In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com Head of Advising Lauren Lynch shares tips for how parents can help support their children through the college applications process. For more guidance on how to craft a stand-out application and the college applications process in general, sign up to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.
Every parent knows what’s best for their children. At least I do. I’m sure of it. Just ask my kids.
Why, then, is it so hard for us to support our children, to nurture their talents and interests but also allow them to imprint these skills with their own passions and personalities? Sometimes knowing what’s best for our children includes the painful step of doing what’s best for our children: letting them fail. Or quit. Or question. And then reevaluate, and start over, stronger and more resilient than ever before.
In the competitive realm of college admissions and the college application process, it can be even more challenging to be a good parent, finding that perfect balance between guiding (or nudging) and encouraging an independent mindset in your child.
We know, as parents, that letting a child struggle or fail can have serious consequences on the outcomes of college applications. Will that C in the advanced placement class they were adamant about taking have a negative impact? Almost certainly. But was supporting their initiative and desire to challenge themselves important? Without a doubt. We know that failure is an integral part of growth and can lead to incredible resilience. We want our children to have all the college acceptances we know they deserve, but we also want them to be capable of handling life’s ups and downs without crumbling.
Be a Guide
How, then, do we support our children through this process while maintaining their — and our — personal integrity? I often think of my role as a parent (and as a college admissions expert) as being that of a guide. I am here to help preview the path, the myriad options, the opportunities, and the potential roadblocks. Within the application process and the path to college, this can mean many things: helping your child identify interests and potential areas of involvement, understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses in and out of the classroom, and even being the “bank” behind fee-based activities.
Does your child have an incredibly big heart and an aptitude for supporting others? Maybe they could be involved in Best Buddies at their school or another service-based activity that brings out those qualities. Are they a math whiz who loves solving puzzles and equations? Mathletes or robotics club might be good options.
Helping to guide your children toward activities that will deepen an innate passion is a gift. Driving your children towards a long list of personally meaningless but potentially impressive activities is a profound disservice to them as maturing young adults and as candidates in the realm of college applications. We can’t (and quite honestly shouldn’t) fix things for our children, but we can ease their journey by helping them build on the strengths, talents, and curiosities we so clearly see in them.
Understanding the Admissions Review Process
A holistic review in the college applications process means that the Admission Officer is looking at all aspects of an applicant's qualities, from family background and history, to academic performance and curriculum, to activities and engagement outside of the classroom.
We can’t do our children’s homework. We can’t be the bulldozer to all impediments in their way. But we can be instrumental in helping our children develop the kind of depth and passion for activities or specific academic interests that compels Admission Officers. We can let them negotiate the complexities of their lives in a way that will imbue their applications with a sense of their warmth, humor, and strength. See here for more information about how college applications are evaluated.
So what does this look like, for the sake of college admissions?
Be honest with your children and yourself about what a realistic college list looks like given their academic performance and their intellectual aptitude. Understand that your child is unique, and this process is going to look and feel different for them than from anyone else. Have an honest conversation about what success in this process looks like to each of you.
Be a cheerleader: support their initiative to get involved in clubs, activities, athletics, or other pursuits that give their lives meaning and purpose. Maybe be proactive in helping them find good opportunities and resources for this kind of exploration and involvement.
Remind them of the choices they make every day about how they live their lives, both in terms of how these choices will impact academic performance and in terms of how they will shape the adults whom they are all too rapidly becoming. But whenever possible, allow them to make these choices themselves, understanding that, really, life is a constant balancing act between desires, expectations, responsibilities, and joys.
We all know the difference between the overbearing, overly involved parent and the truly supportive one, and I suspect we all like to think of ourselves as the latter. I hope, for our children’s sake, that we can collectively focus on how to guide and support them through the rigors of high school and the college application process with a gentle touch and a genuine appreciation for the beauty of their independent spirits.
This informational essay was written by Lauren Lynch, Head of Advising at CollegeAdvisor.com. If you want to get one-on-one advising for the college applications process, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.