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Mission Possible: Keeping Your Cool When Your Child is Applying to College

The first college application deadlines are just around the corner. The journey through the college application process can be both exciting and challenging, not just for high school seniors but also for parents. As your child embarks on this important transition, your role as a parent is crucial. However, understanding the dos and don'ts can significantly affect how smoothly this journey unfolds.

It can be tempting to insert yourself prominently in your student's process; however, Katie Garrett, founder of Garrett Educational Consulting, advises that in the long run, you are doing a disservice to your student if you do this. "Instead of giving kids the solution, parents need to give them the tools to create and implement their own solution," Katie says. Of course, that's not always easy. Here are some of Katie's top dos and don'ts for parents when it comes to the college application process.

College Application Dos

  • DO provide your student with tools to help them stay organized. It might be a paper calendar, a wallboard calendar, a spreadsheet, a Google calendar, etc. Suggest that your student come up with a tool to help keep themselves on track

  • 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; the essays are your student's chance to show the colleges their true selves. Be cautious about how many people provide input on a student's essay - too many cooks in the kitchen can cause an essay to lose the student's voice, and it can undermine a student's confidence in their abilities.

  • DO help your student with a financial plan. If there is a budget, merit, or financial aid that is needed to be able to make schools realistic for your child, make sure that is part of the planning process. If your student will be filling out the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile, be available to help. These documents require information (including parent tax information) that your student won't necessarily know how to complete. Make sure to set aside time to help your student with this process.

  • DO set aside a specific block of time to talk about the college application process, like 30 minutes every Sunday evening. Bombarding your kids with questions about their applications every night at dinner is the quickest way to make them feel overwhelmed and potentially shut down. 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.

  • Do act as a sounding board. You do want to follow the advice in the previous step, but when/if your child does approach you to talk through ideas about their applications, be available to listen. Don't provide solutions; just listen and ask guiding questions to help them reach their own conclusions.

College Application Don'ts

  • DON'T write their essay for them. "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.

  • 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.

  • 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 Krisko, the business manager of Garrett Educational Consulting, says.

  • DON'T pressure or dictate. Avoid imposing your own aspirations on your child. Pressuring them to attend a certain school or pursue a specific major can lead to major stress and potential resentment.

  • DON'T compare your child with others. Whether it is test scores, achievements, or college choices. Each student's journey is their own, and there are many reasons a student may or may not choose to apply to or attend a certain school.

  • DON'T have sky-high expectations. College admissions is a competitive process, and it is very different from when we, parents, went through the process. Every year, students who are fully qualified on paper for admission don't get into schools. "A university is building a well-rounded freshman class," says Katie. "This year, they may need a tuba player or a student from Vermont." You never know 100% what went into a college decision. Make sure to keep your child's eye on the goal - having a college list of schools that they feel like they would be well suited to attend and celebrate the schools that they are admitted to.

  • DON'T refer to any school as "good" or "bad." College rankings aren't the end all be all, so keep an open mind. "Any school is a good school if it is a good fit for a student," says Katie.

Remember, this is an exciting time for your student looking forward to the next chapter in their lives. The best thing you can do ultimately is to be available for your student when they come to you to talk, vent, or brain dump. If they come to you with a problem, resist the urge to "fix it" and instead use guiding questions to help them discover their own solutions to their problems. And most importantly, enjoy your student during their senior year!


Garrett Educational Consulting provides comprehensive counseling for college and boarding school admissions as well as academic advisement. Click HERE to learn about our services.

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