an invitation to fret about the college search together. Dinners and car rides together can become much more enjoyable.

This matters, probably more to parents (for now) than students (who might not see it yet), because it also can free us up to notice, if not savor and cherish, those small moments we do have left together as a family before our kids cross this threshold into their adult lives.

Ken Anselment is Dean of Admission and financial aid at Lawrence University. He can be reached at

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