Work and Family Mailbox
The Wall Street Journal
March 20, 2008

By Sue Shellenbarger

Q: My son was active in choosing a school and enrolled at a prestigious university, but my daughter, a high-school junior, is laissez-faire to the extreme. She isn't as good a student and will have fewer choices. But she's leaving all the work to me. She says she knows I won't let her end up at community college. What should I do?

--R.G., Winter Springs, Fla.

A: Getting your daughter engaged in the process is crucial, not only to selecting a college but to her success thereafter. Take time to reflect on your objectives, says Steven Roy Goodman, a Washington, D.C., educational consultant and co-author of "College Admissions Together," a book on the family dynamics of this process. Are you focused on her attending a well-known school, or one that's the best fit?

Your daughter may fear being less successful than her brother, taking "the path of the underachiever," says Mr. Goodman's co-author, Andrea Leiman, a clinical psychologist. "That is, if I don't try and I fail, I don't have to feel bad -- where if I try and then don't succeed, I will feel like a failure," Dr. Leiman says. Try gently to engage her in a discussion about "what interests her. Does she have any idea of a possible career path?"

Consider giving her a structured plan to encourage her to explore her options, Mr. Goodman says. Set up a "college hour" every Sunday when she knows you'll ask her about her progress in finding a college. Then give her freedom during the week. If she hasn't made progress after a few months, she may need to take a little time off between high school and college, he says.

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