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Balancing Support and Independence: Parental Tips for College Applications

Parents often have big dreams and aspirations for their children as they get ready to go to college. You’ve seen them grow from being a baby, and this often feels like the moment when they venture out as an adult. While parents may have their own vision for their children’s lives, it is important to strike a delicate balance between being involved and allowing your child to independently steer their own course. We have spoken to hundreds of parents through the years and put together practical tips for you to effectively support their child during the college application process.

Ways Parents of College Applicants Can Help

Start Early and Don’t Procrastinate

Encourage your child to begin the college application process early. Help create a timeline for important deadlines like test dates, application submissions, and financial aid deadlines. An early start can reduce stress and improve preparation.

Research College Options Together

You can be supportive while researching colleges and universities. Discuss factors like academic programs, campus culture, location, and size. Your teen should also know their standardized test scores already and have a good idea of where they’re likely to be accepted. This research can be a bonding experience and a learning opportunity for both you and your child.

Financial Planning and Scholarships

Discuss the financial aspects of attending college. This is a good moment to have a conversation about to what extent you’re able to support them through college. Explore together the options for scholarships, grants, and financial aid. Understanding the cost of college and how to manage it is crucial.

Visit College Campuses

Visiting college campuses together can be a great learning experience. As you walk through campus together, you can talk and help your teen think out loud. This can give a clearer picture of the college environment and help in making an informed decision. This is also a great opportunity for your child to ask questions about the university. However, respect your child’s impressions and opinions about each campus.

Provide Emotional Support

College applications are incredibly stressful. The application process can be exhausting, and hearing back from the colleges can get very emotional. Be there to listen and encourage, especially during moments of uncertainty or disappointment. Celebrate their accomplishments and guide them through setbacks.

Career and Major Guidance

Engage in discussions about potential majors and career paths. Encourage your child to explore their interests and how these could translate into a college major or career. If your child shows interest in a certain career path and you know someone who works in that career, perhaps you can coordinate for them to talk and ask questions. This also gives your child a good answers for when applications ask why they’re interested in studying a specific major.

Encourage Independence

While it’s tempting to take over, it’s vital to let your child lead the process. Offer guidance and support, but allow them to make the final decisions. This independence is a crucial part of their growth and development.

What to Avoid as a Parent of an Applicant

Avoid Over-Managing

Resist the urge to take control of the entire college application process. Over-managing can prevent your child from developing crucial decision-making and organizational skills. Encourage them to take the lead in managing their applications and timelines.

Don’t Ignore The College Application Stress

It’s vital not to dismiss or minimize your child’s stress and anxiety during this time. Statements that downplay their feelings can make them feel misunderstood. Acknowledge their stress and offer a supportive and understanding ear.

Refrain from Comparisons

Avoid comparing your child to siblings, friends, or others who are going through or have gone through the college application process. Such comparisons can create unnecessary pressure and affect their self-esteem. College rejections can be extra painful when compared to someone who was accepted.

Don’t Impose Your Own Goals

Be cautious about projecting your own college dreams and ambitions onto your child. Their future should be shaped by their interests and aspirations, not by the fulfillment of your own unmet goals or expectations.

Avoid Overemphasis on Prestige

Don’t put too much pressure on getting accepted into prestigious or highly-ranked colleges. The priority should be finding a college that fits well with your child’s interests, goals, and personality, rather than the institution’s name or status.

Resist the Urge to Write or Rewrite Essays

It is great to proofread your child’s college application essays, but you must avoid completely rewriting them. Colleges want to see your child’s authentic self, and rewriting can take away from this authenticity.

Finding the balance of parental involvement during college applications

The college application process can be a particularly stressful and challenging time for teenagers. They are not only making decisions that will shape their future but also grappling with the pressures of academic performance and peer expectations. As a parent, your emotional support during this period can be invaluable. It’s important to be a steady source of encouragement and understanding, providing a safe space for them to express their fears and frustrations. Remember, while guiding them through this journey, it’s crucial to allow them the space to make their own decisions. This autonomy is key to their development and helps them build confidence and resilience. Your role is to support and empower your child, helping them navigate the path to college while respecting their independence and choices.