What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How Can I Help My Child Prepare for College Applications?

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The college application process can be overwhelming at times. When asking the typical teenager where they want to go to college or what they want to be when they grow up, we as parents are often met with blank stares, or simple answers like “I don’t know”, or “I haven’t really thought about it.”


If you are a parent of a child that actually knows where they want to go to school, things become much easier. However, even when your child thinks they know where they want to go, they may change their mind as often as the wind changes direction.


We all want what is best for our child, and most of us would agree that we want our children to grow up to be happy, healthy adults. Part of this process involves finding a career that they can thrive in while finding fulfillment and joy in their work, which often begins with finding a college that allows them to fulfill their dreams and aspirations.


Graduating from high school and beginning the application process for college can be overwhelming at times, so we’d like to offer you some tips that may make it a bit easier. Read on to learn more about what you can do to help your son or daughter through the application process.


A Parent’s Role in the Application Process

The process of applying for college can be met with mixed emotions including excitement, frustration, and a multitude of others. Many people would say that applying for college is the child’s sole responsibility, while others would say it is an effort by all parties that are invested in the child’s future. If you identify with the latter, know that you are not alone.


It may be difficult to find just the right balance of being helpful and being viewed as an overbearing parent, so make sure you understand how involved your son or daughter wants you to be. Understand that a 17 or 18-year-old may find it difficult to know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but helping them discover their passion, along with discussing what their goals and aspirations are, may help them narrow down their list.


As you begin the process of helping your son or daughter with the application process, we suggest a few basic tips.


  1. Have an open line of communication early and often.


By starting the conversation early, your child will be able to explore various colleges and programs, as well as application options, which include early decision (ED), early decision ll (ED ll), early action (EA), restricted early action (REA), single choice early action (SCEA), regular decision (RD), and rolling admissions.


For more info on the distinctions between ED I, ED II, REA, EA, and RD, check out this post.


Rolling admission applications, unlike the EA, ED, and RD applicants we’ve previously discussed, are reviewed and evaluated as they are received. Students may apply any time during the application cycle, and there are no restrictions as to the number of schools students can apply to under this option. Decisions are non-binding and there is no application deadline.


The restrictions for Early Decision, Early Decision ll, Restrictive Early Action, and Single-Choice Early Action are very specific. It is recommended that students double-check all of the application options for their chosen school and take time to consider early action or early decision admission options for their number one school.


  1. Encourage your son or daughter to educate themselves about the pros and cons of each institution they may be considering.


Choosing the college that best fits your son or daughters needs requires some investigative work that can be as simple as learning about the various colleges on the Internet. Many colleges have virtual tours of the campus online, and most will list the various programs and majors they offer on their website. If your son or daughter has a few different schools they are interested in, have them make a pro and con list for each of the schools. This list may include enrollment, size of the campus, programs offered, campus setting, housing, graduation rates, etc.


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As you go through this investigative process, your son or daughter may come up with a few different colleges that meet their needs, so be open to discussing their choices with them. Too often, students choose a college because their friends are going there or because it is close to home. Once they get there, they may realize it really isn’t a good fit for them, and many times, they end up transferring to another college, which could extend the time they spend in college and increase the amount of money spent on their education, simply because they did not do their homework prior to applying to schools.


If at all possible, try to visit the colleges on your child’s list. Sometimes, a visit to the campus can help clear up any questions they may have about the college, and it may help solidify their decision as to where to apply.


  1. Encourage them to apply to match, safety, and reach schools that align with their intended goals.


A match or target school is a school at which one’s academic credentials like GPA and standardized test scores fall well within the range for average freshman. A match school may be a local state school, or a private out-of-state school. Applying to match schools is a wise decision for all students from C students to valedictorians. There is no guarantee that you will be admitted to your match school, but students are often admitted to their match/target schools if they’ve selected them carefully.


A safety school is a school at which one’s academic credentials fall above the school’s range for average freshman, usually around the 75th percentile or above. Admittance to a safety school is almost guaranteed, and although it may not be your child’s first choice, it is important to have available options when it comes time to make a decision as to where to attend. Your child shouldn’t think of safety schools as a last resort, either; they should be chosen with care, so that your son or daughter doesn’t end up miserable in the event that they end up attending.


A reach school is a school at which one’s academic credentials fall below the average range for admitted freshman, usually around the 25th percentile or below. If you don’t meet the school’s basic requirements, and you don’t have a stellar list of accomplishments or extra-curricular activities, your time may be better spent on applying to match and safety schools. If you feel as though you have a realistic opportunity to get accepted to a reach school, we encourage you to apply. One never wants to live with regrets, but it’s smart to balance applications to reach schools with applications to safety and match/target schools to be sure you’ll have options.


Many times, students have aspirations of attending a highly selective university and fail to apply to enough safety and match schools, which is a risky decision. Encourage your child to have at least one or two safety schools, a few match schools, along with a few dream (reach) schools that they may aspire to attend. By having a mix of safety, match, and reach schools that meet their needs, they will have a few options available to them once decision day rolls around.


  1. Have a conversation about finances, the cost of education, and scholarships.


The cost of attending college has increased dramatically in recent years, and students are incurring more debt than ever before. It is important that all parties involved are educated about the costs of a college education. In order to simplify the planning process, many colleges have a net price calculator (NPC) on their websites. After entering your financial information, you will receive an estimate of the cost you and your family are expected to contribute. It is important to remember that the information you receive is an estimate, and not a guarantee of the financial aid award that may be offered.


Encourage your son or daughter to look at various schools that offer merit-based awards, as well as those that offer need-based financial aid. Merit-based awards are given for academic achievements such as grade point average, standardized test scores, being a national merit scholar, etc. Need-based financial aid is based on your income and family circumstances and may vary from year to year based on your income.


Scholarships are a great resource for students, as they can help defray the cost of a college education. Encourage your son or daughter to look for scholarships early in the process, as some scholarships are due as early as September of their senior year or even in sophomore or junior year for some major awards. Have your son or daughter speak to the school counselor about available scholarships and encourage them to seek out other scholarships as well.


The process of deciding where your son or daughter wants to attend college is a major decision, so it should not be taken lightly. By following the above tips, you can help your son or daughter complete the application process with less stress, and a better understanding of the college they hope to attend.


For more on planning ahead for the college application process, check out these blog posts:


What is the Ideal Timeline for the College Application Process

A User’s Guide to the Common Application

Helping Parents Understand College Applications: A Guide for First Generation College Applicants

Parents, How Involved Should You be in the Application Process?


Does your teen want access to expert college guidance — for free? When they create their free CollegeVine account, they will find out their real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve their profile, and get their questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Encourage them to sign up for their CollegeVine account today to get a boost on their college journey.


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Tammy Goerger
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Tammy Goerger is a long-time educator and geo-circle lead for the Joyce Ivy Foundation. She is the mother of three children who attended Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, and she has a passion for helping students achieve their dreams and aspirations. She has been a resource for students and parents about the application process, financial aid, and scholarships. She enjoys sharing her love for music with others and volunteers as an EMT on her local ambulance squad. She strives to teach her students about the importance of community service, as well as the importance of living with an attitude of gratitude.