Golden Retriever

College Prep for MilParents

Remember when you were a new parent delirious from the newborn slog, and another experienced parent would say something like, “You think this is hard? Just wait until he’s a toddler.” Super annoying, right? But for the most part, true.

When you have a new, squishy baby, you’re so in love that you don’t fully realize that you’ll age right along with your child but even faster because getting older while managing military life is like aging in dog years. By the time you have a junior in high school, exhaustion has set in when it’s least welcome.

Now is when I put on my senior spouse sweater and tell you, “You thought the tween years were hard?” Ha! Your kid’s junior year will introduce you to hair loss if you’ve not met already. I say this not to one-up your struggle but to let you know what’s ahead so you can laugh and learn.

Meet Our Family

We’re an active-duty Army family of three that’s moved around the National Capital Region for years. My daughter has lived in Northern Virginia all her life. Everything here is a competition, from navigating traffic and winning tiny tots’ soccer to attending the best school. The perceived stakes are high.

Our NCR bubble is a little extreme, and listening to some of the stories parents have shared about college prep is next level. A level that my kid doesn’t even want to consider or that we can afford. So, somehow, we’re grateful for her lack of motivation and our lack of resources!

Gen X Vs. Gen Z Attitudes About College

We want our girl to find the “perfect fit” college. That’s what all the college entrance gurus say to aim for if yours isn’t destined for the halls of the Ivy League. The perfect fit is in the eye of the beholder, which is challenging if you’re born into two vastly different generations.

Part of why I wanted to go to college was to get the heck out of my small hometown and onto bigger and better. I handwrote my college apps and essays, and my parents never even considered taking me on a college tour. Waiting for that “fat” acceptance envelope in the mailbox was a big deal.

My daughter, on the other hand, well, she’s more of a wait-until-the-last-minute-and-we’ll-see kind of kid. Gen Z has had an enlightening look behind the curtain and now knows that success after high school can take shape in many ways, including not suffocating under mountains of college debt. In theory, I know this too, but it’s a hard philosophy to follow if you think your child is banking on becoming a social media influencer to feed themselves and pay rent.

I do think our girl will seek higher education. However, she will do it her way, which I struggle with. How much do I intervene? How often do I let her flail or even fail? If I nag about homework and the National Honor Society application, does it really matter at her college graduation?


My Recommended Resources

Thanks to my Gen X “raise yourself” upbringing and my hard-earned military spouse resourcefulness, I knew I needed to start early to understand how to help my daughter get into a college she loves. So, since she was a freshman, I’ve joined multiple online groups, followed experts and read thousands of pages about the dos and don’ts of college acceptance.

I urge you to dip your toe into the ocean of college prep. It’s better to learn slowly than cram for information at the last minute — there’s a lot to learn.

I’m so grateful that we have the world’s first and only immortal golden retriever to keep me company while she is attending her pick of junior college, vet tech school, a far-flung West Coast Division I campus, or one of the traditional (insert a founding father’s name) institutions in our area.

Please tell me junior year gets easier. What has your experience been?

Written By Dawn Smith
Army Spouse

Dawn is an experienced military spouse and freelance writer. When she isn’t writing, her teen daughter, Army husband, and Golden Retriever keep her busy with dog walks, home upkeep, travel planning, and chauffeur duties.

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