The Truth About Parent Involvement in the College Admissions Process

Now that the class of 2012 has graduated, rising high school seniors may be thinking more seriously about their college plans. However, students and their families are often unsure of what role everyone should play during this exciting (and sometimes confusing) time. I'm willing to bet that in the past few weeks at least a few arguments between parents and students have ensued.

Naturally, parents want to be involved in the college admissions process, especially if making a financial commitment. It is so important to maintain an open dialogue about what both you and your child want during the application process and throughout his college experience. Take some time in the coming weeks to have a discussion with your student to discuss expectations and outline priorities. Talking about these now, as opposed to in the heat of the moment, can help your family reach some common ground regarding goals, values, and budgets.

The most important thing for parents to remember throughout this process is "we" are not applying to college. While you are significantly involved in your child's process, your child will get herself into college and she needs to be empowered to do this. Listen to your child. This is the most important role you will play: listening to what she wants from the college experience, instead of projecting your own aspirations. Just because you went there, dreamed of going there, or heard great things about a particular school, doesn't make it the perfect choice for your student.

I know many parents want to take on additional roles in this process, and I've included some ideas for how you can help your student -- and keep the peace -- in the coming months.

Get excited about the academic year.
If you don't know what courses your child is taking next year, you should. If you get excited about learning, your child will too. Find out what is on your child's reading lists for his English and global studies courses. Engage your child in conversations about the material he is studying at the dinner table. By discussing topics your child is learning in school at home, you can get deeper into the topic and hopefully make your child feel more confident to participate in class discussions.

Know your child's standardized testing plan and help your child prepare.
Review your child's testing schedule with him and with the high school college counselor at the beginning of the year. Remind your child to sign up for the standardized tests required for admission into many colleges (SAT, SAT Subject tests, ACT, even AP exams) well in advance and procure good test preparation as well. You can also leave subtle (or not so subtle) hints reminding your child to study. Leave an SAT, ACT, or AP practice test book next to his bed, on the front seat of the car, or in the bathroom!

Foster a good relationship with the high school college counselor. Schedule a meeting with your child's high school college counselor at the beginning of the year.
Encourage your child to start making appointments with her college counselor early in the year. As the parent, you should introduce yourself to the guidance counselor. Let the counselor get to know you and your child. Remember, this counselor will be writing a letter of recommendation on behalf of your child, so it is a good idea to get to know this person as early as possible. Make sure the list of colleges the counselor recommends is balanced with reach, target, and safety schools and finalize the list with the counselor's help. If you or your child has any questions about when to apply, ask the counselor about what method is best for your student. Also if either you or your child has questions about anything on the applications, ask the counselor.

Encourage your child to nurture their relationships with their teachers.
Most likely, two of your child's teachers will be writing his letters of recommendation. Ask your child how these relationships are going, but do so without nagging. Encourage your child to meet with his teachers outside of the classroom. Encourage your child to participate in the classroom and to go above and beyond the assignments.

Begin college visits.
Once you meet with your child's high school counselor, you can get an idea of which colleges will meet your child's academic and personal needs. Map out the school year calendar -- use holidays, long weekends, and any vacation during the school year for campus visits. And though you may accompany your child to her prospective colleges and facilitate logistics, you should remain at arm's length. Ultimately, it is her visit and her decision.

Look over your child's activity list before he/she sends in the applications.
Oftentimes a student will forget to mention things: awards he has received or activities he participated in during the school year or summer. Parents should serve as a tickler -- a reminder of the things they've accomplished that they might have forgotten. You can even check the time commitments for each entry, add them up, and make sure your child is represented in the best, most accurate way possible. However, don't write essays or over-edit applications.

In addition to remembering "we" are not applying to college, there's one more way you can help your student make the most of this process: Don't panic! You don't want to add to college admissions stress. With your support and that of the high school counselor, if your child creates a balanced college list, she will get into a "good fit" college where she will be successful and happy. Chances are, that's the role you'd like her to enjoy the most.