Parents: How Involved Should You Be?

Find and Nurture Interests and Talents

Top colleges take students’ life outside of the classroom into serious consideration. They seek applicants who can make a contribution to campus. They want applicants who are more than just bright–applicants who engage in and lead in their communities.

This has made parents and students (wrongly) feel that they must invent highly creative activities to impress. The key is not creativity, though. It is passion. With passion comes the real commitment that colleges truly seek.

Again, a parent must know a child. There is a very helpful way to nudge a kid to capitalize on innate talent and to encourage and facilitate experimentation in areas that could become passions. There is also a way to chart an unfulfilling path for a student in activities of no interest. Ask yourself, “How can I help my kid locate, pursue and excel in something appealing?” Student passion – or a lack of it – is glaring in an application. Students burned out by unenjoyable activities inevitably show it. When fine distinctions can be made at a top school between passionate vs. non-passionate leaders, the passionate leader always wins admission. Help your child get into that category.

Make Research Fun

To understand admissions criteria and to learn about individual colleges requires tremendous research. Discovering appealing schools early, though, can help students find gratifying, naturally aligning activities that could actually help with admission. For example, a social justice-oriented student finding a similarly oriented school can get especially excited about deeply pursuing such causes before applying. This may be critical, as top colleges take students’ genuine interest and “fit”  into account when making admissions decisions.

Parents can encourage research into the admissions processes and potential schools by framing the research as exploration. This way, it is not a drudging task. Take students to attend a variety of college presentations in your hometown and visit several college campuses to get a feel for schools’ personalities. You can help inspire kids about college through low-pressure investigations. Student enthusiasm will then generate an innate motivation to aim high and excel.

Over time, I have seen shining examples of supportive parenting tailored to students’ natures and abilities, enabling achievement and happiness. I have also seen dictatorial, unrealistic expectations that crushed students’ egos by placing the kids where they could not thrive. It ruined chances for admission to a great school. Find your balance, parents.  Then, with it, the great schools can be in reach for your kids.

Rachel Korn has spent her entire career in admissions, serving as an admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania, Wellesley College and Brandeis University. She currently works as an admissions consultant for college applicants. You can read more about Korn on her website.


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