Parenting Your Child Through The College Admissions Process

by Dr. Dean Skarlis on September 12, 2012

We’ve worked with thousands of students and parents to help them navigate the often stressful college admissions process, and over the years, I realized that my job not only involves coaching students, but much of it has evolved to coach parents on this very different journey.  Below, I’ve outlined the top 5 things you can do to effectively parent your child during this challenging time.

1.  Realize It’s Not About You:  No matter how much your children may be like you, they need to make their own observations and decisions.  You are NOT applying to college.  They are.  This is not your chance to go back and “get into” Harvard.  Distancing yourself from the emotions of the process allows you to support your child, rather than add to their stress.   This is not a high school playoff game or a state final soccer match.  It is a rite of passage during which your child will begin to establish their independence,   You need to be a stabilizing “grounding cord” for your child.

2.  Understand your grief – not theirs.  You may not consciously realize it, but you may be sad that your child will soon be leaving home…for good.  This could cause you to feel depressed or angry.  Some parents lash out at their student or spouse.  Think about it.  Feel it, talk to a counselor or member of the clergy.  Then, get over it.  Instead of feeling sad, get ready to turn your child’s bedroom into a Jacuzzi room!

3.  Understand your affordability EARLY in the process.   Will you qualify for financial aid?  If so, will the college meet all or only some of your need?  Will your child qualify for merit scholarships?  And at which schools?  We help our families plan for these questions ever day.  Once you have a rough number in your head, it’s incumbent upon you to figure out how you’ll come up with the money.  If you cannot, then talk to your child about other options.  The number 1 reason students drop out of college is because they cannot afford it.  That’s why we talk about “fit” being academic, social and financial…This is YOUR job and ONLY your job.

4.  Stay in the car, but don’t drive.  This may be your toughest challenge.  You need to be involved in every step of the process, except taking the SAT, doing your child’s applications, and writing the essay, but your child needs to be the driver.  This can get tricky, so be careful.  Consider hiring an experienced educational consultant.  When they tell your child to write her essay, she’s more likely to do it than if you do.  You will be spending lots of money, so you would do a disservice if you weren’t involved, but your child, not you, needs to own the process.

5.  Remember that this is a process, not a decision.  If you engage in a well informed, well researched, logical and systematic college search, the decision will follow the process.  In fact, by April of the senior year, the decision will be easy.  Until then, there will be a lot of uncertainty and that’s ok.  Let the process unfold on its own, and don’t pressure your child for a decision.  The trips to visit colleges can be a lot of fun.  They may be the last time you spend quality time with your child until they become an adult.  Use this time to talk to your student about life, fun stuff, anything at all.  Cherish these times, and try to have fun, but don’t expect them to decide where they’re going as soon as you get in the car after a campus tour…They will likely not know until the Spring of their Senior year.

In the end, this is your child’s process, not yours, but some kids may not be ready to fully engage in it, so tread carefully, and assess where you and your child are at each step…Good luck!

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