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What's Your Role? 10 Tips for Parents

You likely remember the work (and the stress) of college admissions: visiting schools, taking standardized tests, filling out applications and financial aid forms, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for those acceptance letters to arrive. When your child is going through the process, you want to help—and may even want to take charge. What’s an appropriate level of involvement, and what should your role be?

You can help your child get into college without becoming a helicopter or lawnmower parent, without losing your sanity, and without straining your relationship with your son or daughter.

Here’s how to get through the admissions process unscathed:

1. Determine how much help and guidance your child wants. Don’t assume. Ask directly about how they envision the process, what they expect from themselves, and what they expect from you.

2. Get educated. The admissions process has changed since we went through it. Books like The Essential College Admissions Handbook by Lisa Guss and Shari Kramer, provide an overview of the whole process. Frank Bruni's Where you Go is not Who You'll Be:An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania can help you get and keep perspective.

3. Provide access to information about colleges. Don’t rely solely on school websites—they’re primarily marketing tools. And disregard the controversial US News & World Report rankings (read more about it here). Fiske Guide to Colleges is a top-notch source, and it’s probably on the shelf in your child’s high school guidance department.

4. Help plan trips to visit schools. What you can do: set an itinerary, book the hotel, gas up the car, pack your suitcase. What you can’t do: choose all the schools (unless your student requests it), call to arrange interviews, or call to make a reservation on a tour or at an information session.

5. Fill out the FAFSA. This form is needed for any kind of financial aid, including merit awards, requires a tax return and other information your student doesn’t have, and should be completed even if you think you won’t qualify for aid. Go to to learn more.

6. Don’t nag, belittle, or otherwise engage in negative interactions. There’s enough stress in junior and senior year—be the refuge from it, not an addition to it.

7. Be realistic. Your son or daughter should be applying to at least one safety (high probability of acceptance), and one match (reasonable probability) school. Many students also apply to one or more reach (medium to low probability—but who knows?) school. You can suggest or guide him or her to choices that meet that mix.

8. Keep track of deadlines if your student needs help. Creating a calendar with important dates (deadlines for applications, teacher recommendations, transcript requests, financial aid requests, etc.) at the beginning of the application process is useful.

9. Do some homework. Most applications require students to exhibit knowledge of the school, much as you are expected to know about a company when on a job interview. If requested, you can help in this area by researching on the Internet, and finding out if there are alumni in your area who conduct informational interviews. Do not contact schools directly, though.

10. Maintain perspective. The college admissions process is not a reward for or indictment of anyone’s character. Getting into the college of your dreams doesn’t assure future success any more than getting rejected sets you up for failure. Remind your son or daughter of this as often as necessary.


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