written by
Kaitlin Liston

Parents' perspectives: How to help in the college application process

Admissions Tips 5 min read
Parents are a huge part of the college application process
Image: Two parents reflecting as their daughter graduates high school and heads to college soon

Parents and family members are often a huge part of the application process. But it can be hard to tell how much a parent should be helping - and defining what "helping" really means during this process - and understanding what other parents are doing to give their kids a leg up. Of course, in a legal way that acts with integrity. Check out our blog post on "Creating a student advising model after the college admissions scandal" if interested in learning more on how we're responding to that.

For the last few months, our team has interviewed students, parents, and high school guidance counselors so that we could hear first-hand what's top of mind during the college application process. This blog post is the second of three in the series, and it focuses all on what we learned from parents and family members who just supported their children through the process. Read on to find out more about what we heard, and let us know if you can relate.

We surveyed parents of recently graduated high school seniors to see what they thought about the college application and admissions processes, with 57% of the parents having gone through this for the first time. See below for our four greatest themes and insights whether it's your first time, second time, or more being there supporting your child through the exciting, and likely overwhelming, months ahead.

1. What was more difficult than expected in the college application process? Time management & deadline tracking.

The top two things surveyed parents wish they had more help with? Time management and deadline tracking. We get it, and that's actually why the free features of CollegeAdvisor.com are all about helping students never miss an application deadline again.

Web app mock of application tracking side of Bullseye
Image: Web app mock of deadline tracking features of CollegeAdvisor.com

It can be hard to keep track of all the application dates and to predict how long each essay and application will take to perfect. Getting started early and having a timeline is key in a stress free application process, and our friends at Education Corner have put together a recommended month-by-month calendar.

2. What could your child have used extra help on? Essay writing.

When asked, "what was the top task you wish your kids had more help with?," we heard essay writing over and over. More specifically, parents felt their children could have used additional guidance on choosing what to write about. Parents who hired an editor or college counselor noted that their children strongly benefited from having a non-parent involved in editing and advice. A few also wished their child had more exposure to the art of personal storytelling.

Our guidance when it comes to writing a great essay? Students should be true to themselves. They know themselves best and the experiences that have helped make them the great, unique individual they are. As a parent, you can probe with questions such as:

  • Is there something you're really proud of that you'd want college admissions officers to know?
  • How would your teachers, friends and family describe you? Do you feel like that's coming through in your writing?

And again, we've got a great team of mentors all trained in essay editing and eager to help students navigate what's ahead for students applying.

3. So, do most parents pay for extra college counseling services? It really depends.

Of those parents surveyed, 95% of their children's high schools offered college counseling, but only 9% used those services very frequently and around 45% of the students almost never used the school provided counseling services. We found this pretty surprising, but then again we know that the ratios of students to guidance counselors - now averaging 482-to-1 - can make it really tough for students to get the time and advice they're often looking for.

In addition, we found that just over half of the parents paid for outside college counseling services. But, how much did they spend? Of those parents who paid for private services when it comes to college applications:

  • 73% spent more than $500
  • 40% spent more than $2,500
  • 14% spent more than $5,000

The college application process is expensive enough, but it is a huge decision and pivotal experience for children (and their parents). Our advice? Make sure you're spending your money on worthwhile services that alleviate the stresses above, like deadline tracking and essay reviews.

4. Should students speak to current students or alum at schools they're interested in? Absolutely!

While 64% of high school seniors surveyed spoke with current students or alum of their target schools, nearly all wish they had that opportunity. This is where you can hear more first-hand about the experiences that you often cannot read on a university's website. And the more insights you can get, the more you and your child can understand if it could be a great fit knowing who your child is today, and who your child is looking to grow into during this next chapter ahead.

And that's about it. The biggest takeaway as a parent of someone applying to college? While you're a huge part of the college application process - whether it's your time, money, or more - you should never underestimate the value of being an active listener, asking encouraging questions, and remembering a deep breath can go a long way (for everyone involved). While no college application process is identical to another, you're not the first person to go through this, and you won't be the last. You've got this.

Want to get a head start on some of the above? Visit us at CollegeAdvisor.com, and you can even share a free account with your child - or children - applying to college!

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