Parents: Helping Your Child Through College Applications
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Standardized test scores, transcripts, and scholarship deadlines—these are just a few of the logistics being juggled by millions of college hopefuls across the country. As one college application season draws to a close and another gears up to begin, it’s not just students who feel the heat. College applications can sometimes seem as stressful for parents of college applicants as they are for the applicants themselves.
In this post, we offer up our top advice for parents of college applicants, everything from how to get started to how to handle the all-powerful college visit. To learn more about supporting your child through college applications, don’t miss this post.
How (and When) to Begin the College Apps Process
Let’s face it—some teens aren’t known for their timely initiative and even those who are are often bogged down by so many extracurricular commitments and academic endeavors that long term deadlines sometimes have a way of escaping them. If your teen has been known to procrastinate or just to overlook some of the bigger picture, he or she might need a little push in the right direction when it comes to starting college applications.
You can open the conversation by inviting your teen’s input to create a college application timeline. At CollegeVine, this is kind of our jam so we’ve taken the hard work out of it and created a few that you might use to help along the way:
The college application timeline should begin during the junior year of high school and include, at a minimum, a schedule for completing the following:
- Making a college list
- Narrowing down the college list
- Visiting top choice colleges
- Preparing for the SAT/ACT
- Taking the SAT/ACT (at least twice)
- Writing applications
- Securing teacher recommendations
For many teens, it’s a good idea to provide the tools for creating an effective timeline, and then allow him or her to create the timeline by him or herself. This way, it is not your timeline that you’re later enforcing or checking up on, but rather your teen’s own timeline. This ownership can create a sense of responsibility.
On the other hand, if you know that your teen will have trouble coming up with a realistic and achievable timeline, you may need to provide more guidance. Remember that you know your teen better than anyone; make the decision that will work best for your family.
Develop a College List
Creating a college list is essentially one of the first steps in the college application process. Your teen should begin to consider which priorities are most important to him or her in a college, and should begin to compile a list of schools that are a good match.
For some help getting started, you might direct your teen to these helpful CollegeVine posts:
You can also help by initiating conversations about your teen’s priorities and longterm vision for college. For some students, these might include geographical location, strong programs in particular fields of study, size, student population, or even campus resources. Your teen will need to think hard about which factors matter the most to him or her personally.
This can sometimes be a source of conflict between students and their parents, and in those cases you might discover that you and your teen need to find schools that meet multiple criteria. Alternatively, you and your student will need to have a hard conversation about the future and how your visions compare.
Encourage your teen to keep a running list of colleges that interest him or her, and to start a system for organizing materials for each school. Usually a hanging file or other folder system works well. Keep in mind that the college list is a work in progress all the way up until your students applies to college. Don’t get too hung up on it to start with; there is plenty of time to perfect it right up until fall of 12th grade.
Another way to help your teen during the college application is to brainstorm a list of his or her interests and strengths together. This list will ultimately be helpful in two ways.
First, brainstorming a list of interest is an important step in developing a college list. Your teen will need to consider which programs of study or college resources are important to him or her, and then find colleges that support those interests.
Second, identifying interests will help your teen to shape his or her college application. All strong college applications highlight specific areas of strength. If your teen identifies his or her primary areas of interest early on, he or she can then work to highlight these and refine them over time. For example, if your teen is interested in game design, he or she might try to find a summer internship with a game design company, a college course in graphic design, or a competition that highlights these skills.
As a parent, it’s our intuition to guide our children, and it’s what we’ve been doing since they were born. Now, though, it’s time to start holding back. If you want them to grow into mature and independent adults, you’ll need to let them make some decisions on their own.
College visits are a primary time when parents need to let their teens take the lead. It’s great to go along for moral support, but try to keep your questions and your opinions to yourself until your teen has had time to process his or her own ideas. Your role on these visits is more of a sounding board than that of a leader.
Be a Source of Calm
College applications are stressful for everyone, and while you might be feeling the heat yourself, your teen is ultimately the one who will bear most of the burden. He or she needs you to be a calming influence.
Encourage your child to not become overwhelmed and to tackle one task at a time. The college process happens over a period of years, so baby steps are key.
You should also remind your teen about the bigger picture. Where he or she goes to college might seem like the most important thing in the world right now, but ultimately it will only be a tiny piece of his or her future. Reassure your teen that you love him or her no matter what happens, and that college admissions are not a measurement of his or her worth as a human. The greatest measure of success will not be where he or she goes to college, but rather what he or she does with the time spent there.
If your teen needs some help finding his or her direction, consider CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. Here, he or she will be paired with a personal admissions specialist from a top a college who can provide step-by-step guidance through the entire application process.
For more information about helping your teen through the college application process, see these CollegeVine posts:
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