What role should parents play as their children are applying to college?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

What role should parents play as their children are applying to college?

Diane Smith

What role should parents play as their children are applying to college?

Coach – in sports, a coach offers encouragement and expresses belief in the child, but never plays the game for the child, no matter how much he or she is struggling.

Consultant – in business, law, or medicine, a consultant poses analytical questions and offers an opinion based on experience and training, but the client can choose whether or not to take the advice.

Executive Secretary – in an office, an executive secretary gathers the material necessary for his or her boss to do the job; does some of the legwork and handles the logistics of a project; watches for errors and makes suggestions; and keeps a close eye on calendars, schedules, and deadlines.

Robert Smith

What role should parents play as their children are applying to college?

Here are some of the things a parent can do to help without overstepping their bounds:

Offer support and encouragement.  Establish the expectation of college, as early as elementary school.  Expose children to stimulating experiences, but don’t push them to do things they hate, or to choose to do something just to “look good” on a college application.  Help your high school juniors and seniors with interview skills, or arrange for another adult to do mock interviews.  Be a good “coach” and let your kids know that you believe in their potential.  Keep an open mind, and encourage your child to do the same.

Educate yourself about colleges.  Attend all college-related parent meetings at your child’s school.  Make sure that your child is meeting the course requirements for graduation, as well as the college entrance requirements for public and private universities (a good example of the “consultant” role).  Show interest in and awareness of many colleges (not just famous ones or your own alma mater).

Assist with logistics and organization.  Maintain a file of certificates and awards your child receives throughout high school.  Provide a dedicated space in your home for college materials, along with files, notebooks, baskets or shelves to organize it all.  Help students arrange college visits, but don’t plan trips without their input and buy-in (remember the “executive secretary” role?).  Make sure to save copies of all materials that have been are submitted, whether on paper or electronically.

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

What role should parents play as their children are applying to college?

There is no one answer for every student or family. Some students seek out the advice and expertise of the parent, but others don't. Parents will find their role in much the same way as they did for other aspects of raising that particular child. That involves initiating conversation, putting forth reasonable expectations and providing guidance and insight during the sensitive application season. Hopefully, there is always healthy dialogue between parent and prospective applicant. If there are concerns about financial aid, parents have to be sure to talk to the student so that the appropriate forms are filed on a timely basis. Also, parents can often, but not always, serve as good proofreaders of college apps. Parents should beware of dictating college options and hindering the creative process of application essays, as that is sure to backfire. However, they should not hesitate to contact guidance or other college counselors when they have questions about any aspect of the process.

Dr. Christine Hand - Gonzales
Author of Interactive Resource eBook College Bound: Proven Ways to Plan and Prepare for Getting Into the College of Your Dreams (over 1200 live links), companion workbook - My College Bound Plan, College Planning Blog - http://www.college-path.com: and College Planning Consultant College Path LLC

College Applications and Stress

Completing and filing college applications can be stressful for students and for parents. So,how involved should you be as a parent? Parents can be a great support to their children as long as they are helping and not taking over the process. Remember, the work needs to be done by the student, after all, they are the ones planning on going to college. You can certainly be helpful by offering some organizational tips, set up a calendar of deadlines, and offer them answers to data driven questions that are on the application, As parents you can assist them with signing up for standardize testing that may be needed and help them get to the campus for a visit. You can make a difference by taking on the financial questions, It takes time to research information on financial aid and scholarships and this can be huge help to students while they are focusing on essays, asking for letters of recommendations, and developing their activities resume. Encourage your child to visit with their counselor for further direction. If they need help with essays, offer your opinion, but let them take the lead. If you feel your are too involved, let the English teachers review their writing. Your child will be so proud of their accomplishments if they own it. Help build their confidence by offering support as needed.

Cynthia Ferguson
Independent Educational Consultant In2College

Know your child

Some kids are just naturally organized and independent. Others might need a fire lit under them. I think a parent's most important role is knowing which their kid is and playing the appropriate role based on this. It is very important to work with your kids on organizational planning during the college application process. Buy them a planner! If you don't want to be in charge of this process (and you probably shouldn't be), then hiring an educational consultant to help is a good way to go.

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

Parental Support

Every family's dynamic will be different, so take the cue from your teen and be content with your supporting role in this process. An offer to work with an independent educational consultant could be your wisest move. By removing yourself from the nitty gritty of the application, you can be there to celebrate the successes and pick up the pieces. Try to remember that it won't be long before your baby is an 18 yr old adult. The faster you embrace this concept, the better your relationship with your child will be. Keep smiling, read the Zits cartoons for validation, this too shall pass.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

Parental investment in college applications

It is not unusual for parents to find themselves too invested in the college application process. The cocktail parties and PTA meetings can become events filled with “one up manship”. It may not be unusual, but it is certainly best to remember that the most important issue for the success of your child in college is “fit” and it doesn’t matter where Ralph and Ellen’s children are applying. Remember that this is your child’s time to be in the spotlight, and your student needs to drive the college application process. Be calm, be supportive, and remember that this process is not about you, it is about your child. I have a list of behaviors that are common, but inappropriate. Consider these responses to: 1. There are always parents who ask you how your child scored on the ACT or SAT, or the PSAT, or want to know their GPA. You do not have to answer this question, in fact it is a very inconsiderate question to ask. Just say your student did well and you are pleased. If they push, you have my permission to tell them they are behaving inappropriately! 2. Remember that parents love to exaggerate their children’s accomplishments. Ever seen Dana Carvey’s comedy special “Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies”? He does a hilarious routine regarding these “over the top parents” (check it out!). Don’t get into a competition, just smile and say “I’m sure you are very proud”. 3. Parents love to talk about the impressive and selective schools their child is applying to. If they ask you where “you” are applying, just say your student is considering many wonderful institutions. And do not be intimidated by all the “name brand” schools these parents reel off. As I said, it is “fit” that counts, not the glitz of the name. (and anyone can apply anywhere. so what?) Enjoy this time with your student, and don’t worry about other parents. It is not keep up with the Joneses, it is about your student making good choices.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

And the Oscar for the supporting role goes to...

you, the parent. Or, at least it should. This is the first step to the transition away from home to an independent life. You need to help, you need to guide and you need to keep open lines of communication. Your teenager wants to be independent but also needs the comfort and advice of his family.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Parents: The Process Is About Your Child--Support Them in the Effort

The best role for any parent over the course of the college search and application process is that of supporter. It needs to be their process and the adults need to fade into the background offering support. While parents may have experiences to share, the changes in the process make even those of limited value. In the end, the best assistance a parent can offer is support and a faith in their children’s decision making ability. They are the ones who will go to college and how they handle the process--if we let them--helps show if they are ready. Ultimately, it must be about them. Parents can and should serve as sounding boards and where there are financial considerations, they owe it to their children to be honest about what that means. Ultimately it is about them, not us. . Take them on visits and tours, answer questions, offer support, but let it be their process.

Suzan Reznick
Independent Educational Consultant The College Connection

Parents should plan on playing a supporting role!

You have always been a key player in your child's life; now you have to take on a different role. If you can allow them, within limits, some independence in choosing their colleges, it will better support their transitioning to become adults. Of course, you can define those limits based on price and distance from home. You should be now be their sounding board, their chauffeur, and the holder of the checkbook. Try to support and help them make good decisions instead of driving the process!