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Articles / Applying to College / What part should my parents play in my college application?

Feb. 10, 2002

What part should my parents play in my college application?

Question: What part should my parents play in my college application?

Parental involvement in the college admissions process varies from family to family, and is sometimes a point of conflict. At the very least, your parents will have to fill out financial aid forms so that your application process can be completed. Parents can perform other valuable tasks for your application that might not be so obvious.


Some colleges allow for a so-called optional recommendation. This provides parents with an opportunity to tell why their son or daughter is so special. You may wonder why a college admissions officer would want to read an obviously biased letter from a parent. The reason lies the letter's anecdotal information.

Anecdotal information is merely stories about the candidate drawn from real life. If a parent is capable of writing in simple, clear terms, the optional reference is a splendid opportunity to bring little-known information to the attention of the admission staff. Few items in the application will make an impression like a sincere statement from a mother or father. Obviously, if the student's grades and other qualifications don't make the cut, a parental good word will not by itself turn the tide of admission.

Another function parents can perform is application management. Most high school seniors have a lot going on at any given point in the school year. If a parent is good at meeting deadlines and can follow up on details, application management can be a worthwhile contribution to the process. This amounts to becoming familiar with what is required by the school for a completed application.

This information is usually provided at the front of the application package. All deadlines for the various forms are noted. Parents can then make certain that the applicant is working on the proper form at the proper time. This is a very important task and can help avoid embarrassing oversights and late submissions.

One final word. Include your parents in your application process. Don't exclude them. The more you can work together as a team now, the better things will be whenever you head off in the Fall for your first year of college.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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