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.