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The College Process for Children of Widows and Widowers 

Posted by Tamara Blake on Nov 19, 2015 12:15:00 PM

Having a high school senior getting ready to complete the college process can be an extremely daunting task. As one can imagine, it can be even more of a daunting task as a widow or widower. As in every relationship, talents differ and often, financial or paperwork tasks are unofficially assigned to one person within the union. When facing widowhood and the college application process, often the person skilled at handling such tasks is no longer there to assist. Alternatively, the surviving caregiver of said child entering college is often so overwhelmed with the raging change of widowhood that he or she will feel unequipped to face such an intimidating task.

Financial aid applications, reapplying for that financial aid, the college applications themselves, college tours, and writing college essays have to be faced while providing care, love, patience, and support to your child who has experienced the loss of a parent.

Here are some immediate resources that can assist you in the college process:

  • Financial Aid / Scholarships
    • Saltmoney.org can assist in financial aid options as well as scholarship searches. This is one resource many colleges and universities themselves recommend to students and parents.
    • fastweb.com is a trusted website used for scholarship searched and has helped many students in this process.
  • College Tour Checklists
    • nacacnet.org offers much advice about the college tour process, including providing checklists for parents and students. What is great about these checklists is that they offer formal and informal means of assessing a potential school. On a personal note, when I was on a search for my undergraduate degree, the items I found most helpful in choosing a college were sitting in on courses, spending the night in a dorm, and speaking informally with professors and current students. This website offers these exact items, among others, on their site.
  • College Essays/ Applications
    • Often, the best resource for this area is within your child’s high school. Many high schools have courses students can enroll in focusing on writing college essays and applications.
    • PrincetonReview.com – another trusted source, The Princeton Review offers many resources in all areas including offering the common college application. Also giving advice about schools in particular, what a desirable transcript looks like, and test preparation, this is often a “go to” resource.

For all of these areas, do not hesitate to reach out to resources within your child’s school, or accepted schools. Guidance counselors are there to assist in distributing resources, identifying internships, career counseling, and everything in regards to a college search. Adjustment counselors will also be a resource to your child while facing the emotional ups and downs a death brings. In addition, reaching out to the college your teen has decided to attend will be very helpful. A conversation should be held before talking to the accepted college between you and your son or daughter. While it is an important aspect of what will be the rest of your child’s life, he or she may not be comfortable with sharing one parent has recently passed away. Having an open and honest conversation about the benefits and risks to such information being passed along will assist in the decision making process. This will be your child’s decision as much as it is yours. As a young adult, this could be a teachable moment of forming relationships and on sharing information with a trusted adult at the educational institution.

While getting into their first pick college may be frightening in of itself, your child may experience a multitude of emotions upon being away from home for the very first time. After facing the loss of a parent, grades may suffer, friendships will change, and questionable relationships may develop. A time of facing the life stage (or crisis, as Erikson refers to life stages), your child’s stage of intimacy and isolation has become more complex. However, just as much as life stages are variable, so is the consistent presence of loved ones within our lives. Remember that children are more resilient than we often give them credit for. While they do not have the same cognitive processing abilities of adults, they possess a strength which increases through an individual’s survival skill of adaptability and your reassuring presence.