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College Prep for Parents: What NOT to do

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

With many schools' early decision deadlines approaching, lots of families are up to their eyeballs in college prep materials. It can be tempting for parents to become too involved in the process. But it's actually doing your child a disservice in the long run.

"Instead of giving kids the solution, parents need to give them the tools to create and implement their own solution," says Katie Garrett, founder of Garrett Educational Consulting. Of course, that's not always easy.

"Parenting is hard already, and the college application process is probably one of the most stress-inducing things parents have gone through this far," says Martha Anne Krisko, the business manager of Garrett Educational Consulting. "And it’s only been compounded by the pandemic where the college process isn’t the same as it used to be."

However, there are several ways parents can reduce the stress for their students (and in turn, reduce the stress on themselves).

Here are a few Dos and Don'ts for parents:

College Applications

DON'T bombard your kids with questions about their applications every night at dinner. This is the quickest way to make them feel overwhelmed and potentially shut down. Instead,

DO set aside a specific block of time to talk about the college application process, like 30 minutes every Sunday evening. Try to consolidate your questions or write them down during the week to ask during your chat time. Other than that, college app talk should be off the table.

DON'T read their essay. And if you do, resist the temptation to make edits or re-writes yourself. "College admissions officers know the difference between a high school senior and a 50-year-old writing an essay," Katie says. One big tell: a double space after the periods. But if you do choose to read it,

DO remember it's a different type of writing than their English teacher would want. Katie says these essays are completely different from the types of papers they've been writing for school, so having their English teacher read over the essay probably won't be much help. The essays are your student's chance to show the colleges their true selves.

DON'T be afraid to let your child experience natural consequences. For example, if they wait until the last minute to turn something in, don't drop everything to help them out. "That stress will help them learn a lesson that hopefully, they will carry with them into the future," Martha Anne says.

DON'T check Power School or similar apps several times a day. Instead, let your child come to you with information about their acceptance status, grades, etc. "You need to allow your child to take ownership of this process with your guidance and support," Katie says.

College/Life Preparation

Once your kid gets into college and gets on campus, they'll need lots of new life skills you can start instilling right now. From doing their own laundry to waking up in the morning without mom's help, they'll likely be in a whole new world. Here are some ways to start the process off before the car is even packed.

DON'T Manage their schedule for them. "Encourage them to keep their own calendar, and get up each morning on their own," Martha Anne says.

DO ask them to call and make their own doctor, dentist and other similar appointments. It's a skill that will serve them well in college when they need to do it themselves.

DO teach them to do their own laundry. And explain that the washers and dryers at school might be different than the ones at home.

DON'T be afraid to ask for their help with household chores they'll need to do in college, like cleaning and cooking.

DO remember this is their last year at home. "They might be nervous about leaving, and you want their last year to be enjoyable, not full of conflict," Martha Anne says.

DO remember that if you're stressed, your child is probably stressed also. "They may feel insecure or nervous, so try to give them some grace when they snap at you," Katie says. "And try not to take it personally when they shut down."

The main point is to remember preparing for college is ultimately your child's responsibility, not yours.

"It's their process, so it can't be more important to you than it is to them," Martha Anne says.

Need help navigating the waters of college prep? Contact Garrett Educational Consulting at 980-677-0311 or email

(A version of this post also appears at

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