Parents have a very special role to play as their teens prepare for and go through the college admissions process. The first and most important thing you can do is to become knowledgeable about the subject. After that, there are any number of things you can in word and deed to support your high school student.
Organized by subject area, the following pieces offer information, advice, as well as things you can say and do.
Courses & Grades
There is a lot you can do to support your child’s academic and intellectual interests. The most important thing is not to “bug” them about it. Whenever you can–especially at the dinner table in the evening–get involved in discussions with your teen about current events, what’s happening in the world, and other topical issues. Encourage your child to express him or herself and to have opinions different from your own. Support any interests in reading books, whatever they might be. Colleges say that there is no better preparation for college than reading.
If you notice that your child seems to be struggling with a class, consult with his/her teacher and find out what’s going on. If needed, identify tutors or educational coaches to help. If problems persist, have your child tested by an educational psychologist to see if learning issues might be blocking him or her from doing well.
Be especially supportive and understanding during senior year, when all students struggle with the college admissions process.
Learn all about courses and grades.
Please don’t push your kids to do things that "everyone says" will get them into college. That doesn’t work, and might even backfire on you. Rather, support them in doing what fits their interests, talents and personal bents. Encourage your child to find and do what he or she loves. If your student doesn’t know, have them take a look at this website’s Ideas for Extracurricular Activities in the Examples/Lists section.
Also, don’t forget to help your son/daughter achieve a balance between schoolwork and living a full, happy, active life.
How to help your child choose the best extracurricular activities.
Teacher & Counselor Relationships
Parents can play a big role in relationships with their children’s counselor and teachers. You can start by attending Back-To-School night functions to meet your child’s teachers. Become a respected, friendly, known quantity at the school. Make sure that all communications between you, the counselor and teachers are polite and constructive.
When your child is a senior, do everything you can to help him/her provide the counselor and teachers with organized, complete admissions materials.
Set the stage for getting outstanding recommendations.
Tests & Test Preparation
Try to understand the pressure your child feels about admissions testing. To do this, become educated about the tests and encourage your child to prepare for them. If family finances are available, find and pay for your student’s test preparation. That can make a real difference in his or her scores. One very useful thing you can do is offer to drive your child to the testing center on the day of an SAT or ACT test so that he/she doesn’t have to deal with the stress of driving to and find/pay for a parking place (let alone get to the correct building where the test is being offered).
Helpful information about tests and test preparation.
Your College List
It’s so easy for parents to get either under or over-involved with their child’s college list. Both extremes have their negative consequences. A balanced approach is:
• “Be there” for your child
• Identify, collect and provide information and resources about different colleges
• Purchase college guidebooks
• Encourage and support college visits
• Help your student think through what characteristics he/she needs and wants
Rather than focus on college rankings, encourage your child to identify colleges where there is a good fit. It’s so easy for parents to fall into the trap of thinking that the best college for their kid is a high prestige college, rather than one that matches him or her as a student and person. Be aware that many colleges beyond the Ivies and other superstar schools have better records for getting their undergraduates into graduate schools and into good jobs.
As one parent said, “I’ve learned that no matter how strongly I feel about a college, the most effective thing to do is be low key in what I say AND SOMETIMES SAY NOTHING AT ALL. After all, this is my kid’s life, not mine. The real question is how to help her choose a school where she will be happy and thrive.”
How to to put together a great college list.
College visits is an arena of college admissions in which parents can and should play a big role. You’ve got the car (or can rent one), the checkbook and the best interests of your child at heart. So whenever you can, throughout your child’s high school career take windshield tours of colleges as you visit different locations in your city, state and the country.
As of your child’s junior year, take trips for the sole purpose of visiting colleges. Nothing can better help your child decide that a college is a good place (or not) than seeing a campus first hand.
And if it’s within your financial wherewithal, encourage and help your senior go on interview trips to colleges when he/she is a senior.
What's involved in a successful college visit.
Relationships with Colleges
Because making contact with colleges is a new behavior and uncomfortable to some students, you can be helpful by helping your student to know what to do. Most teenagers don’t have much experience in communicating with adults; so rather than expecting them to know what to say or write, provide them with an example to follow. Potentially, this is one of those wonderful learning moments, and help your child become more adult-like and competent.
Get the most out of your relationships with colleges.
Your Activities Resume
High school students are not very familiar with adult tools such as resumes, so this is another part of admissions where you can be of real assistance to your child. Starting in the 9th grade and continuing through to 12th, remind or record yourself everything your son/daughter does, experiences, accomplishes or wins. During the 11th grade, offer to show your child how to put a resume together. Finally, make sure your student has a finished activities resume by summer before his or her senior year.
Create a really effective admissions activities resume.
Personal Stories & Anecdotes
Many people think that anecdotes that students use in their essays must have taken place during their high school years. Not true! Stories that go way back to when your children were very young are often the most original and telling. Therefore, you may be the best source of ideas for brainstorming childhood tales, family legends, and humorous accounts. Not only is this useful for the student, but it’s also great fun.
Identify personal stories to use in essays and interviews.
There are many things to consider if your child is thinking of an Early application program, one of the most important of which is financial aid. You can be very helpful in the decision-making process by having your son or daughterthink through the pros and cons of applying early, while you pull together family financial information.
Whether and how to use Early Action and Early Decision apps.
Completing the Applications
Completing college applications is an overwhelming job for even the most brilliant, resourceful, organized students. It’s important for you to understand the scope and the stress that comes with this demanding process.
In our minds, the college application process is a family activity: students are the lead players, while parents are the supporting cast and cheerleaders (and, of course, the people who pay the bills). Students are at their best when their parents are helpful (but not pushy), available (but not over involved), resourceful (but not demanding), interested (but not critical), enthusiastic (but not overbearing), open (but also know how to hold their tongues even when they don’t want to).
College admissions is an intense time for any family, but the payoff is big: a happy, involved student who gets to spend four exciting years at a college he or she loves.
What you need to do to make your applications stand out.
Writing Admissions Essays
A perfect role for parents to take in the essay phase of college applications is chief brainstormer and note taker during brainstorming sessions. While some parents can also play an editor role, many students do better when someone other than a parent edits their essays. You might want to leave your child’s essay editing to teachers, counselors, and friends who are good writers/editors. But that decision is up to your and your teen. And don’t forget to tell your kid how much you love him or her.
Step by step directions for writing college application essays.
Letters of Recommendation
Starting during your child’s freshman year, make sure to attend teacher and counselor meetings, as well as school open houses. Go out of your way to develop good relationships with teachers, the counselor and other school personnel.
What to provide recommenders to help them sing your praises.
Because you or your partner/spouse will probably be making travel arrangements for college trips, it probably makes sense for you to call admissions offices to set up interview appointments for your child. You will know the trip schedule and what times are available. However, if your child wants to do it, by all means let her or him do it! The most important thing you can do is make sure that your child is prepared for an interview.
Learn how to shine in admissions interviews.
Deferrals, Waitlists & Final Choices
Sometimes a final college decision is easy: your child gets into his/her first choice college. In other cases, their first choice schools reject them. Some students are put into a kind of admissions limbo when they are waitlisted or deferred at a favorite school, while others get to pick from among a number of great choices.
Of all the times parent support is needed, it is now. You can celebrate with your child if all has gone well; but it’s important that you also be supportive of him/her if favorite colleges don’t send acceptance letters. If that happens, it’s vital that you help your child resist the temptation of dwelling on where he/she has not been accepted. Rather, encourage him or her to focus on choosing the best college from all the possible options. Most students end up having wonderful college experiences whether or not they have gotten into their first choice school.
Dealing with deferrals and waitlists and deciding where to go.
If you have any “parent” questions that don’t get answered by this website or the book, let me know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you as quickly as I can.