An article adapted from one of our colleagues. and sprinkled with some of our original love. The original author is unknown.
Your baby is one step closer to leaving the nest and you want to help! That is normal. College is their next milestone and you want to jump in and lead them…but here is some advice: Let your student own the process. This is not YOUR do-over or YOUR college journey. Support them. Set parameters. And step back.
If your student does the work, the research, the writing and the discovery, it will show in their application and that will help them to find the right school for THEM.
In The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, Brennan Barnard, a veteran college counselor, and Rick Clark, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech, offer thoughtful ways for parents and students to have frank conversations about applying to college, conversations that allow the process to unfold in a student-centered way. In keeping with this approach, we always ask our families to have an affordability meeting at the beginning of the process. Parents have the ultimate say-so about paying for college: they know their budget and it is better for students to build lists around it rather than be admitted to a college they are excited to attend, only to discover after the fact that it is not a financial fit. This simply stinks! And this takes an emotional toll on everyone involved.
After a budget is established, financial aid and merit aid are explained and everyone is on the same page, it’s time to let go of the reins. Students will soon discover what their priorities are for their college experience—what are the “must have,” “must not have,” and “would be nice” criteria they are looking for in a college. Parents can, of course, help their students by probing students’ priorities in thoughtful conversations, but parents cannot do internal self-reflection or college research for their students. Colleges want to understand students’ vision for themselves as college students and how they will speak for themselves in and out of the classroom. When students do not lead the process and dig deep into their hopes and dreams and the colleges, they are not able to write compelling applications. Give them the chance to make an adult decision about where to spend the next four years of their lives (within reason, financial being one).
Enough of what you should not do…what SHOULD parents do? Parents can support this process by taking students on college visits. You can do companion research in areas that matter most to them and their child. For example, if a student prioritizes diversity, parents can delve into the Common Data Set and uncover details about enrollment by racial and ethnic categories. If a student is considering medical school, parents can research the acceptance rate from colleges to medical school and what the colleges’ procedures are for supporting students in the medical school application process. Parents can provide this information to students, while still allowing students to decide how this information impacts whether a college is, or is not, a good match for them. In other words, parents can provide insight into colleges, and feedback on college options, without making the list their own.
Parents can also stay open-minded and supportive. Help students understand that there are lots of wonderful colleges in the US (and internationally) and that the focus should be on finding colleges that are good matches. Try not to focus on rankings or prestige—too often this gets in the way of students making smart decisions about which colleges align with their personality and priorities. In the frenzy (and fog) of college admissions families often forget that selectivity does not equate to a quality education.
When students own the college application process, they build their confidence and grow as young adults. The best gift parents can give their children is the room to navigate this journey, knowing that their parents are always there as support so nothing falls through the cracks.