How can parents help students with the college search and application process?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How can parents help students with the college search and application process?

Janet Rosier
President Janet Rosier's Educational Resources

Parents Should Be Supportive, But Let the Student Own the Process

Parents need to let the students take ownership of the college process and avoid taking charge. When parents are overly invested, it can become obvious to the admissions offices--parents may refer to this as “our application” or call too often with questions the student should be asking. These are red flags. Let the student drive the process. When you participate in college tours, hold off giving your opinion until the student has given hers. However, there is one very important area where parents need to be as open and clear with their student as possible. If finances are an issue, be honest. Sit down with your child and discuss how much money you will be able to contribute. This doesn’t necessarily mean the student needs to limit where he applies, but it may mean that final decisions may take financial and merit aid into consideration.

Betsy Morgan
Founder College Matters LLC

The Parent Top Ten!

Top ten things parents can do to stay sane 1. Take "we" out of it. "We" are not applying to college, your child is. Admissions officers see this as a sign that you are a "helicopter parent." 2. Designate college free evenings. You child is surrounded by college talk, college worries, and college plans. You can greatly reduce their stress by having a few evenings a week where you talk about other things. 3. Focus on realistic expectations. One of the greatest fears that kids have is not living up to their parents' expectations. So don't point out every Harvard sticker on the back window of a car or focus time and energy wondering how that kid down the road got into Tufts. 4. Hold up your end of the bargain. Set aside time to visit colleges. Fill out all of the high school guidance department paperwork in a timely manner. File your FAFSA on time. 5. Have the "what we can afford" discussion now. Don't let your child apply to college, get in and then decide that you cannot afford it! 6. Bring up the rear. On a campus tour, let your child walk up front and ask the questions. The same goes at college fairs, in the interview and when talking with coaches, musical directors or faculty. 7. Offer your help. Most kids need help with this process. Arranging trips, going to the post office, sending SAT scores, etc. "I am here to help; you tell me what you need," is a great message to send. 8. Speak second. After each college visit, ask for their impressions before you offer your two-cents. 9. Help them discover their greatness. Remember, all students have unique and wonderful attributes. Focus on the positive and on what will get them into college, not what might keep them out. 10. Call us. If all of the above are getting you nowhere... call us. We can help!

Jacqueline Murphy
Director of Admissions Saint Michael's College

How can parents help students with the college search and application process?

Parents can be the most helpful by being the unseen force behind the student-perhaps serving as the nudge or the gentle reminder, but never the "doer." Kids are busy, they need a little help in this very complicated, emotional process but it should be their search, their application, their college. Encourage exploration of lots of options, drive through college and university campuses whenever the opportunity presents itself and talk about future plans but only to feed your child's imagination and desire.

Carol Stack
Principal Hardwick Day Inc.

Remember who it is that will go to college

The key word in this question is "help" -- parents should help with the process -- not take it on as their own life's work! Helping means listening, asking good (and non judgmental) questions, visiting college fairs and campuses, and helping with record keeping. It does not mean completing applications, writing essays or making phone calls because "Susie is so busy." Parents should definitely take on a starring role with the completion of the FAFSA and PROFILE.

Hamilton Gregg
Educational Consultant Private Practice

Guidance, not overbearance!

Parents can be both a positive and negative factor in the search and application process. Since applying to university is the first time a student has had the opportunity to choose a school, they do need some guidance. However, guidance not choosing schools for students. It is the time for a student to self assess their strengths and weaknesses, matching their aspirations with a solid perspective. Parents can subvert this by telling a student where they must apply or attend. Finally, this is a time for guided independence. It is important for students to do the research and support their college decisions on hard evidence for why they have chosen their schools to which they are applying. Parents can be good sounding boards, oversee the process but not hover, causing anxiety and inappropriate choices.

Jon Boeckenstedt
Associate Vice President for Enrollment Policy & Planning DePaul University

Treat your kids like your parents treated you.

The hardest thing for well-educated, successful parents to do these days, it seems, is to allow students the freedom to be themselves, to discover their own strengths and interests, and to learn from their mistakes. In short: Never, ever, ever, say “we” are applying to college, or “our applications.” Never, ever, ever, tell your student that choosing a college is the most important decision she’s ever had to make. You know it’s not true. Never, ever, ever tell your son he needs to find “his passion.” It will come, but maybe not at 17 or 18. And, most important, tell your child that getting into a college is just the first step: The real value in education is how you take advantage of the opportunities that await you, regardless of the university you attend. Sound familiar? It’s probably because that’s how your parents treated you. And look how great you turned out!

Nicole Oringer
Partner Ivy Educational Services

How can parents help students with the college search and application process?

Be supportive, but not too opinionated. Guide your child, but don't control them. Have honest conversations and really listen to his or her concerns, hopes, goals. Let you child feel ownership of the process and remember that motivation is internal!

Mabel Freeman
Asst. VP for Undergraduate Admissions Ohio State University

Note to Parents: The key word is "help."

As an admissions administrator and the parent of two college graduates, I have known both sides of the search process. In reality, admissions staff *and* parents should *help*...but not dictate...to your students. Parents are great for listening, nodding our heads, empathizing, checking out college websites for our own information, giving gentle reminders about deadlines, driving to campus visits, not monopolizing the campus tour guides, not answering the application essay question, and being totally honest about the limits of family financial resources. Finally, remain calm at all times. :)

Joan Koven
Founder & Director Academic Access

Match their efforts

The college process can be complicated and confusion. It can even be frustrating when your son or daughter is dragging their feet and not meeting the college or parent's self imposed timetable. My best piece of advice is to let them know your will match their efforts. Take a back seat with deadlines and timetable until you see an effort on their end. If you care more about this process than they do it will be very frustrating and result in tension and fighting during their last year at home. You will be surprised what will happen when you give them ownership over the college process and meet them halfway.

Jill Madenberg
Independent Educational Consultant Private Practice

Parents can serve as a guide.

Navigating the college process can be exciting and overwhelming. Parents need to be active listeners and offer advice when a child asks. Parent/child relations may be strained during this time but seeking the help of an outside trusted source like a guidance counselor can do plenty to negotiate through it all. Allowing your child to be the leader of this process is the beginning of the journey to independent college living.