After years of working with college applicants, Accepted consultants have come up with some tips to help you make planning for college an experience that you both not only survive, but that may even bring you closer.
Tips for Applicants
- Understand your Parents’ Emotions
Remember that your parents want what’s best for you. As hard as your senior year is for you, with the pressure of college apps heaped on top of completing your classes with a high GPA, it’s also a hard time for your parents. Their child is leaving the nest and they already miss you, but they also can’t wait for you to start on this amazing journey.
- Take Responsibility
Don’t just complain that your parents have taken over the app process — take it back from them. Get information from your college counseling office, online virtual college tours, guidebooks, and websites. Respectfully communicate your views about the kind of campus that suits you best (size, climate, geographic location, public or private, urban or rural), and look at stats to see where you could realistically be accepted. Include your parents in the search, but take the initiative. Once you’ve selected the schools you want to apply to, check out their essay questions and determine if you’ll have to write one general personal statement or several essays. More on the essay below.
Tips for Parents
- Prepare for Stormy Weather
Your child is facing a world of changes, and this can turn a mature 18-year-old into a “Terrible 2” — including tantrums! The idea of independence both excites and terrifies them. Use some of the same techniques with your high school senior that worked for your toddler: offer choices and set limits.
- Play a Supporting Role
Though it may appear that you have to take charge of the college application process, it’s really not your responsibility. Being overly involved in the admissions process can undermine your child’s goals and growth. Though it’s tough to let your child take the reins, and watch as they may go in a direction you don’t agree with, it’s the best way in the long run. Allowing your child to lead will reinforce the idea that they are mature adults prepared to leave the nest, and will help them develop resilience and self-confidence.
- Recognize How Things Have Changed
College admissions competition has gotten harder, but there are a lot of schools out there that can give your child a top-notch education. It’s not uncommon for students to apply to more than 10 schools. As application rates rise, many schools are accepting fewer students. Many parents take rejection harder than their children, and you have to be careful about projecting your desires and disappointments if you want to provide the emotional support your child needs.
The essay or personal statement is the first chance adcoms have to see the applicant as something besides stats. To really stand out, you need an essay that shines brightly.
And because of its importance, as well as the subjectivity involved in writing any essay, it can be a point of hot contention and friction.
Here are five tips to help parents assist their child with college application essays while leaving the primary responsibility in the applicant’s hands.
- Make a date with your teen. Use this time to discuss their target colleges’ application essay requirements. Talk about a system to organize writing time and complete the essays, and to handle privacy topics while drafting the essays. Agree to and write down a timeline for developing the essays.
- Don’t nag your teen about finishing first and later essay drafts. Ask for suggestions about how you can help and write them down. Ask if you can add a few ideas to the list for them to think about. These can include getting other sources of help — books, professional college admissions counselors, relatives, or neighbors who edit well or who are easy to talk to, as well as reliable editing services that work with high school students.
- Don’t judge fresh ideas. Often the idea that is the least developed, the hardest to get a handle on, or the one that seems almost silly will turn into the most interesting essay. Invite your child to talk about what interests them in this new idea and how they might develop it in writing the essay.
- Give feedback. If you’re the first reader as the essays take form, be sure to let your child know that you understand what they’re saying by repeating words or phrases that are memorable. Show where the writing engrossed you and where you were looking for more information. Knowing how a reader feels really helps a writer bring more to the piece.
Though the college application process is a long and arduous one, working together and recognizing each other’s needs will go a long way to reducing everyone’s stress level. Look at this as the last project you’ll work on together for a long time, and make it as enjoyable as possible.
Linda Abraham is the founder of Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She has coached applicants to acceptance for over 20 years. The Wall Street Journal, US News, and Poets&Quants are among the media outlets that seek her admissions expertise.