The Helicopter Parent: College Applications and the Parents’ Role

Admissions Tips Community 5 min read
Helicopter parent holds takes picture with son at college graduation
Photographer: Ronny Sison | Source: UnsplashPhotographer: Ronny Sison | Source: Unsplash

In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert Tamara shares tips for families to be involved in their child’s college application process without being a helicopter parent. For more guidance on the parent’s role and the college application process in general, sign up to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.


The Temptation to be a Helicopter Parent

College application season is a nerve-wracking time for students and parents alike. While your child is locked in their bedroom writing essays and filling out the Common App, you may be wondering how you can help.

It may be tempting to watch over your student’s every move to ensure a successful outcome. However, micromanaging your child’s every move can easily morph into a case of unhelpful helicopter parenting. This guide will help you find the balance between supporting your student and letting them forge their own path.

Setting Expectations

Before your student embarks on the college application process, have a conversation about each of your expectations. Ask your child how they feel about the process and what aspects of application season most excite or worry them. Above all, let them tell you how they want you to support them during this period.

For example, you might offer to proofread your child’s essays, accompany them on college tours, fill out financial aid forms, or help them prepare for interviews. Depending on how self-sufficient or experienced with college admissions your child is, they may want to be left to their own devices.

As a parent, you will naturally feel curious about your student’s progress. However, let them to come to you when they need support.

The Helicopter Parent and College Selection

As a parent, you may have clear ideas about where your child should attend college and what they should study. If you went to college in the United States, for example, you may want your child to apply to your alma mater. If you grew up abroad, you may believe that the hefty price tags of most private universities can only be justified for an Ivy League education. Alternately, you may want your child to attend an in-state public college to save money. Finally, you may wish for your child to attend college within driving distance from home to allow you to visit. A common pitfall of helicopter parenting is to insist on your child applying to every college you deem appropriate without seeking their opinion on those schools.

College List

It can be a good idea (and a fun exercise) for you and your student to put together separate college lists and compare the two. You may find that your lists are nearly identical — that’s a great sign! If, however, you list only a few schools in common (or none at all), do not worry. You can likely find some common ground.

Perhaps you and your child agree on school and classroom sizes. Or maybe you agree on the location of the schools where your child might want to attend. It’s important to hear each other out and to present clear explanations for college choices on your list.

Finances

As a parent, you’ll likely have more expertise and influence in college finances than your child does. You will have a much clearer understanding of your family’s financial situation and the amount you can contribute toward tuition and other expenses.

It is important to be upfront about this with your child. When your child starts to build their college list, communicate clearly what your family can and cannot afford. Of course, if your student chooses to apply to more expensive schools, they may be able to finance it through federal student loans or scholarships. The key is to manage your child’s expectations and remain realistic during the application process.

The Helicopter Parent and College Essays

College essays are the most time-consuming and challenging part of the application process. Checking out from essay writing completely may seem like an easy way to avoid helicopter parenting. However, here are two major areas of college essays where your student may greatly benefit from your support.

Brainstorming

As they generate ideas for their essays, students reflect on their values, character traits, moments of personal growth, and challenges they’ve overcome. This is often the first time that a high schooler undertakes this level of self-reflection and analysis.

Your student may want to bounce ideas off of you, especially since you have watched them grow and learn for their entire life. However, make sure not to project a false narrative onto your student to paint them in a more “favorable” light for college admissions. Authenticity is crucial when it comes to college essays. It would be a disservice to your student to encourage them to embellish the truth, or worse, deliberately deceive the reader.

Editing

Ideas form the foundation of college essays, but grammar and style play a major role in how Admissions Officers rank applications. After all, no matter how compelling the story, misspellings, incorrect word usage, or an inappropriate tone can make a student appear careless or inattentive to detail. A second (or third) pair of eyes can minimize these tiny errors that might add up to an unfavorable impression.

Of course, not all parents can assist their children with essay editing. If English is not your first language or if your line of work has little to do with writing, dealing with essay drafts can be stressful. In these cases, you might encourage your child to solicit feedback from family friends, relatives, or teachers.

The Helicopter Parent and Decision Day

All students and parents look forward to receiving admissions results. If all goes well, your child will face the exciting prospect of choosing a university from multiple options.

Decision day is a time when many parents—even those who took a hands-off approach to applications—feel a strong urge to weigh in. Factors such as distance from home, party culture, dorm size, dining options, and others suddenly take on a very real dimension. After all, this is where your child will conceivably spend the next four years of their life.

Reject the urge to helicopter parent or micromanage during campus visits and browsing online for dorm selection—picking a college is a decision your student needs to make on their own. For some, the choice will be easy: a generous scholarship or the availability of their dream major will attract your child to one particular option. For others, however, the decision may come down to a gut feeling, a welcoming reception on accepted students’ day, or even a devotion to a collegiate sports team. While there is no single right choice, it is crucial that your child’s final decision feels right to them.


This guide was written by Tamara, Georgetown University ‘19. If you want to get help with your college applications from Tamara or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.

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