Why My Grandfather was the Best College Counselor I Ever Had

As a new college admission season falls upon us, I am reminded daily of the power it brings. Hurling its way into my office in the shape of panic, anxiety and stress. A process packed with self-reflection, vulnerability and inevitable road blocks. A process that affects not only the student, but the family as a whole. A process where the smallest of things become hyper-focused and the larger picture can get lost in the details. It is also a process where we have the ability to turn panic, anxiety and stress into teachable moments. Moments that foster success and strong individuals.

My grandfather worked throughout the education system in different forms. With students keeping them from ditching school and helping craft the smallest bit of confidence for a graduation success story. He raised 6 children all with the simplest, yet most profound messaging that led a greater legacy. What I learned from my grandfather, like most messaging, didn’t resonate until I paused to look at the larger perspective.

My grandfather was an educator. An educator who believed in the power of simplicity, boundaries and expectations to shape a young person’s life and in turn allow them to shape theirs…no matter how bumpy of a road it took.

Knowing that you may not have all the answers, but understanding the value of pausing, gathering and reflecting rather than blaming, reacting and saving is one of the most powerful messages I observed. And it was only through my counseling lens that I really started to see the grand work of my grandfather. Because it was too simple. Too small at the time. But that’s the key.

In counseling one of the first things you learn is that it is not your job to solve another ones problems. It is your job, however, to provide a space that fosters the ability for the other person to come up with solutions that make sense for them. Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. College admission lends itself to hand out the fish rather than patiently cast the line. The fall semester breeds a different type of animal. One that often overlooks the power of teachable moments that provide our students with safe spaces to learn valuable coping skills, troubleshooting and adaptability.

It is a space that can remind students of their value and their choice in this incredible world and can equally set up a student for a comparison game they’ll never win. With every frustrating turn, new application and lost username and password, students have an opportunity to learn the small, simple resilient skills that allow them to one day flourish. With every denial, every missed deadline, every plan that goes differently than expected, there is an opportunity to learn.

My grandfather was a humble man. A man who kept his cars clean, his tools even cleaner and his family honest. You knew what was right and wrong and if his children messed up (and from the small amount of stories I’ve heard my father tell…they messed up) they knew at the core how to take responsibility and move forward in a new and positive way that boasted greater results.

We are teaching our students to not to just become admissible students into universities. We are teaching our students to become savvy navigators of an ever-changing world. Students that are confident in themselves and will not crumble at the first sight of trouble.

We teach these moments in school and at home. We can teach it in the classroom and in our every day lives from the time our coffee order is wrong and we’re running late, to the time something is past due and now we must face the penalties. There are teachable moments in every walk of life. Just because it’s another fall college admission season does not give us the right to forget that. I believe the college admission process can be one of the greatest teachable moments for a child.

Self-reflection…learning to make the best educated guess from reliable sources…choosing a path that suits YOU and not your neighbors…knowing your resources when you get stuck…sticking to dates and deadlines and reading instructions…being savvy about financial choices…making a decision when you’ve weighed pros and cons and trusting your intuition.

So don’t get caught up in the details. It’s pretty simple when you think about it. Just ensure that you give yourself the time to think. Life may be moving at the quickest pace yet, but there’s value in pausing. And that’s a lesson worth learning.


Young Grandpa Dave, with all of his Grandchildren reminding us to not take life too seriously and showing up in his best at every wedding without fail.

Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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