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.

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.

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!

Pamela Hampton-Garland
Owner Scholar Bound

Parents Role in the Application Phase

A parents role for their child during this phase is two-fold - Listen and Support Listen to your child's dreams for their life; it is not yours to relive through your child, therefore listen and wait to be asked for help. You can make suggestions but do not ignore what your child is saying by forcing your dreams on them Support your child by educating them, not with words but with real information. Example: When my current high school senior said she wanted to major in Film my husband went ballistic because this child is an absolute genius (no exaggeration) in many areas she has never had to study and was selected from over a thousand students to attend a prestigious high school for her junior and senior year. So he was not very happy with her decision. I on the other hand (only because I work with students daily) stated that it was a great idea since she was so talented and that if she wanted to do film let's check out a few film schools. We did; this was last summer we went to NYU, Chicago, CA and a few others. As time has progressed; mind you before the August application period began she made a decision to study Biotechnology at NYU and go to med school at Baylor for OBGYN and minor in film at NYU. She applied early decision and in a week will know if she has been admitted. But my husbands reaction led to a huge argument, mine led to researching the field and letting her make the decision for her future. Listen - To the fears, the uncertainty, and pressure of having to know their whole life at 17 Support - support by giving information via bookstore, online, visits etc. and letting them know they can be undecided, that's what those first two years of general studies allows: exploration

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

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

Students should be the CEO of the process. Students manage the process and make decisions. Parents serve an important role as key investors, as such they should outline expectations and parameters at the beginning of the process and then turn the reigns over. Investors shouldn't be entangled in day to day operations. If you want to be more involved, think of yourself as a personal assistant to your student. Help make the boss look good. Take great notes that helps the boss prepare for upcoming meetings and appointments. Manage the boss’ calendar and schedule appointments. If you go shopping for the boss and you come back with a suit that he doesn’t like—take it back. Trying to talk the boss into the suit you chose might get you fired. The stakes are too high to lose the job. Don’t make up your child’s mind for him. Don’t make decisions.

Dr. Bruce Neimeyer
CEO/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

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

The best thing a parent can do for their student is to help with organization! There are so many parts to the application process and similar to many tasks in life, it can easily become overwhelming. When it does, students tend to shut down and the process stalls. That is exactly when the frustration start to evolve between the parent and the student. To prevent this from happening, my suggestion is for the parent to help in the planning and organization of the steps that need to be taken for each college application. This is typically tedious and the part that students hate the most. By taking away this burden in the process, it allows parents to feel they are being helpful and allows the student to focus on more important things such as the creation of a meaningful essay, maintaining their grades and doing well in their senior year and just enjoying the whole experience. Their are many other ways in which a parent might be helpful depending on the situation and their relationship with their child or the students particular weaknesses in completing such a process but helping with the overall organization always seems to be a winner for the families with which I work.

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

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

Try to be somewhat in the background, but be sure to review everything as a fail safe measure. You better have some ground rules about how much you are willing to pay, and remember this old adage - Before you begin a debate, you must define your terms.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

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

The part parents play in the college search and application process is always a very "sticky" issue. Students usually want to, and should, take the initiative in making the decisions related to their college applications. Parents will, of course, be involved with determining realistic financial parameters and filling out the necessary financial aid application forms. (With regard to determining financial parameters, the possibility of financial aid and scholarships should be taken into consideration.) Parents should also feel free to offer suggestions of possible schools for the student's consideration, but every effort should be made not to take over and steer the entire process. If a parent finds him/herself saying, "WE're applying to _____________;" (fill in the blank), that parent is WAY too involved in the application process. Even if the student lets the parent take over, that doesn't mean it is the right thing to do. Two easy ways for parents to help their children with the search and application process without taking over are: - Assist the student in setting up a filing system for sorting information he/she gathers about the schools in which he/she is interested. - With the student's input, set up a calendar with all relevant and important dates - standardized test registration, standardized test sessions, application and financial aid deadlines, interviews, college visits, etc. In order to avoid time conflicts, this calendar should also include important high school requirements - tests, papers due, and so on. A well-organized calendar will go a long way toward keeping the student on track. But what about students who just don't have their acts together with regard to pre-college planning? This can be a great cause of family stress! In this case, it might be advisable to contract the assistance of an independent college advisor, who can guide the student through the search and application process without having to deal with family-dynamic emotional issues. Because high school Guidance Counselors typically have very heavy work loads, it is probably not realistic to expect that kind of one-on-one assistance through the student's school. If parents and their child(ren) constantly find themselves at loggerheads when discussing college-related issues, it is advisable to involve the high school Guidance Counselor or to hire an independent counselor. In addition to relieving the stress on the family, the counselor will be able to provide much valuable input which will make the entire college search and application process much easier for the student.