the parent's role in college applications
The college admissions process in the United States is not as cut-and-dry as many other admissions processes around the world. Getting perfect scores on your ACT or SAT exam and acing all your classes does not guarantee a spot in the top schools in America. There are dozens upon dozens of considerations that go into an admissions officer’s evaluation of a student and whether they’re the right fit for that institution.
Therefore, the best type of parental involvement in the college admissions process is to stay calm, stay focused, and create a robust plan to build an angular, competitive profile that harnesses your child’s unique voice.
As a parent, your entire focus for nearly the last two decades has been ensuring the safety and health of your child. Now, with college admissions bearing down on your family, doubt, insecurity, anxiety, and frustration will creep in – it is inevitable. The fact that the admissions process is not as cut-and-dry in the United States promotes these feelings of apprehension and unease. However, there are ways to make sure you are part of the solution, rather than further promoting those feelings of anxiety. Hiring a professional college admissions consultant will also help on ensuring success for your child.
What should a parent’s role in college applications be? How can we be part of the solution?
Follow the 5 E’s: Educate, Enrich, Empower, Encourage, and Evolve.
Rather than just go by college rankings, start doing some research on what type of colleges would be a good fit for your child. Do they prefer a larger school environment? Smaller? Are they focused on engineering? Humanities? Do they want to be in an urban environment or rural area? Does research factor into the type of school they’re hoping to pursue?
With a good sense of your child’s preferences for school environment, that can help inform the colleges you visit. If you’re able, visiting a campus and taking a tour is an ideal way to deepen your sense of college fit. It’s also a great way to show a college your interest in their institution. If many schools are out of your geographic range, you can always sign up for virtual tours and webinars. Don’t let geography get in your way!
When you’re on the tour, do not take over by overwhelming tour guides and admissions officers with your own questions. Let your child shine by asking questions and speaking up. Encourage them to take the initiative.
Rather than have your child sign up for every single extracurricular activity at their school and spend every hour of their weekend doing volunteer work, extra courses, and more, enrich their lives with meaningful experiences that provide maximum impact. Rather than volunteer at ten different places, focus on one or two organizations where your child can make strong connections and have a demonstrable impact in your community. Opt for a few supplemental courses to complement their learning in the classroom and deepen their academic interests.
You don’t want to overload your child with extracurriculars and supplemental work to the point where they’re not able to have real impact in any area. Don’t spread them too thin! They’ll have better experiences, build stronger relationships, and have a stronger sense of their impact in the world if you focus their experiences in a few areas that will really enrich their lives.
Whereas many students feel anxiety about rejection during college admissions, parents feel anxiety about a number of things–have we done enough? Have we prepared our child for the real world? What can we do to make sure they get in?
These are all natural fears and insecurities to have; however, you’re not helping your child by projecting these onto them when they’re already struggling with the looming fear of not being enough for any specific institution.
Instead, put your focus on empowering your child. If you engage in educating them about what college opportunities there are and enriching their lives with meaningful and impactful extracurricular experiences, you will be providing them with useful tools to navigate the process. Empower them to harness their unique voice and leverage their own experiences in this process. Be the rock for your child so they can resist giving any more power to the voices of insecurity in their heads.
Empowering them also means knowing when to step back and let them do the work. Do not write their college essays for them – college admissions officers will be able to tell that it’s not the student’s voice. Empower your child to harness their unique voice in their personal statement and supplemental essays.
There may be moments where your child does not get accepted to their top school, top summer program, scholarship opportunity, class at school, etc. Rather than let this disappointment fester, and rather than feeding into it by letting your child know your disappointment in their performance, encourage them. They’re already down on themselves – use your voice to build them back up. Focus on the positive aspects and try and re-route the conversation to a hopeful future.
Many parents struggle with letting their child go. You’ve been their main support network for the last 18 years, but soon they will go off into the world and they will need to learn many things on their own. They’ll need to succeed and fail on their own terms. To be the best support network for them moving forward, they need to see you as part of the same team.
Let them know you support them, encourage them to take advantage of opportunities, empower them to be the best they can be, and evolve along with them.