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Protecting Your Family’s Sanity in the College Admissions Process

The college application process can be fraught with anxiety and myth. It is difficult for students and families to decipher and anticipate admissions requirements, let alone probabilities for admission to the college of their choice. Along with preparing our students for academic success, parents must be willing to safeguard their student’s emotional well-being during this process.

In 25 years of higher education, I have seen parental philosophies that have worked to provide a safe and happy transition from high school to college. But conversely, I have also seen failed parental attempts to control their student’s choices. To provide solid advising and support during the college admissions process, parents should adhere to three rules:

● Set realistic expectations.

● Let your child lead the way - honor their perspective and requests.

● Look at the college admissions cycle as a way to celebrate your student’s achievements (academic and otherwise).

I have worked with countless families that have had realistic expectations of where their students may or may not attend college. My favorite parents are those who do not fall for the prestige of an institution but want their child to belong at the college and feel at home on campus, with emphasis placed on capitalizing on opportunities at the college.

It doesn’t matter if you attend an Ivy League college or a state-supported university; the number of students I have seen become highly successful is directly related to how the student seized the opportunities available at their colleges or universities. Did they go on a term abroad? Did they take advantage of interesting internships?

Exciting networking opportunities can happen in the smallest of venues as well as the largest of colleges. Students need to feel empowered and supported enough to tackle these challenges head-on. However, sometimes parental support looks a lot like letting go.

I have observed that too many parents overlook a student’s preferences in the college process in favor of their own opinions of where their students should attend. These instances almost always lead to failure, whether the student drops out of college or transfers to another institution. I encourage parents to lean in and listen to their children.

It is hard not to talk and voice our opinions, but we may find areas for compromise when we truly listen. This is the first adult decision your student is going to make. Obviously, we do not want students to make decisions that will find them in academic peril or an unreasonable amount of debt. Guide them through this decision, but try not to decide for them, as your student needs to feel confident in their ability to make solid decisions on their own.

I always encourage families to look at the college admissions process as an opportunity for growth for the student and to bond as a family. When you get solid assistance in the college admissions process, whether through an independent educational consultant or an attentive school counselor, your family can relax and actually enjoy the college search and application process. Imagine sitting back with your student and being able to soak up the vibe of the campus while on tour instead of feverishly writing notes and having the constant worry that you are missing vital information. I love it when families come back from college tours, and they can tell me about how great the food was or how beautiful the architecture was at that college. It’s even better when they talk to me about the tour guide and/or faculty they met on a visit because I can hear if they relate to those individuals and feel connected.

There are several voices in the college admissions community that want to “flip the script” in terms of the college search process. We want this process to be viewed as an opportunity to grow as students and families, not divide your sacred unions. The pandemic taught us a lot, but mainly it taught us to value and preserve our mental health and relationships.


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