5 Things Parents Must Do To Survive The College Application Season

If college apps were a football game, we'd be at half-time now. Time to regroup.

Technically speaking, we are at half-time in the big college application game. The first batch of early action and early decision applications have been filed and the results are starting to trickle in.

The marching band has taken the field and everyone has taken a little break to grab some grub and use the restroom. But soon, it will be back to the gridiron for the final half: Regular decision, FAFSA application, overnight visits at the top contender schools and of course employing a CPA to decipher those financial aid packages instead of taking a spring vacation.

But for now, for the moment, you can rest and enjoy the fact that even though you never in a million years would have believed how all-consuming and life-sucking the college application process is, you and your family have survived it thus far. Here are five things you must do to make it across the goal line with your sanity in check:

1. Stop adding schools.

What on Earth are you thinking??? Your school's college counselor already helped your student pare down his/her original list from 25 schools to a more manageable 10. Why are you letting your kids add schools back? Oh wait! You are the one doing it!

Many schools use the Common App, a universal system that allows you to submit to multiple colleges and universities with the same application. You still have to pay for each school application, of course, and in some (many) cases, individual schools still require additional essays and scores sent. It's just more work for your student and presumably these schools didn't make the final cut on the first go-round.

Think of the Common App as heroin. You are addicted.


2. Accept that schools that waive the application fee aren't really saying they want your child.

This is a hard bullet to swallow. You want to believe that your amazing student is so sought-after that schools are willing to forego their application fees just for a chance to have her as a student. It's a lovely thought, albeit not one based in reality.

Schools want to increase their selectivity rating. The easiest way for them to appear more selective is by having more people apply. The easiest way to get more people to apply is to make the application free. It doesn't mean your student will get in; it just means the school wants a bigger pool of applications. 

The temptation to apply because "it doesn't cost me anything" -- coupled with the ease of the Common App -- is tough to resist. But you should. If your student likely wouldn't have qualified before, nothing has changed. Why waste your time and dash your kid's hopes?

3. Get organized; it's not too late.

Sure, maybe you scoffed when people said you needed a spreadsheet to keep track of the details. Trust us, the details are where the devil lies in the college application process. One school says transcripts can only come from the high school; another wants the applicant to provide them; a third one doesn't want them at all until they decide to accept you and if you provide them early, they won't accept you. It's maddening.

By half-time, you've probably figured out that a spreadsheet would have been a brilliant thing to have. It also would be nice to have all the passwords you created in one place. Having your son ask "Did I already apply to State?" is not ideal.

4. Stop with the tests already.

Your student has taken the SAT or ACT multiple times and for reasons unbeknownst to the modern world, you have this crazy idea stuck in your head that if he takes it just one more time again, his score will improve dramatically. While there is some logic to taking these hours-long, brain-numbing exams more than once, three times is certainly plenty and may even be going overboard -- especially if taking it again means also going through another round of tutoring, practice tests and bootcamps. 

The score is what it is. Close this chapter of the application process and move on. keeps a list of testing-optional colleges. If your student's score is low, she should focus on pumping up the other parts of her application, maybe even using essay space to explain that she tests poorly but will bring lots of other fine attributes to campus.


5. Steer clear of other parents for the next few months.

It will only make you crazier to hear about the acceptances and rejections of other kids. Focus on your own and what's best for him. College admissions are a crapshoot. Who knows what really goes into deciding who gets in and who gets money for going to school there? The one thing you don't need is to convolute the process with comparisons. Remember, jealousy is the thief of joy. Be happy knowing your child has gotten into college; a lot of hard work went into that accomplishment!

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