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Articles / Applying to College / A Parent's Role in College Admissions

A Parent's Role in College Admissions

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | May 20, 2020
A Parent's Role in College Admissions

Parents, how involved should you be in your child's college admissions process? I've known parents who wanted to sit next to their child during the admissions interview. I kid you not. I've also dealt with parents who have used the dreaded "we" in their exchanges with me. "We have come up with 15 colleges that we think are a good match." "We thought that Penn State was too big." "We're trying to come up some good essay topics." Hmm.

Well then, just what should a parent's role be during the college admissions process? My parents were supportive, but maintained a respectful distance. My father took a day off work and drove me the hundred miles or so for my one and only campus visit and interview. We discussed our impressions on the way home and then I handled the application details myself. One thing that my parents weren't were helicopters. I appreciated that because as a young, dedicated Idealist, I had my own preferences about how to handle certain things, especially my college application process. My folks were certainly available for help when I needed them, but they didn't force themselves onto my working style. Thus, I was able to experience and develop some independent thinking and decision making at a critical developmental stage of my life.

MercuryNews.com columnist, Purvi S. Mody, has formulated a helpful 10-point plan to guide parents who may still be in the dark about what degree of involvement to cast of their son's or daughter's college admissions goings on. See if any of these points might improve your parenting:

ON COLLEGE: Tips for parents during the college admission process

College admissions is a stressful time for the entire family. Seniors are anxious about starting a new chapter of their lives and leaving the comforts of home behind. Parents are equally worried about sending their children off into the world, hoping that they have prepared them well over the past 17 years.

But before families can see their children off, they must first get through the admissions process. Increasingly, parents are taking a much deeper role in the process -- some for better and some for worse. Below are some tips on what the parents' role should and should not be in the next few months.

1. Guide your child in choosing colleges that would be a great fit, but don't force your child to only apply to schools that you like. Emphasizing rank and brand might cause your child to react negatively to the pressure.

2. Read over your child's essays and give tips, but do not write or rewrite the essays. A teenager's voice is distinctly different from a parent's voice. Colleges want to hear from the students about what is important to them, and admissions officers are very savvy about distinguishing essays written by parents and those written by students.

3. Drive your child to an interview or college visit, but let them take control once you arrive. If your child is interviewing with a local alumnus or admissions officer, refrain from introducing yourself or even going into the interview location.

4. If you have questions that can only be answered by an admissions office, have your child call. It helps the student to develop the ability to speak to adults and to take control of the admissions process. Do not call the admissions office every day with questions that can be answered by perusing the website.

5. Students will need to ask their teachers for letters of recommendations. It's not appropriate for parents to ask on their behalf.

6. Remind your children about due dates and help them manage the process, but don't micromanage them. Doing so will cause undue stress for everyone.

7. Do not request letters of recommendations from family friends because of their connections if they truly have not had significant interaction with your child.

8. Be ambitious yet realistic in expectations. Support your children in applying to schools they really love, even though they may be a little (or much) harder to get into. Make sure, though, the list is balanced so that there are options in April.

9. Don't compare your students to others. Seniors are as stressed as they can be right now, and comparisons to other children can only make them feel inferior.

10. Celebrate all successes. Every acceptance is cause for celebration, even if it is a safety school. This will give your child confidence as the other decisions come.

While applying to college is a means to an end, it is a learning process nonetheless. Your children are learning to be an adults and you are learning to let them be more independent. Your support and words of encouragement can make all the difference.

In a few months, essays, applications, interviews and supplements will be a distant memory, but the relationship you build and the bounds you establish now can last a lifetime.


Have you violated any of these guidelines? If you would like some more perspective on how not to be a college admissions parents, read some of the comments from both students and parents on this College Confidential discussion forum thread.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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