No One Said Applying to College Was Easy: 7 Tips for Parents

Time and time again parents sit in our office and reflect, “I don’t remember it being like this when I applied to college” and, indeed, the process has changed in some important ways. More colleges are making standardized testing optional, schools are becoming increasingly competitive, students are sending out more applications and parents are more involved in the process than ever before. For parents of rising seniors, we offer these words of advice: 1. Help your child remember that college is first and foremost about the academic experience. Colleges are offering some very enticing options including gourmet food service, dorm suites with full kitchens, athletic centers with state-of-the-art equipment, and cyber cafes at every turn. All this is very appealing, but students can lose focus on what should be at the center of their college experience – the academic program. Enjoy all the amenities colleges have to offer, but help your child assess the breadth and depth of courses offered and the level of academic rigor. While these intangibles can be hard to evaluate, it is important to help your child to keep the rightness of the academic fit at the center of the decision making process.

2. If your child has been a procrastinator for 17 years, going through the college process isn’t going to draw out Type A qualities. Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and proceed accordingly. If he is disorganized, set up organizational systems. If he needs to read about colleges to really understand them, buy him guide books. Tech savvy kids can gather a lot of information from YouTube videos, podcasts, and school websites. Learning and behavioral styles are hard to change, so play to your child’s strengths.

3. Remember, this is not your turn to apply to college. While you’re college years may have been the best of your life, that doesn’t mean that your alma mater is perfect for your child. Let your child decide what is the best place for him/her to spend his/her undergraduate years.

4. It’s hard to be objective and supportive at the same time. If you start more sentences with “Tell me more about what you think about …” and fewer with “I think that…”, you’re well on your way.

5. Applying to college is probably the longest, most involved, and most difficult decision your child has ever had to make. Give him plenty of time and space to process all the information and don’t undervalue the emotional component. This is important practice for making even the even bigger decisions which the lie ahead.

6. View the process of applying to college as just that – a process. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end and each child will go through the process in his own way, in his own time, hopefully taking on increasing responsibility and ownership. Ultimately, this is not just about “getting in”, but about developing self-awareness, clarifying values and becoming self-sufficient and self-directed. When parents become too involved, the student is denied the chance to go through this very maturing, self-actualizing process.

7. First row seats don’t always provide the best view. Sometimes the best place to watch this process is from the bleacher seats.