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?

David Quinn

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

I've stolen this tip from a dear friend, but that doesn't mean I can't share it! I think that honesty and transparency are two of the most important factors as students begin this process. I send kids home to have a serious sit-down with their folks. During their meeting, they have to ask: 1. How are we paying for college? 2. How will we develop our college lists? 3. Who decides where I apply? 4. Ultimately, who gets the final decision on where I go to college? There are other questions and steps in there - but these are the most important ones. In the past, I've seen some parents try to skip Question 1 because they don't want to be honest with themselves in regard to how much they actually have and are willing to spend. I've also seen families come to blows when Question 4 is not dealt with in a candid manner. Setting up some basic ideas about the process serves everyone. Here's my best tip, though: Every week, both parents and students need to commit to a discrete and specific "college time" that is only ONCE a week. It will keep both sides sane. Here's how it works: Let's say you decide, as a family, that Tuesday night from 7-9 is "college time." That is holy time and no one is allowed to violate it. Parents: You can't turn every waking moment into "college time" or you will lose touch with the fact that the Senior in your house is still your child. They don't want to talk about college night and day, and if you try to, you will drive them crazy. They don't need that kind of stress. SO: You can do as much research and web-searching and preparation as you want all week, but you only get these 2 hours to deal with college. Kids: You owe your parents you full attention for those 2 hours. They can ask for essays, go over applications with you, help you to refine your lists -- whatever they want. The deal is that you get to be their child all week long...and for these hours they can ask you ANYTHING and you have to honor them. Every week, the "college time" meeting ends with a discrete and specific set of goals for the next week. It serves as the agenda for the next meeting. As application deadlines start to get close, you can change the time (by mutual agreement) to add time, if necessary. BUT - both sides get to cry "foul" if the other violates the agreement. Yes - this sounds a little extreme, but it works really well. I used this process for the full application cycle last year and found it very helpful for everyone. Parents felt as though they were being listened to, and students felt as though they could have some normalcy all week.

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.

George Mills
Vice President for Enrollment University of Puget Sound

Parents can be helpful in the college search and application process

As a parent myself I worked with all three of my children in the college search and application process. With students applying to more than eight colleges on average, keeping track of admission and financial aid deadlines can be a significant chore. This is a good role for parents. Parents can be excellent coaches. As students think about "fit" and the college environment in which they will be best served, parents who know their sons and daughters can be helpful by reflecting on the way a student might or might not be satisfied on a given college campus. In both cases the role parents play must be built on open communication and a shared commitment to making a great college choice.

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!

Elinor Adler
Founder Elinor Adler College Counseling

Be there but be aware

This an important time for students to take control of their education as they go on to their next educational phase. Trying to find schools which are the "right fit" for themselves and then writing essays which ask them to look inward, in a way they haven't before, can be difficult and, for some, frightening. You know your child; take your cues from them in the help it looks like they need and are asking for. However, don't make "the college admissions process" nightly dinner time conversation. Support your son/daughter with encouragement and suggestions. Be there for them when they're feeling stressed and work with them to help manage that stress. Suggest they talk to their guidance counselor, teachers and other significant others who know them and whose word they may be more likely to consider at certain points of the process. Plan for the "fun times" during the process, the college visits, travel and food fun. Remember: this is time ended; enjoy the time!