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    It Takes a Team

    How one couple worked together to help their son through the college search.

    Interview by Chris Lutes

    Susan Gardner and her son, Grant, often sit at the kitchen table playing canasta—a favorite pastime for mother and son. Susan enjoys these casual times with Grant, calling them "nice bonding experiences." In recent months, these bonding experiences have also become opportunities to open the door, maybe a crack, into her son's search for a college.

    Along with conversations over cards, talks about Grant's college search these days may also take place after dinner, before Grant dashes off to start homework. Or they might happen over beverages at the local coffee shop. Susan sees these conversations as important—maybe even essential—opportunities to help Grant think through his college options and voice his dreams, opinions and concerns.

    Susan and Barry say these kinds of casual, non-planned conversations have been the best way to enter into discussions about Grant's college search.

    "The three of us never sat down and talked about Grant's college plans," says Barry, who is a freelance consultant for non-profit organizations. "Family meetings can be a turn-off. It can feel like you're ganging up on your child. We tend to avoid those types of planned meetings."

    Instead, the Gardners want to pass along their adult experiences, knowledge and insights through a casual, loving and non-threatening way. "I have never attempted to push Grant's feelings or opinions aside," says Barry, "But I have also avoided treating him like an adult who has his thought processes fully formed. I know he's still growing and learning, and needs guidance in making the best decision possible."

    As their son's behind-the-scenes support team, Barry and Susan have worked to guide Grant to a decision that will ultimately be his own. To find out more about the role they've played in the search, Christian College Guide interviewed Susan and Barry Gardner during the final semester of Grant's senior year.

    The Roles They Play

    Susan, who works as an administrative secretary, says her role in Grant's college search has mostly been that of a "sounding board" or an "emotional counselor." She has often probed with gentle questions—hoping to help Grant think through options and process information about various schools. "To a young person, things that are unimportant can seem extremely important," says Susan. "And things that are really important are sometimes missed. I try to ask questions that will help him think more clearly. Sometimes, though, I just listen."

    Barry, on the other hand, has taken on the primary role of planner.

    "I've watched over deadlines and paperwork," says Barry. "I make sure all the details are being handled."

    GPA and Test Scores

    Even before the search began in earnest, Barry and Susan knew good grades and solid standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) would help expand Grant's choices. Barry was pleased that Grant was required to take the PSAT pre-test during his sophomore year. "This pretest helped prepare him for the 'real test' he would take during his junior year," says Barry.

    Barry helped Grant keep track of standardized testing dates and places. With final test scores in hand, they could then look at specific schools. If his scores were similar to or higher than those of the school's average student, Grant would have a chance of being accepted at that particular school. "Those scores just helped us understand what options were reasonable to consider," says Barry.

    Exploring the Options

    Fairly early in his junior year, Grant surfed the Internet to weed down his options. One of his favorite sites early on in the search was princetonreview.com. "Grant liked spending time at the Princeton Review site," says Barry. "The site gives top 10 lists on a lot of topics like 'Top 10 Schools Where Students Pray on a Regular Basis.'"

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