In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com admissions expert Finn explains the importance of parent involvement in the college application process. For more guidance on the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.
For both students and parents, the college application process can be stressful—not knowing what the next four years will look like can be challenging and frightening. It’s hard to know how much involvement a parent should have in their child’s college journey.
As you begin this process, it’s important that students and parents are on the same page. A student should understand how much their parent will be involved in their college applications, and a parent should know what their child expects and needs from them. It’s important to mitigate any conflict between parents and students throughout application season.
There are a few pitfalls that can come along with levels of parental involvement in the college application process. I like to think of it as a goldilocks situation where you don’t want too much parental involvement but you also don’t want too little involvement. It has to be just right.
How much is too much parental involvement in the application process?
Sometimes, parents can be too overbearing. Think of the classic “helicopter parent,” encouraging their student to participate in activities against their will or doing work for their child without letting their child grow and learn. While this impulse may be well-intentioned, it can cause major problems when it comes to college applications.
During the college process, parents will sometimes encourage their children to do things that they don’t want to do in an attempt to boost up their child’s extracurricular list. While this is helpful on occasion, a smorgasbord of extracurriculars can actually be detrimental to an application. In evaluating extracurricular lists, colleges look for depth rather than breadth. To help students succeed, parents should encourage their children to pursue their passions rather than just expand their resumes. Overbearing parents have the potential to stifle a student’s real passions, which can lead to a worse overall application.
To that end, parents should give their children the freedom to explore different extracurriculars and find the activities that speak to them. Additionally, parents should keep in mind that students’ extracurricular engagements won’t necessarily connect to their intended college majors. At the end of the day, what matters most is that students engage with extracurriculars that genuinely interest them. Admissions Officers can tell when students just choose their extracurriculars for the sake of college applications.
The college application process also marks an important moment in any student’s transition into adulthood. If a parent takes on too much responsibility for their child, their child may not develop the skills necessary to succeed in college. After all, college isn’t just about academics—it’s also about managing deadlines, learning life skills, becoming self-sufficient, and fielding different interpersonal conflicts that can be hard to predict. With a parent taking the reins on their child’s college application process, their child comes into college without the maturity they need to succeed.
Important Moments Where Parents Can Help Out
While parents should not be overly involved in their children’s college application processes, it can be important to have some parental influence.
During the college application process, high school students’ primary task is to tell the admissions officers who they are—to give them an accurate picture. At the age of seventeen, it can be difficult to attain this degree of maturity and self-reflection.
This is where parents can be really helpful. Parents have known their children for their entire lives—in some ways, longer than they have really known themselves. Parents watch their children grow and become their present selves. Parental insight can be extremely helpful as a student crafts an application narrative that reflects their growth and development.
Additionally, the college application process (and high school in general!) can be stressful for students. Parents can support their children’s mental health as they work through the college application gauntlet, fielding fears and frustrations. It can be nice to have someone outside of the process to provide perspective and keep students grounded. College is important, but it isn’t everything. A parent’s life experience might help a student understand this.
Finally, it’s important to involve parents in school and major selection, especially if they’re paying. You don’t want to get into your dream school only to have your parents turn up their nose at your choice. This conflict can cause a lot of strife, so try to maintain an open conversation about schools and majors.
Though this balance can be hard to strike, it can also be really rewarding. With the right tools and mindset, the application process can foster trust and respect between parents and their children.
This informational essay was written by Finn Bamber, Harvard ‘22. If you want to get help with your college applications from Finn or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.