The college admissions frenzy reaches a fever pitch during senior year. Applications are due! Acceptances will be received! Rejections will be mourned! And by the time most high school seniors march to “Pomp and Circumstance,” the Big Decision will have been made.
Parents are often faced with the ultimate dilemma: How much should Mom and Dad intervene to make sure their child chooses appropriate schools and gets his applications in on time?
Nancy Beane, a veteran college admissions counselor at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, understands parents’ concerns. But she cautions against getting overly involved.
“The parents aren’t going to college with their child,” she says. “To take over the process...that is not helping your young person.”
Instead, the parents can do what they’ve been doing since their child’s toddler years: Set limits. “The biggest thing the parents do is to set the parameters,” Beane says. “Financial, geographical, and philosophical.”
Here are some ways parents can help while still letting the student remain in the driver’s seat:
Help your child lighten the load. Some students, especially those seeking admission to top schools, are overloaded with courses and activities. “These kids are running themselves ragged,” Beane says. Help them be realistic about their course load and participate only in activities that are meaningful to them.
Convince your child to listen to the school counselor. College and guidance counselors have the expertise to navigate an increasingly complex college admissions landscape. Make sure your child makes and keeps appointments with the counselor. Encourage him to heed the counselor’s advice. Guidance counselors often have responsibilities beyond helping kids get prepared for college, so they may be strapped for time. Still, they are a great resource for students who take the initiative.
Emphasize possibilities. Students often want to consider only a narrow list of schools, and often those schools are similar to one another. “There are so many good schools out there,” Beane says. Encourage your child to look into schools he may not be familiar with. Don’t dismiss community colleges, which often have transfer arrangements with larger universities.
Be flexible. Set a good example for your child by being flexible and open to new possibilities. If you are unyielding in your thinking, your child will most likely follow your lead.
Help your child explore. Even if you already visited several colleges, you might need to make additional visits as your child expands his options. If you can’t afford to visit a school in another state, visit a local school that’s a similar size. Help your child focus on the type of school that best fits his personality and goals rather than on one particular school. “Too many kids get obsessed with one or two schools,” Beane says.
Talk it through. Your child might not need you to hold her hand through the application process. She might just need you to listen. Be the person your child can come to when she is afraid, disappointed, and excited.
Speak up. If you’re trying to stay completely out of your child’s college decision, remember that he is young and still needs guidance. “You’re not being responsible if you let your child sell his soul to a school that might not be the best fit,” Beane says. “You’re not [a] potted plant, so weigh in with your thoughts without taking over the process.”
Take a deep breath. If you remain calm, your child is more likely to remain calm even when everything doesn’t fall into place like expected.
Assure your child that you love her. Graduation and college acceptance can be an emotionally confusing time for a teenager. She may be unsure and insecure about your expectations. “Don’t make your child afraid of disappointing you,” Beane says.
Teach life skills. Prepare your child for life after high school by holding her accountable at home. Does she do her own laundry? Help get dinner on the table? Teach your child about money and credit and how to open a bank account. Get her a credit card with a preset limit. If she has a car, teach her about maintenance.
Launching your child into the next stage of his life is exhilarating and stressful. By focusing on helping your child find the school that’s the best fit, you’ll give her the support she needs while letting her remain in control of her future.