How Much is Too Much? Providing Support Without Overstepping in College Applications
How Much is Too Much?
In a recent survey of 2,300 parents by consulting firm EAB, it found that 75% of parents want direct communications from colleges. Additionally, 48% of students named parents or guardians as one of their five most trusted sources of information on choosing a college—up 11 percent from 2020. These trends have been steadily increasing over the past two decades, so this clearly isn’t a fad. Almost half of students want their parents to be involved in the process. But there are limits!
Not long ago, the parents of one of our students registered their son for an information session and tour of a nearby college. They arrived at the admissions office jazzed about the school, and were all geared up to explore the campus and soak in the college experience only to be greeted by a friendly staff member who dropped the bombshell: "Hey folks, thank you for coming in, but just so you know, this college is for women only!"
Cue the awkward silence and puzzled looks on the parents' faces as they tried to process the mix-up. Talk about embarrassing! (Note to self: always double-check the college's gender policy before planning a tour, lest we also become forever known as the parents who inadvertently tried to get their son into an all women's college!) Hey, at least they made an impression, right?
"Who's Applying to College: The Parent or the Student?"
What's the point of college anyway? Is it to prepare your kid for adulthood, or just to get them out of the house? Of course, it is to prepare your child to go out into the world ready to stand on his or her own two feet so that they can carve out their own path forward with confidence. The college application process should be no different as in a character-based evaluation process your student will need to be able to demonstrate, among other things, that they are ready to be successful on their own. So while you as parents have an important role to play, the key is not to overstep.
So what kind of college admissions support are students looking for from their parents?
Stress: Let's face it, high school can be a real pressure cooker. Between studying for exams, keeping up with extracurricular activities, and trying to maintain a social life, your child’s stress levels are already off the charts. Now, add college preparations into the mix? You might as well throw them into a volcano! As parents, it's important to be their support system, to help them manage their stress, and to maybe invest in a stress ball or two. But seriously, it is crucial to encourage and support your student, whatever his or her interests or goals may be. At a minimum, in order to produce their best work, stress levels need to be managed but it is more than that. It is also about their long-term well being. This is also an area where an independent counselor can be extremely valuable as the counselor will help minimize stress by keeping your student organized and on track.
Emotional support: Your child wants you to be understanding, patient, and emotionally supportive during this process. While many students do not know what they want to do with their lives or know what they want to study in college, this really has to be their journey. It is not at all uncommon to want things for our children that they are not sure that they want for themselves. As parents, we want the best for our children and therefore we may tend to project our own desires onto them whether they are interested in them or not. When students pursue subjects or activities that they are not genuinely interested in themselves, this lack of authenticity will be virtually impossible to hide in a college application. The key to success is to encourage and support them as they find their own way by pursuing the things that they genuinely are interested in. This is an important ingredient for success in the college admissions process.
Guidance on college selection and research: Determining which colleges will help set your student up for long-term success can be daunting for a teenager. Make sure they are taking the lead but be available to assist and guide your student through a detailed and thorough research process before you make any visits that will best align with their academic and personal goals.
College visits and tours: Most students want their parents to accompany them on college visits and tours so that they can enjoy a firsthand experience of different college campuses. As a parent of two daughters who I took on a number of different college visits, it was also an incredible opportunity to bond with each of them. In the beginning, while they didn’t necessarily know what they were looking for in a college campus community, they absolutely knew how they felt when they stepped onto a particular college campus and I guided them with what to look for once we got there. With each successive visit they began to form distinct points of view of what they were looking for academically, extracurricularly and socially.
What Does Overstepping Look Like?
As parents, we know you have the best of intentions for your children but just in case...here are a few ways to know what overstepping looks like:
Taking complete control: While it's understandable that you want the best for your child, it's important to remember that this is their journey, not yours. As Coach Ted Lasso would say, "be a goldfish," and let your kiddo swim their own path. Being too hands-on can cause them to feel powerless and stunt their path to independence, so let's trust 'em to call their own plays.
Choosing colleges: While it is important to have candid upfront conversations with your child about how much you are able to contribute to your child’s college education, encouraging your child to apply to certain schools is one thing, but forcing them to apply to schools that they have no interest in can lead to resentment and a lack of motivation. Your student will be in the best position to gain admission to the colleges they apply to if they feel that they own the process and have a say in the outcome.
Writing essays: It's great to offer constructive feedback on their essays, but don't cross the line and start writing for them. Admissions officers can usually spot an overly polished essay that doesn't sound like it was written by the student. I once worked with a student who submitted an essay to me for review and when I asked her if someone with a legal background had reviewed the essay, she said, “yeah…my uncle read it and he is a lawyer.” The essay had been heavily edited with legalese. I explained that submitting this essay would lead to a one-way ticket to rejection city as there are relatively few seventeen year olds applying to college who have already taken classes in legal writing.
Contacting admissions offices: Admissions officers expect students to take the initiative and communicate with them directly. Constantly calling or emailing on your child's behalf can come across as overly aggressive and intrusive.
Attending interviews: College interviews are an opportunity for the student to show off their personality, interests, and abilities. Accompanying them to the interview can undermine their independence and make them appear less confident. Generally, it is best to drop them off for their interview and arrange to meet somewhere afterward.
Pressure to apply to prestigious schools: Let's face it, we all want our kids to be a big fish in a big pond, but what if they would be more of a medium-sized or small fish in those environments? It's worth asking the tough question: Will my child be better off as a minnow in a pool of sharks, or as a Koi in a pond of guppies?
So, it is worth asking, why not consider a smaller pond where your child can shine like a beautiful koi in a backyard pond? With more opportunities for internships, research and other competitive activities, they can really stand out. And besides, there's always the honors colleges, where your child will still be surrounded by the other Koi that will also provide important lifelong relationships.
At the end of the day, the pressure to apply to prestigious schools is like the pressure to own a luxury car: it might turn heads, but it's not worth the financial strain. While top schools can be great for some, taking an objective look at where your child will best be able to thrive will have direct implications for long-term success. Let your child find a college that fits their academic, extracurricular and social needs, and they'll be just as successful, if not more, than their big fish counterparts!
"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful." - Albert Schweitzer.
7. Pushing a specific major: Letting your child find their passions and pursue what they truly love will lead to ultimate success! It is natural to worry that our children won’t be able to make a living if they pursue their true passions, but the world is changing rapidly and tomorrow’s most interesting and economically promising careers will live at the intersection of multiple disciplines. Encourage them to explore, be curious and make their own decisions - these are important ingredients to personal growth and ultimate success!
Who knows, maybe they'll surprise you and follow in your footsteps; only now they will be doing it because they want to. After all, it's their life and happiness we're talking about here.
If you’re ready to dive deeper into your college application, check out our Insider's Guide to Selective College Admissions that our college admissions experts put together to help you navigate all the criteria admissions committees look at.