Parents Need to Be Involved When Students Apply to College But Avoid Overwhelming the Process
As a parent it’s hard not to want to play a major part of your student’s college search and application process. While it’s important to be involved in the process, there are some boundaries that parents of college bound students need to observe.
The college admissions process can be just as nerve-wracking for parents, as they naturally want the best for their students. Parents are emotionally invested in their student’s success, so a rejection or acceptance can be just as devastating or elating to parents as it is for the applicants. This is a major life milestone, but it’s also a process that can strain the parent-student relationship, as parents’ good intentions can sometimes cause conflict.
As the parent of a college bound student, it’s important to know when to step in and when to take a step back. Here are some college admission dos and don’ts for parents:
DON’T alter your student’s essay.
One of the biggest mistakes students make on their college applications is submitting an essay that doesn’t accurately reflect their voice. Often students can let too many opinions influence their essays, leaving them with a collection of thoughts that doesn’t actually represent who they are as a student and person. It’s tempting as a parent to offer lots of feedback and even encourage a student to change his or her essay if you feel it isn’t that great, but don’t. It’s important to let the student’s voice shine through – not yours. When in doubt, defer to your student’s college counselor. If he or she feels the essay is genuine and thoughtful, leave it be.
DO help check for spelling and grammar errors and offer some feedback.
Just because it’s unwise to try to significantly alter our student’s essay doesn’t mean you shouldn’t serve as a resource when editing and revising. Help your student by offering to read essays to check for spelling and grammar errors. Often a fresh set of eyes can catch mistakes others have overlooked. If there’s a confusing sentence or transition, offer feedback as to how the student can improve it if he or she wants. Remember, this is their essay. Offer constructive advice but don’t overdo it.
DON’T write a recommendation for your student.
This happens more often than you think. Overzealous parents want colleges to know how amazing their student is, and will include their own recommendation letters in their student’s applications. This can really hurt your student’s applicant profile. Colleges want to hear from instructors and counselors – those who have worked with your student in an academic or extracurricular setting.
DO help your student decide which teachers might provide the best recommendation letters.
Approaching teachers, counselors, coaches, and other recommenders can be intimidating for some students, so help them by discussing who might be the best person to ask for a recommendation letter. Consider your student’s favorite classes, extracurricular activities, instructors, and more to help him or her arrive to a solid conclusion about who to approach for recommendations. Also heed suggestions from your student’s college counselor.
DON’T pressure your student to apply to a certain college.
Many parents would love for their student to attend their alma mater, or stay close to home at that great college a town over, but if your student isn’t interested in the institutions you favor, don’t pressure him or her to apply. Students should only apply to great fit colleges that they really want to attend. Adding a school or two to their list just because you like it won’t do your student any favors. Remember, this is your student’s college experience – not yours.
DO encourage your student to do more research if he or she is uncertain about his or her college list.
Many times students can begin to question their balanced college lists as it gets closer to application deadlines and they’ve had a chance to visit colleges they might be on the fence about. A feeling of college application cold feet can set in – this is perfectly normal. If your student is second guessing a college choice, rather than encouraging him or her to replace it with a school you like, instead, suggest that he or she do some additional research on similar colleges. Maybe a visit to your student’s college counselor is in order, too, as a way to calm students’ nerves or offer alternative institutions that they may have overlooked.
DON’T run the process.
Checklists abound – for both parents and students – about when needs to be done when as students apply to college. As a parent, it’s your instinct to check up on your student and make sure he or she is on track to complete his or her applications on time, and that’s okay! In fact, it’s encouraged for parents to be involved and give students that push they need if they fall behind. However, it’s not advised for you to run the process – setting up meetings with counselors or college admissions officers, communicating with schools on behalf of your student, filling in your student’s application, leading college visits, and more. This is your student’s chance to mature and take control of his or her future; you won’t be doing any favors for your student by doing all the work for him or her. This is where it’s also to avoid saying “we’re applying to XX University,” or “we really like XX college.” You’re not applying to college – your student is. Let him or her own it.
DO offer support and guidance when needed.
Again, it’s important for parents to be involved in the college application process. Just because your student is taking the lead doesn’t mean you’re not needed. Act as a resource and guide when your student is experiencing doubts, frustration, or indecision. Your opinion is valuable during this process! Also act as support if your student is feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Work together to find solutions to your student’s college application problems or anxiety, and know when to turn to experts for additional guidance.
The college admissions process can be stressful for both parents and students, but it’s important to remember that parents and students need to set clear goals and boundaries in order to have a successful and anxiety-free college application experience!