College applications … there is a lot to juggle, there is a lot of stress, and there is a lot of emotion. And while parents should not be applying to college for their teenagers, there are important ways that they can (and should) help. This is especially true for seniors at big public schools, where access to the college counselor may be limited (or non-existent). Students at private schools tend to get a lot more college application advice throughout the college process. Here are our top 5 ideas for how parents can give college application help.
College Parents’ Guide: College Application Advice For Parents
1. Help Choosing A College
Building a list of colleges to apply to is an important task and one in which parents should take an active part. There are many (many) colleges to pick from and teenagers can get overwhelmed. Plus, at the end of the day, you’ll want to be sure your teenager is applying to a college that you’d be willing for her to attend.
Start the process by talking with your teenager. Together, come up with the criteria for colleges on the list. What can you afford? (Be sure to run the net price calculator for every school you’re considering.) What region of the country? (Remember, further away means higher travel costs.) Where can your teenager reasonably expect to get in? While it’s perfectly fine for teenagers to include a few “dream schools” on the list, parents will want to make sure that they also include a couple of realistic options. (Include at least one school that is both an academic and financial safety.)
2. Provide Financial Guidance
As long as the parents are paying for college, only you know what you can afford to pay toward your teenager’s tuition. Be up front with your teenager about this number (even if it’s zero), and stress the importance of not taking on too much debt for college. Parents must provide a guiding financial hand for teenagers when it come to college costs; too many young people are shouldering too much debt for college. Don’t let your teenager join their ranks.
Parents should also probably not expect the average teenager to fill out the FAFSA or other financial aid forms. Instead, sit with your teenager and fill out the forms together. Thanks to changes to the FAFSA, it takes about 15 minutes.
3. Check In Regularly
Teenagers are busy, especially during senior year of high school. While your teenager should be in charge of applying to college—and making deadlines—parents can provide support by talking with teenagers about deadlines and other to-dos on a regular basis.
A great idea: hold a regular, weekly meeting during admissions season to review what needs to get done that week (and, yes, it’s okay to nag your teenager to get those tasks done).
4. Add Polish
It’s not appropriate for parents to fill out their teenager’s application, and it’s especially not appropriate for parents to write the essay. But parents can certainly help their teenagers put their best foot forward by brainstorming ideas for essays, reviewing drafts, and proofreading the final application (as well as helping them prepare for interviews). So, go ahead and grab your red pen to help make sure your teenager dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s.
5. Play it Cool
You’re nervous. Your teenager is really nervous. But parents can help by playing it cool during the college process. Try not to make your anxiety about your teenager’s college applications the topic of every conversation this fall (with your teenager and especially with friends and family). It only creates stress. In fact, experts recommend parents limit the college talk to a few times a week and even then keep it focused on the nuts and bolts.
The bottom line: you can help your teenager do a good job on his applications—and get them submitted on time—by being a practical, calm presence during the application process. Remember that no matter what happens, it will work out. Your teenager can be happy and successful at many different colleges. If you believe it, they will too.