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The college application process is a pivotal moment in your student’s life, ushering in newfound independence and responsibility. As a seasoned college admissions expert with a decade of experience (and a parent myself), I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of executive function skills on a teen’s success and overall well-being during this critical phase of life. Executive functioning is the term used for a range of cognitive skills that help us regulate our behavior and accomplish goals through planning, working memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child likens executive function to a personal air traffic control system.

Recent research, notably Dr. Beatriz Luna’s insights into adolescent brain development, has shed light on the importance of teen executive function skills. Teenagers, with their surplus of neural pathways, experience a unique journey of cognitive control inconsistency. Dr. Luna’s findings suggest that these fluctuations observed in teenagers are not deficits, but essential elements that drive them toward new experiences. With this in mind, let’s delve into strategies that can align with and support their need to develop strong executive functioning skills.

Getting organized

Since your student is still refining their executive functions, structured organizational strategies become invaluable:

  • Utilize digital tools like Asana or Trello to organize application materials and deadlines. This external structure complements the developing neural pathways associated with organization.
  • Encourage teens to routinely update their tracking systems. This not only ensures no deadlines are missed, but also reinforces the neural pathways linked to routine and responsibility.

Time management

Time management is a critical skill that your teen can cultivate with practice:

  • Tools like the Eisenhower Box can help students categorize and prioritize tasks, aiding their developing brain in focusing on what’s most important and urgent.
  • Students should create a routine that allocates specific times for application tasks, creating a routine that provides a framework for the developing brain to follow.
  • Encourage your teen to break down large tasks into smaller steps, which will aid them in developing the capacity for planning and execution.

Self-regulation strategies

The variable cognitive control in your teen’s brain can benefit from strategies that enhance their ability to self-regulate:

  • Practices like meditation and mindfulness can help students regulate their emotions and improve focus during stressful times.
  • Encourage your student to set realistic goals. Achieving a goal is a positive experience that increases motivation and reinforces the development of teen executive function.
  • The application process isn’t easy. Your student shouldn’t be afraid to solicit support from trusted advisors, like college counselors, teachers, parents, or friends.

Setting Goals

Goal-setting is integral to the college admissions journey:

  • Guide teens to set specific and measurable goals, such as researching a set number of colleges weekly or reaching out to network with a specified number of connections per month. Students can dig deeper with tools like SMART goals!
  • Your teen should schedule regular reviews of their goals. This will allow them to assess their progress and adjust strategies, fostering adaptability in decision-making.
  • When they achieve their goal, your student should acknowledge and celebrate its completion! This reinforces positive behavior and boosting motivation for the journey ahead.

The college application process is an opportune time for your student to build, apply, and strengthen their executive function skills. By adopting strategies aligned with this important developmental stage, your teen can navigate this transformative period more effectively, setting the stage for a future of independent and successful decision-making.

Image by wayhomestudio on Freepik