9 College Admissions Tips for Parents

Help your child through the admissions process with communication and cooperation.

Photo: Thinkstock

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

College might be a time for kids to leave the nest and discover life on their own, but that doesn't mean a student's parents don't like to be involved in the college application process.

Parents should be sure not to hover and show they trust their college-bound student.

While some teens seek help from their parents, others may be more independent and difficult to talk to about their admissions process. However, what can turn out to be a struggle doesn't have to be, said Lillian Luterman and Jennifer Bloom, an educational consulting mother-daughter duo and co-authors of "IN! College Admissions and Beyond."

Students Should Recognize They Need Help

"Parents genuinely want to help their kids, and their participation does make the process less stressful," the team, who founded Entryway, wrote in an email interview. "This is your chance to guide your parents for a change. Give your parents specific tasks that will help you and save you time while you’re studying for finals, pursuing extracurriculars, and prepping for your standardized tests." Luterman and Bloom said they call this “The Team Approach: Learning to Use Your Parents."

"The college application process involves a lot of work, which often peaks just when you’re studying for SATs, Subject Tests, and midterms, and busy with your extracurricular activities," Luterman and Bloom said. "For the sake of your sleep — not to mention your sanity — consider enlisting the help of your parents to make the process go more smoothly and ease your workload. Of course, parents are busy too, but in our experience, they are usually happy to devote any time they can spare to helping you."

9 Ways Parents Can Help With College Applications


Luterman and Bloom listed specific examples of how a parent might help his or her student during the application process:

1. Registering him or her for the SATs. Testing registration information is available online and through a student's high school guidance office.

2. Collecting the applications and supplements from each college and putting them in different folders.

3. Conducting mock interviews.

4. Helping a student prepare for standardized tests (creating flash cards for vocabulary words, for instance).

5. Typing the relevant factual information (employment, address, social security number, and so on) on each application.

6. Researching the application requirements for each of the colleges you are considering (such as required or recommended high school classes, subject tests, and the like).

7. Proofreading essays and applications (if a parent is very detail oriented).

8 Scheduling college visits — calling college admissions offices to inquire about information-session schedules, tours, interview dates, availability of class auditing and overnight stays, directions to campus, and information on where to stay.

9. Sharing feedback on campus visits.

Luterman and Bloom believe that students must remember this basic truth, "parents have your interests at heart, and they know you really well." However, when it comes down to final decisions about applications, the student should make his or her final decision on which colleges are most important to them.

Like Luterman and Bloom, Jenny Peacock, director of admissions for William Peace University in Raleigh, NC, stressed that, while parental involvement is helpful, it is important for students to take control of their admissions process.

"I would encourage parents to empower their student rather than take over," she said. "I would suggest family dinners with open discussions about college, deadlines, to-do lists. Parents do not need to take over but they do need to be involved in the conversation. Help your student be successful, but please do not take over because that will not help them later down the road."

Communication and Cooperation

Kafi Martin, CEO and founder of Degrees of Success Inc., emphasizes increased communication as a positive way to assist students. She believes clear communication between parents and students is an integral aspect of the application process, "Being a guide through the process will help them learn habits that will help them be successful in the future," she said.

"Communication between parents and teens is often akin to crossing a canyon on a rope bridge — one misstep could bring it all to a screeching halt," she explained in an interview. "With college applications, parents have to ask sufficient, direct questions to know exactly where their child is, how best to help, when to step back or get external help. When this is done poorly, parents have no idea what their kids have done or still need to do, and this ends up hurting both parties."

Trust

Martin said it is important for parents to keep in mind that the college application process is indicative of their readiness to let their children move on into early adulthood and that trust is key to allowing a college-bound child to feel supported.

"College, in your child’s eyes, is his or her prime opportunity to be independent and free," Martin said. "They do not want you to hover or try to control their actions or choices. Your first role is to trust that you have done a good job raising a smart, conscious, responsible child who will make good decisions. Once you trust your child and more importantly yourself, you will be able to release your need to control or dictate the situation."

Quick Tips

  • Remind students they can ask for help with registering, conducting mock interviews and receive proofreading on their essays.
  • Parents should be sure not to hover and show they trust their college-bound student.
  • Allow students to maintain control of the college application process in order to better prepare them for adulthood.

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