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How to Prepare for College: 5 Things Parents Shouldn’t Do When Applying

By Diana Simeon

Over the years, Your Teen staffers have heard a lot from college counselors and admissions officers about how to prepare for college. But we’ve also heard a lot about the mistakes parents routinely make in the application process. So, we share the top 5 with you.

University Application Advice: What To Avoid

1. Honey, I think [INSERT NAME OF REACH SCHOOL] is the perfect school for you.

Try not to get your teenager’s hopes up over schools that are a REACH for your teenager. A reach school is a school that your teenager probably won’t get into. That’s also the case for ANY student applying to ANY elite college —you know that handful of brand-name institutions, which routinely turn away upwards of 95 percent of applicants each and every year (including many who are superbly qualified to attend those schools). These schools are reach schools for even the most accomplished students.

If your teenager is applying to a reach school—even if it’s your alma mater—encourage your son or daughter to put his or her best foot forward, but stay grounded about the chances of landing there next fall (and maybe pass on the sweatshirt for now).

2. We’ll figure out how to pay for it after you get in.

Every college counselor we spoke to had a tale about a student who busted his you know what to get into a particular school, only to be told by his parents they couldn’t afford it. How heart breaking … and avoidable.

Today, there are many ways to understand what a school will cost you before your teenager applies. You can use CollegeScorecard.com to get the average costs for a school or you can get an estimate of what you will be expected to pay by using the net price calculator on a specific college’s website (google the college’s name and net price calculator).

If the cost you see (your expected family contribution) is well beyond your means, then talk realistically with your teenager about whether it’s worth taking out the loans he or she will need to attend that school. If you don’t believe the number, call the college’s financial aid office and walk through it with a counselor. They are more than happy to answer your questions.

Your teenager can still go ahead and apply—who knows, she may be wowed by an unexpectedly generous offer—but stay grounded and talk to your teenager about what you can afford. Those unexpectedly generous offers are few and far between.

3. The graduation gift of too much debt.

College is a quick four years of your student’s life. Don’t let it end with a gift of too much debt.

Experts stress that teenagers should take on no more debt than they expect to earn in their first year of working in their field. You can use the website payscale.com to find entry-level salaries for the field your teenager is interested in. If you’re worried your teenager may switch majors—most students do—or if your teenager doesn’t know what she wants to major in, then look for general salaries for liberal arts students (i.e. keep debt low).

Understand that your teenager will have to begin paying back student loans within six months of graduation and when a student has assumed too much debt, it can seriously hamper his ability to live as an independent adult. Think of it like having to pay a mortgage in addition to all your other living expenses, including rent.

Note that parents should also be wary of taking on too much debt. If you plan to borrow to help pay for college, make sure you can both repay the debt and continue to save for retirement, say experts.

4. Hello admissions office, I’m calling to . . .

In the eyes of the admissions office, your teenager is the applicant, not you. Any communication with the admissions office should come from your teenager and only your teenager. Understand that when a parent calls or emails the admissions office, it’s not impressive. (In fact, it may actually work against the applicant).

An EXCEPTION to this rule concerns calls to a college’s Office of Financial Aid. It’s more than acceptable for a parent or guardian to contact staffers in that office (different than Admissions) to discuss tuition costs, including before a student has been admitted.

5. Honey, let me help you with that essay.

Counselors are adamant on this. If you write your teenager’s essay, the admissions staff will be able to tell and will not be impressed. Again, your teenager is the applicant. So help her put her best foot forward. Go ahead and check punctuation and grammar. Nag and badger her to get it done. But do not write the essay or pick the topic or anything else that makes the application not entirely her own.

Good luck!

Diana Simeon

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.