by Andrea Rifkin, Choices College/Career Counseling, Santa Barbara, California
Every year, parents ask me: “How can I help my teen with college applications?”
Every year, my answer is the same: “Stand back and let your teen take responsibility.”
As parents, it’s only natural to want to jump in and help our children, but when it comes to college applications, it is decidedly not a parent’s job to complete applications; it is the teen’s job.
In reality, the college admissions process is the most important test of your child’s college readiness, regardless of whether or not your teen has an intellect equal to Albert Einstein. If a student habitually misses deadlines, can’t string together a few coherent sentences for an application essay, or is too forgetful to remember to ask a teacher to write a recommendation, that may be a sign that the student is not yet ready for prime time college.
That may sound somewhat harsh, but it comes from years of experience watching teens try to navigate the college admissions maze while their parents push, prod, nag and meddle from the sidelines. In addition to denying students an important developmental milestone, parental interference also runs the risk of damaging the parent-child relationship by sending the message that you don’t think your child is capable.
That said, parents can – and should – play a support role as their child applies to college. Here are some things that parents can do to support their child:
Help your child organize. In the spring of junior year, suggest to your child that you work together to develop a “To Do” list of the tasks they’ll need to complete for college applications. Review the list together and agree, in advance, how you can help support the process. (Hint: Do not offer to fill out applications, and do not write any essays!). Provide the materials your teen is likely to need for college applications, such as envelopes and stamps, a calendar to track deadlines, and a place to keep application materials organized.
Arrange college visits. If your family budget allows, offer to take your teen to visit colleges, and make travel arrangements such as hotel and air reservations. However, your teen should have final say about which colleges you will and will not visit, and he or she should also be expected to have done some preliminary research on the colleges you’ll visit before the trip. To prevent college visit burnout, try to never tour more than two schools per day, and save going to the formal admissions information sessions only for those schools at the top of your teen’s list.
Provide the numbers. Your teen will need his or her Social Security Number and a credit card to register for standardized tests and pay for application fees, test score reports, and transcripts. I recommend furnishing both the Social Security Number and credit card information to your teen, as both are needed frequently during the application process. This is a great opportunity to discuss identity theft and responsible credit card use with your teen, both issues he or she needs to be familiar with before heading off to college. If your family will be applying for financial aid, gather all of your family financial data necessary in a timely manner so that you and your child are ready to complete financial aid applications well before deadlines. Parents should make a concerted effort to file their income taxes as early as possible in the year the student will start college so that you have accurate numbers for financial aid applications.
Mum’s the word. Restrain yourself from offering free advice to your teen on any college matters. Keep dinnertime your family time without ever mentioning the “C” (for college) word. No threats or sarcastic comments allowed. Try not to talk to other parents, family or friends about college when you’re within earshot of your teen – you will be astounded how this can set a teen off into a tirade.
Finally, remind your child that you love and care about them, but you don’t want to get in the way of their college planning. This gives them the freedom to explore options and make choices on their own. After all, you want to raise a child who is independent and ready for college success; this is really the first step towards letting go as your child moves into adulthood.
About the Author: Andrea Rifkin, M.B.A., M.A., is owner of Choices College/Career Counseling, an educational consulting firm in Santa Barbara, California. She has also worked as college-bound counselor at a large public high and has been a UCLA admissions reader since 2000.
© Andrea Rifkin. Used by the Higher Education Consultants Association with the permission of the author. May not be copied or distributed without the permission of the author.
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