A Parent’s Guide to
the College Admissions Process
The college admissions process can be stressful, intense, and exhausting – and not just for the student. As parents, you understand how important this milestone is. Often, you want your child to do better or go further than you did yourself. Their dreams become your dreams, just as their disappointments are your disappointments. To help you navigate this intimidating time, we’ve compiled a list of things to keep in mind as the parent of a college-bound student. It can be hard to figure out how much to insert yourself in the process, and we’re here to help you strike a balance.
Parent Tip #1: Encourage your child to research schools.
Some students will pick a school because of the location, or because their friends want to go there, or because you went there! Urge your child to really learn about the schools they’re thinking about applying to. Have them check out their websites, their social medias, and even read their student publications. The more they know about a school, the easier they can determine if it might be a good fit. On that note: you should research those schools too! Not only can you help your child, you’ll show them you’re interested and excited about the process.
Parent Tip #2: Visit potential schools with your child, if possible.
The best way to learn about a school is to visit it! When your child has a list of their top choices, try to find time to visit them. Don’t book plane tickets and schedule a tour without their knowledge – that’s overstepping. Instead, discuss the possibility with them and plan a visit together. Help your child make the most of their campus visit with these tips.
Parent Tip #3: Edit grammar and spelling on applications and essays, not content.
When it comes to the actual application process, it can be really hard not to overstep your boundaries. However, do not change their answers or their essays however you see fit. Your child has a unique voice, and that voice will fit in at a specific university. Help them brainstorm great answers and offer constructive feedback, but don’t you dare start typing away. The school wants to hear from your child – after all, you’re not the one who will be spending four years there!
Parent Tip #4: Help your child determine who should write their rec letters – and no, you should definitely not write one.
When it comes to recommendation letters, your only role is helping your child pick teachers that you know will offer glowing reviews. Help them think back over their favorite teachers and decide who will really talk them up. As a parent, you should not be writing any sort of recommendation letter. Schools already know you think your child is the smartest, most involved, and most wonderful student on earth.
Parent Tip #5: Keep track of deadlines and important dates, but make sure your child is too!
Your child should be staying on top of important dates – SAT test dates, application deadlines, financial aid deadlines, and so on – but it can be hugely helpful to remind them and help them stay on track. You can make the process much less stressful for them just by acting as a “back-up brain” in case something slips their mind.
Parent Tip #6: Assist your child with their financial questions.
As we all know, college isn’t cheap. You will probably have much more experience with big financial decisions than your child, and this can be one of the most confusing parts of the entire process for them. There are several ways you can help out. You can help them hunt for college scholarships, and remind them when deadlines are approaching. You can also learn about the FAFSA and help your child understand it and submit it on time. If your child is applying for financial aid, you’ll need to help them find various financial documents, specifically tax returns. The financial aspect of college is confusing and extremely daunting, so make sure your child knows you’re here to help and support them.
Parent Tip #7: Talk to your student’s college counselor if you’re unsure or worried about something.
Sometimes, parents rely on their children to relay information they get from their school. Sometimes, this messaging system is not so accurate. If you’re confused about the college admission process and want help understanding all of the ins and outs, schedule an appointment with the college counselor at your child’s school. They can answer questions you have, and help you prepare for the entire process.
Parent Tip #8: Simply ask your child how you can help!
When I applied to college back in the day, I was overwhelmed. I felt like if I made one mistake on a form or forgot any piece of paperwork, my application would get thrown away. Whenever my mom or dad checked in on me, I always had something they could do to help me or take a little bit off my plate. Sometimes, I asked them to proofread an essay or double-check a form. Other times, I just needed my mom to mail something for me. If you want to help and don’t know how, ask!
The most enlightening thing I’ve ever read about a parent’s role in this process comes from the College Times magazine by College Board. To sum it up, a parent should act as a coach, a consultant, or an executive secretary during this process (or a mix of all three).
A coach cheers for the player, but doesn’t compete for them.
A consultant offers advice and feedback, but doesn’t force the client to take it.
An executive secretary helps with logistics, like scheduling and paperwork, but doesn’t do the actual job.
When in doubt, just remember those three roles. If you’re doing more than that, you’re likely doing more than you should.
Good luck to your child, and good luck to YOU!