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It probably seems like just yesterday your child took their first steps, said their first word, and started Kindergarten. You blinked and now your “baby” is looking at colleges. It’s natural as a parent to want to do everything you can to help guide your child in this huge decision, but at the end of the day, this is their college search. Here are some tips to help you embrace your role as your child’s biggest fan and resource through this process.


1. Offer your support rather than influence

Navigating the college search, admissions, and financial aid processes comes with an entirely new language. By learning this lingo, your child will be able to come to think of you as a resource and it will help you know the “right” questions to ask. The articles you can find in our applying to college and paying for college sections are good places to start learning the lingo. Another (less fun) way to support your child during this process is to ask the tough questions. For example:

  • How will you pay for XYZ University in the event they don’t offer full financial aid?
  • What if you don’t get into your dream school, what are your other options?
  • Are you sure it’s really the best idea to go to the same school as your boyfriend or girlfriend?

It’s important to hear the answers to these tough questions to understand your child’s perspective before providing your opinion. He or she may not LOVE those questions in the moment, but one day your wisdom will be appreciated.


2. Collaborate with school counselors

Your student’s school counselor can be a huge help for both you and your child. Some school counselors will even host college planning workshops geared specifically towards you as a parent. As much as school counselors would love to be available to help with your child every second of the day, they are spread very thin. The average school counselor is responsible for 455 students and their duties extend far beyond college planning. It’s up to your child to take ownership of the college planning process to be able to best utilize his or her counselor as a resource. 


Trust that you have raised a very competent child and let him or her take the lead. Of course you should get on board with the plan, but make sure to recognize that your child is the coach. This can be super tough, but you want your child to own this decision so there is no resentment later in the unfortunate event things don’t go as planned. When it comes time to apply, be sure your child is the one keeping track of deadlines, filling out applications, contacting admissions counselors, writing essays, etc. The myOptions checklist can help keep track of all of those things. Of course, you can offer to proof those essays, but make sure it is still his/her work. Please don’t be the parent that goes on college tours and uses the phrase “when we go to college…”


4. Ask questions…but not too many

Pick and choose the questions you ask. If it feels like a game of 20 questions every time you talk about college, chances are your child may shut down and avoid the topic with you. To make each of your questions count, make them open-ended such as “can you tell me more about XYZ?” This will be empowering and your child will be more likely to share his/her opinion because he/she is now leading the conversation rather than feeling questioned. It’s also important to time these questions right. You’re not going to be able to have an in-depth conversation about college on a Friday night when your child is running out to the football game.


5. Have your child draft his/her own college planning timeline and list

When you begin discussing the college admissions process with your child, encourage him/her to draft a timeline and college list. The college list should include a mix of likely, target, and reach schools.

  • Likely schools are schools that your child is likely to be admitted to based on his/her application components (ACT/SAT scores, GPA etc.)
  • Target schools are schools that admit students with similar ACT/SAT scores, GPA’s etc.
  • Reach schools are schools that will be a stretch to get into based on your child’s ACT/SAT scores, GPA’s etc.

The timeline should include things like when to take the ACT/SAT, when to aim to complete first drafts of essays, second draft of essays, and when to submit college and scholarship applications etc. If you both agree on these things, have him/her make copies for you so you can be an “accountability buddy.”


6. Be the calm in the college prep storm

Choosing where to go to college may be one of the biggest decisions your child has ever had to make. It’s definitely stressful for you as a parent on many levels, but you want to play it cool because your child will feed off your energy. As a parent, it’s important for you to be the voice of reason during this process to assure him/her that it will all work out how it’s supposed to.


7. Celebrate accomplishments (and give yourself some credit too)

Getting into college is a huge milestone for both of you! Before acceptance letters arrive, ask how your child wants to celebrate. This will lift spirits and give you some ideas on how to celebrate the accomplishment when the long awaited moment arrives.


The college admissions process is admittedly a stressful time for you as a parent, but it’s also super exciting. Enjoy every moment of this process because just like every other milestone in your child’s life it will pass by at the blink of an eye. If you ever have any questions on how to support your child through this process, please feel free email us.