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10 Do’s and Don’ts for Parents Facing the College Application Process

By Ryan Hickey, Managing Editor of Petersons & EssayEdge

Parents go through a tricky balancing act when setting their child gingerly on the road toward college. As a homeschooling parent, you’ve been very involved in all aspects of your child’s academic career. The difficult thing is to juggle a desire to put your son or daughter on the right track without overwhelming them or overstepping your bounds.

The truth is, attempts to help your children can result in deep-seated college anxiety. You want to be supportive, but you don’t want to smother. You want to be available and help them get ahead, but you don’t want them to lose their self-reliance. What is the best way to walk this tightrope?

Here are 10 do’s and don’ts for parents to consider when they come face-to-face with the college-bound teen conundrum.

1. Time After Time

DO – Encourage your student to keep to a schedule that includes (along with regular homework) some time every week to devote to college preparation.

DON’T – Talk about college all the time. In fact, designate boundaries. Like no talking about college or the ACT or anything related at the dinner table (or the breakfast table… it’s the same table). Or maybe no talking about it on the weekends. Give it a rest, because otherwise you can make the process grueling.

2. Keep Free Time Free

DO – Help your child pick the right extracurricular that follows with his or her skills and interests.

DON’T – Encourage your child to enroll in many activities (or volunteer experiences) just as resume builders. Admissions officers would rather see commitment to one activity that has led to some proficiency (or a leadership role) than someone who is all over the map.

3. There’s No “I” in College

DO – Discuss with your son or daughter your own experience with college (or lack of it) and why you think it is important from your perspective.

DON’T – Make the Freudian slip of calling the application “our” application or “our” school. You might be the one paying for the bulk of the schooling, but you aren’t going to be taking classes.

4. I Need an adult!

DO – Get a trusted adult to talk with your child. Sometimes, the same advice (the “right” advice/your advice) just doesn’t sound the same coming from a parent. Find another adult to talk with your son or daughter and maybe it will be easier for them to absorb.

DON’T – Get your priest, the coach, the candy store clerk, and the guy next door to talk to your prospective college student. Avoid over-saturation of your point.

5. Contain Your College Counseling

DO – Encourage your aspiring college student to talk to a college counselor and go to college fairs.

DON’T – Go to every one of those appointments. Let them attend the college fair alone and see what they can get from it. After all, they’ll likely be on their own pretty soon.

6. You Are Thinking of WHICH School?

DO – Help organize where your son or daughter is applying. It is not overstepping to make sure that he or she is not just applying on the common application or to just one or two safety schools or one or two really competitive schools. Give them some guidance.

DON’T – Proscribe exactly where your son or daughter needs to go. Don’t focus on any one school just because it is considered the best in one category or because you are a legacy there (or because it is close by… *sniff*).

7. Money Matters

DO – Help investigate scholarship and financial aid options. Most schools can be accessible with the right aid or scholarship packages.

DON’T – Talk relentlessly about scholarships opportunities.

8. Road Trip

DO – Organize a trip to visit schools if possible.

DON’T – Go halfway. Investigate beforehand and see if your child can visit classes, attend tours or talk to influential coaches or professors.

9. Be Polite

DO – When visiting campus, feel free to introduce yourself to coaches or professors.

DON’T – Bribe, cajole, call or write additional or supplemental material to recruiters or professors that “helps explain” anything.

10. Signed, My Mother

DO – Look over your child’s essay to make sure it seems to be answering the topic question, follows protocol (like word limits), and then give constructive criticism.

DON’T – Write (or rewrite all of) the essay for them. If they need outside help, there are services available with reputable writers who can assist with critiques and know a great deal about what admissions officials are looking for in the essay.

Obviously all this advice lives on the side of caution — the do’s are almost universally in the camp of being helpful, and the don’ts are in the area of “don’t drive yourself, your college kid, or any professors/admissions officers crazy.” The college application process is a stressful enough time already.

In short, do take this time to celebrate your son or daughter’s determination and the big leap forward. But don’t add to the stress by acting overzealous, possessive or overbearing.

And everything will go well.

About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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