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Parents of Rising Seniors: 6 Important Reminders
By the time you’re the parent of a rising high school senior, you’ve spent several years preparing for the college application process. Now, it’s showtime—time for your student to really start working on the meat of college applications, and eventually, to make final decisions about where they’ll spend the next four years. This high-stakes process is becoming real.
Of course, most of the work of the admissions process will fall upon the student; colleges are interested in seeing what they’ve accomplished and what they’ll bring to campus, so the application is all about them. However, as a parent, your role in the process is still important. You can provide invaluable practical assistance and emotional support to help your student navigate this process successfully.
On the CollegeVine blog, you’ll find many posts to guide you through your child’s senior year, but before you get started, there are a few general reminders we’d like to convey. Here’s what you need to keep in mind as you and your student head into this often stressful, but also tremendously exciting, college admissions season.
Staying Organized is Key
Between application due dates, supplemental materials, test scores, references, and all the other parts of the application, there are a lot of deadlines for an applicant to keep track of during the college application process. Multiply these dates by a full list of colleges, many of which will have different deadlines, and no one could be expected to remember it all offhand.
That’s why both you and your student need to find a way to stay organized throughout the process. Getting the right items to the right places at the right times is absolutely essential, and colleges tend to take their application deadlines quite seriously. A mistake could take your student out of the running for a college that would have otherwise been a good fit.
While it’s ultimately up to your student to turn things in on time, it’s always helpful for them to have some active help in planning a strategy and sticking to it, and your reminders might make a big difference. Staying organized also means making sure you and your student communicate; you can’t help them stay on track for admissions deadlines if you don’t know what those deadlines are. Make sure to actually talk to your student regularly about what’s going on and what still needs to be done.
What’s most important is finding a way of staying organized that works for your student as well as for you. There’s no one best way to do it. Look for methods that provide support where you need it, that are clear and understandable, and most of all, that you and your student will be able and motivated to keep up over time.
Keep Expectations Realistic
The college admissions process is more competitive than ever, and definitely more so than it was when you were a teenager. Some top colleges now have acceptance rates under 5%, meaning fewer than one in twenty applicants is accepted. Applicant pools are large and accomplished, space is limited, and inevitably, even some highly qualified students are going to be turned down.
It’s okay for your student to apply for a dream school where acceptance is unlikely, and it’s okay for you to have big dreams for your student. Just don’t make the mistake of overestimating the chance that a long shot will work out. Pinning your hopes and plans on a very unlikely outcome can lead to frustration and disappointment for both you and your student, and when it comes to elite college admissions, there are no guarantees.
When your student is researching colleges, they should look for statistics about an average successful applicant’s performance, including grades, test scores, courses taken, and extracurricular achievements. If your student’s stats are below this level, the unfortunate fact is that they’re not likely to be admitted. This isn’t a personal slight against the student—it’s just a numbers game being played out in a very competitive arena.
As a parent, you can help your student come to terms with their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and reassure them that not getting into a dream school isn’t the end of the world. You can also lead by example by setting reasonable standards, avoiding getting hung up on famous names, and appreciating your student for their own unique accomplishments. There are plenty of great colleges out there that might actually be a much better fit for your student and really allow them to flourish.
Recognize the Importance of Fit
There are thousands of colleges in the US, and many of them provide excellent educational experiences. This is part of why the college application process is so complex and challenging; making a choice means sifting through an overwhelming number of schools, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s not as simple as finding a good college and sticking to it; you and your student should also be looking for a college that’s a good fit for the student personally.
Top colleges with prestigious names certainly have their benefits. They often have large budgets, allowing them to spend more on financial aid and resources for students. They’re often centers of cutting-edge research and scholarship performed by exciting faculty members at the top of their fields. When it comes to life after college, having a big-name school on one’s resume certainly doesn’t hurt, and being connected to a thriving college network is a valuable asset.
However, just because a college is a great school in many visible ways doesn’t mean it’s a great school for your student. As we’ve discussed in our post What Does It Mean to “Fit” With a College?, every school has its own character, environment, and culture, with the emphasis placed on different academic and non-academic factors. These features may not be tangible or immediately obvious, but they do make a difference to the experience of attending that school.
Even if a school has stellar academic and career resources, the environment it provides may not be right for your student, and this can have a considerable impact upon your student’s life, both academically and personally. A school that’s a good fit, on the other hand, will make your student feel engaged and supported, and give them the best possible opportunity to reach their full potential—perhaps far more so than a big-name school that’s a less good fit.
Talk About Money Early and Often
Many parents are reluctant to discuss family finances with their children. This is understandable, but the reality is that money is usually a major limiting factor affecting an applicant’s college choices. Colleges generally expect that a typical student’s parents will cover most of the cost, and most parents don’t have unlimited resources with which to do so, so your student’s choices will inevitably be shaped by what you as a family can afford.
College financing options exist, of course, but they have their own requirements and limits. Need-based financial aid requires an application and is determined based on both parents’ income and resources, not just the student’s own savings. Scholarships are often competitive and rarely guaranteed. Student and parent loans can help, but they have to be paid back with interest, and that debt can be substantial. Any of these options requires research and work.
What can you contribute from your income and assets, and what are you willing to contribute? What financial obligations do you have that could limit your ability to contribute? Would you be willing to sell off property? Take out a parent loan? Regardless of the answer, the earlier your student knows the lay of the land, the earlier they can use this information to inform their college choices and their scholarship applications.
We would all like it if all students could choose their colleges without worrying about how to pay for them, but that’s not how it works, and your student can’t make responsible plans without knowing your family’s limits. If you haven’t already thought about how you’re going to address college costs, you need to do so right away, and you need to communicate this information to your student.
You’re a Parent, Not Just an Admissions Coach
Hopefully, your student has many adults around who are able to help them with the college application process, including teachers, guidance counselors, relatives, coaches, and other advisors. However, as a parent, your role in this process is a special one. More than anyone else, you can provide the emotional and personal support that your student needs if they want to be healthy and well-adjusted as well as academically successful.
A major part of this role lies in helping your student manage application-season stress, which most students struggle with at one point or another. As someone who has an emotional connection to your student and is part of their daily life, you can help make sure that your student gets enough sleep, eats well, takes breaks, maintains good relationships with friends and peers, and keeps up other healthy habits.
Sometimes, maintaining a healthy balance may mean that your student has to quit or cut back on a particular activity or academic endeavor. Seeking out challenges shows great qualities, but there is such a thing as taking on too much. You can help your student to realize that there’s no shame in admitting their own limitations, and that in fact, choosing to narrow their focus often shows great maturity and time-management skill.
Admittedly, it’s not always easy to communicate and get along with a teenager. Despite this, it’s well worth it to try your best to ensure that your student is getting what they need personally so that they can manage the college admissions process (and later the transition to college) in a healthy way. They may not thank you now, but this support makes a difference. Most of all, as a parent, you’re there to love them, encourage them, and support them through this stressful time.
In the End, It’s All Up to Your Student
Most parents feel quite invested in their students’ college choices. You likely have some opinions about where your child should go to school, what they should study, and what they need to do right now to prepare for application season. This is totally normal, and your advice can be very helpful, but you need to remember that the final decision belongs to the student, not to you.
It’s difficult to watch your child make a decision you disagree with—that is undeniable. However, it’s also part of helping your child grow into the independent adult you’ve always wanted them to be. Your student has to make this decision and deal with whatever positive or negative consequences arise from it. You can and should provide guidance and advice, but in the end, your student has to do the work, earn the acceptance, and make the choice about which path they want to follow for the next few years.
Remember, the choice your child makes now is important, but it’s not final. Plenty of people change majors, transfer to new colleges, or totally change careers later in life, and neither you nor your student can entirely predict what will happen next. What’s most important is that whatever path your child takes, you continue to be a supportive parent and provide your best possible advice—as well as a strong dose of love and care—as they figure it out.
For More Information
With these reminders in mind, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of the college admissions process. Check out these posts from the CollegeVine blog to learn more about the specific details of what you’ll encounter this application season.
Looking for more of CollegeVine’s content directed specifically at parents? Visit the Tips for Parents section of our website to find it all in one place.
If you’re seeking professional assistance for your student as they manage their college applications, CollegeVine is here to help. Our experienced consultants show students how to present themselves in the best possible light on college applications, and are here to answer any questions they might have about navigating this process. For more information, visit our College Application Guidance Program on our website.