By: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
Many parents want to be involved in the college application process, and this warrants a conversation about what parents can and should do to help their student survive this grueling time. Many students complete the entire process on their own.
Actually, now that I look back on these 20 years, I can see some clear categories of who does what:
1. Students doing everything (good, adult behavior)
2. Students doing everything and parents approving key checkpoints (good, teamwork)
3. Students and parents doing everything together (OK, but will they be able to function on their own?)
4. Students not doing much and parents doing most of it (bad, this delays growing up)
5. Students doing nothing, parents doing the entire process (very bad, maybe this student is not ready to leave home)
Parents mean well. They all want the best for their kids. So where are the limits? What should a well-intentioned, caring parent be doing as little Junior applies to college? Here’s a guide, taken from watching some amazing parents over the years:
Approve the student’s college list
Make sure they have Reach, Match and Safety schools–they must have Safety schools, despite what you may wish, or they run the serious risk of being denied everywhere. Be open-minded, and remember that we don’t want them to live the rest of their life wondering “what if”, so let them apply to Stanford if they want. Do not suggest “just a few” extra Reach schools because each one, well done, takes about 10 hours of work. You also send the message that only Reach schools are good enough… DO sit down and run the Net Price Calculator on each college’s website, with your student, and enter the data on the CollegeMapper Financial Aid Cost Planning page, to keep track of it. Remember that the actual price tag of the college is meaningless. Private colleges subsidize the cost of educations for most kids, so run the NPC.
Pay the application fees, or call and ask for fee waivers
This is a parent portion of the process and will help take something off of your student’s plate.
Read over the final main college essay to praise your student during this stressful time
Only offer a critique if they left something out or made themselves sound bad. This is NOT the time to suggest sweeping changes or, God forbid, a re-write because the essay isn’t what you yourself would send. This is your child’s essay, so unless it’s rife with error, say something supportive. The kids work very hard on these and are often quite proud of them, so they love to hear your praise. And remember, they need to sound like teenagers, not 50-year-old business people. 🙂
Proofread your student’s resume to see if anything is missing
This is a HUGE parent help because the kids often forget something or undersell themselves. Parents can be very helpful here.
Sign the college’s ED contract
If your student is applying Early Decision, you will need to sign a form of consent, saying that you know and agree to abide by that contract and that it’s OK with you that they make this agreement.
Encourage your student
This is a stressful time for these kiddos! Half of them are terrified they won’t be accepted anywhere (which isn’t true) and the other half are often too terrified to even get started (sign them up on CollegeMapper post haste!). Your encouragement is really appreciated in this process and they always love to hear supportive words.
Schedule ACT/SAT testing for your student
If your student is swamped you can log onto www.act.org or www.collegeboard.com and sign them up for the tests they need to take.
Send ACT/SAT test scores to the colleges
You can also send the test scores to each college for your student, on www.act.org or www.collegeboard.com. Only send the best scores, so look on the CollegeMapper Test page to see which we recommend that your student sends. Definitely ask your student before you send any scores.
Order transcripts from the high school to send to the colleges
The high schools have a form for this and you’ll want to fill it out in September or October. There may be a small fee.
Order transcripts from any colleges your student has attended (to send to the colleges with apps)
Colleges usually have online transcript order forms. You will need to send these to all of the colleges your student is applying to.
Schedule campus visits
If any campus visits require driving, flying, rental cars or hotels, parents usually handle all of that.
Check the high school’s schedule for which colleges are visiting
You can do this if it’s ok with your student. They may have it handled or they may be really grateful for the help. This list is updated every day, so check it daily.
Go with your student to the College Fair
This is optional, but some students like the moral support. If you do go, don’t talk more than your student or you will make a bad impression with the colleges. Check the CollegeMapper handout on College Fairs.
Parents can be fabulous supports during this busy, stressful process. Remember that your student is probably frazzled and overwhelmed, and understandably so, and since you know how best to handle your own offspring, you will know the best way to be there for them as they make it through, which they will!