6 Tips for Parents Going Through the College Application Process for the First Time
Want personalized (and free) advice while applying to college?
We’re building a free college guidance platform for high school students like you! This means we’ll let you know exactly what and when you should be focusing on things like extracurriculars, college essays, standardized tests, and more. Sign up now to get early access to our platform and get guidance applying to college!
Once a student enters high school, teachers, counselors, and the school administration will start to stress the importance of obtaining a college education. The student will likely have access to numerous handouts, website information, and experts to meet with in order to help them through the college application process.
Parents don’t usually have the same kind of resources available to them. They are expected to be the support system for their teen during the college application process, yet they rarely have the amount of information available to them that their children have. Thus, for a parent who hasn’t gone through the college application process with a child before, the whole process can seem daunting and convoluted.
If you’re a parent going through the college application process for the first time, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to help you strategize how to get through this with your student. Read on for the parent’s guide to getting through the college application process.
Many students and parents make the mistake of thinking that college applications are a problem to be dealt with during the student’s senior year of high school. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.
In order to be accepted to a renowned college or university, most students create a four-year plan at the beginning of their freshman year of high school that outlines every course they are going to take throughout high school in order to maximize their GPA and class rank.
Students also strategically plan out which extracurricular activities they are going to join so that they can impress colleges. They can also make it a point to pursue some impressive project, job, internship, or community service opportunities during each of their high school summers in order to add to their college resume.
Finally, they will start studying for the required college entrance exams during their sophomore and junior year of high school so that they have time to maximize their scores before college application season starts in the fall of their senior year.
Basically, college applications are a strategic game that many families start playing years in advance. If you and your student want a fighting chance, you should sit down and make a plan for how you are going to build an impressive academic and extracurricular profile sooner rather than later. If you need help building a strong 4-year plan, see Your Guide To Building a Strong 4-Year Plan.
Plan To Visit College Campuses
On the surface, college visits may seem like a silly waste of money. You’re spending money to go look at a college campus and have a bunch of adults tell your child why they should go there. But if you’re taking the time to visit the campus, your student should already be convinced that they want to go there, right?
Well, not necessarily. The point of college visits is to give your student an idea of what it would be like to attend a particular college campus. They’ll get to explore everything from the size of the classrooms to the quality of the dining halls.
Through campus visits, students can gain some clarity as to whether they would want to attend a certain college or university, what qualities they are really looking for in their college experience, and what it would truly be like to live on their own. Plus, campus visits are an easy way for you and your student to show interest in a college.
Another way to show interest is to schedule some time during your campus visit to speak to the dean of admissions, a professor in an academic department that you are interested in, or anybody in a position of power at the university.
Set Expectations Now
There are thousands of colleges in the United States, and your student will have the option to apply to all of them. With so many colleges and so many different types of college experiences available, the college experience that you envision for your child may be very different from the college experience that he or she wants for themselves. Thus, it’s important to sit down and talk with your student early on to get on the same page when it comes to college.
Some things that it is important to discuss and clarify:
- What type of colleges should your student strive for (Ivy League? State schools? Somewhere in between?)
- What type of college education can you afford, and should your student be looking into financial aid options now
- Do you want your child to go to an in-state or out-of-state college?
- What major or academic department does your student think they may want to study in college?
- What GPA, class rank, and extracurricular profile does your student need to get into the colleges they are striving for?
Get a Team
The phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child” is definitely applicable when it comes time to apply to college. You and your student don’t have to go through this process alone. Feel free to reach out to your friends, community, and your student’s school for help and resources to help you through this college application process.
For example, you should have your student reach out to 2 or 3 teachers or a counselor that they trust to look over and edit their college essays for them. You can also have them ask students who have graduated and gotten into good colleges to help them on their application. Some high schools even have a College and Career Center where your student can go to for financial aid and scholarship resources.
Have a Backup Plan
You want your student to be ambitious and strive to attend the very best college they can. However, at the end of the day, all your student needs is one college acceptance to be able to get that coveted college education. Hence, you and your student should do your best to ensure that you will have at least one highly probable college acceptance at the end of college application season.
The way to ensure that you will probably have at least one college acceptance is to have a few “safety” schools on your student’s college list. A safety school is a school that is maybe a little bit less competitive, not as highly ranked as the other colleges on your list, but still a good school. You should feel highly confident that your student would gain admission into your safety schools.
When you’re talking about safety schools with your teen, however, you don’t want to make it seem like that school is your last-resort, sloppy seconds choice. You should be just as excited about that school as any other school on the college list in order to make sure your student feels comfortable accepting an offer from that school if need be.
In the same way that students can feel overwhelmed and stressed out by the college application process, parents can easily start to feel the pressure to be the all-knowing support system for their student during the college application process. If you as a parent start to get overwhelmed, your student will likely notice this and get anxious themselves.
It’s up to you to try to not let the anxiety associated with college admissions get the best of you. Just keep reminding yourself that your student has plenty of resources to help them succeed, and you’ve raised a great student and great candidate for undergraduate admissions. That should help calm you down and help you be the enthusiastic cheerleader that your student will need during this stressful time.
For More Information
Want more help navigating the college admissions process with your student? See these previous blog posts:
Need help with your college applications? Check out CollegeVine’s College Application Guidance Program, where you’ll work with your very own Applications Consultant and receive the guidance you need to succeed in the admissions process. We’ve helped over 6,000 students navigate the college admissions process, so we know what it takes to put together a successful application while making the process less stressful.
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.