3 Don’ts for Parents during the College Application Process

What's your role during the college admissions season?

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

April 11, 2017

3 Don’ts for Parents during the College Application Process

Applying to college these days is like a group project. Your teen may do a majority of the work, but when it’s all said and done, the whole family has done their fair share. Parents have helped research schools, filed the FAFSA and crunched the numbers to see what is financially realistic. Siblings have tagged along on countless college campus tours and weighed in on their opinion. Grandpa and Grandma may have even contributed somehow.

But there is a thin line between helping your teen with the college application process and taking on the mantle of group leader to do all of the work. With that, here is what NOT to do as a parent while you’re teen is applying to schools.

1. Don’t limit their choices – or put all of their fruit in one basket.

You may have loved your alma mater and faithfully supported it for years, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for your child. Also, the Ivy Leagues aren’t do or die. Don’t make the college application process more stressful by pointing your child in one very narrow direction that you think is best.

Guide them to a variety of choices. Together, you should talk about potential majors as well as what they want to be involved in – look at athletics, extracurriculars and service opportunities. Also, check out schools with unique offerings like Winter or May Term, mandatory study abroad semesters or strong alumni networks. There are literally thousands of colleges to choose from across the country; let them explore all there is to offer.

2. Don’t call the admissions office on their behalf – or write their essay for that matter.

“Hi, I’m calling with a question from my son or daughter” does not look good to an admissions officer. On the back end of things, admission officers refer to your child as a “candidate” or “prospective student” – not a “child” – so they don’t expect them to act like children during the college application process.

With that, your teen needs to be the main point of contact between your household and the admissions office. That means all questions should come from your child, whether by phone or email. Your teen should introduce him or herself at the college fair. And your child should be answering the questions during the college admissions interview. It should be noted here, though, that it is perfectly acceptable for a parent to call and discuss matters with the financial aid office; it’s an entirely different ball game in that arena.

On a similar note, do not compile any component of their college application, especially the essay. Admission officers have read plenty of essays compiled by parents, believe it or not, and it’s always easy to tell who wrote what on the application.

3. Don’t talk about finances after they’ve been accepted.

The worst time to tell your teen that you can’t afford their final college choice is after they’ve been accepted. That’s why you should all be on the same page before they apply; and today, it’s easier than ever to determine exactly how much each school may cost.

Most colleges host a cost of attendance calculator on their admission or financial aid webpage, which allows you to input different factors that will help your teen identify how much they’ll have to pay. There are also a variety of calculators on Fastweb that can project college cost and student borrowing. With these estimates in hand, your family can tour and apply to colleges that are within your Expected Family Contribution – or EFC.

It can be very tempting to get over-involved in the college application process – so consider it practice for their college years to take a step back and let them take the lead.

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