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How Much Should Parents Help With College Admissions?

Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone 3018 replies1113 threadsCC Admissions Expert Senior Member
Question: I’m the father of a rising high school senior and it seems that everywhere I turn, I find information advising the parents of college applicants to “back off and let students take the lead.” But if I were to back off, my son — with his 3.98 GPA, top test scores, multiple unique extracurricular activities and elected offices — will do nothing. Trust me, I’ve tried putting him in charge and it hasn’t worked. He says he definitely wants to go right to college after high school (no gap year) and I can see him thriving in a challenging environment like at MIT, Stanford or CalTech, but so far he hasn’t done a single task related to college (registering for SATs, making a college list, attending regional fairs, even suggesting schools to visit) without my wife or me repeatedly reminding him. One of us will definitely have to keep track of all the deadlines this fall as he completes his applications. Am I really doing my son a disservice by helping? Aren’t there other parents in my shoes?


See https://www.collegeconfidential.com/articles/much-parents-help-college-admissions
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Replies to: How Much Should Parents Help With College Admissions?

  • eyemgheyemgh 5590 replies122 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Our son was like this. I wasn't convinced he wouldn't do anything, but I knew he'd benefit from help. Not wanting the search to be all about my vicarious desires, we hired a college counselor to guide him through the process. It was great. We never knew when application deadlines were. He did all his applications himself. She helped him refine his essays. Most importantly, she helped him choose a great list of schools, devoid of the trap of focussing on rank, all of which jived with what HE wanted out of the college experience. He would have been happy to attend any of them. In fact, one of his safeties made it into the final three he agonized over.
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  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone 3018 replies1113 threadsCC Admissions Expert Senior Member
    edited June 2018
    @eyemgh -I'm glad you had such a positive experience with your independent counselor, and thanks for sharing it.

    Not all families can afford private counselors of course, but often those who seek outside help do so to keep the peace on the home-front ... and it usually works well. Many teenagers are far more willing to follow the instructions of a independent advisor (and pleasantly, to boot!) than they are to respond to nagging from parents. So by putting the application to-do lists in the hands of a ringer, families can enjoy senior year together much more than if Mom or Dad had to constantly say, "Did you submit that arts supplement yet?"

    Many private counselors work via email these days (some exclusively so), and thus families who live in an area where in-person advising might break the bank (or is non-existent) may be able to find less costly assistance remotely.
    edited June 2018
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  • eyemgheyemgh 5590 replies122 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Yes, expense can be a problem for many families. We've been very fortunate. The counselor we chose (since retired) wasn't too expensive and worked via Skype and email.

    I think the very most important thing is to properly vet your options. Some advertise the ability to get applicants into elite institutions and charge exorbitant fees. I'd personally steer clear. You want someone who will be pragmatic and look will consider a myriad of things beyond prestige to pick a list. In a perfect world, they should be so well selected that they all are vying for the top spot regardless of selectivity.
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  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone 3018 replies1113 threadsCC Admissions Expert Senior Member
    How much should parents get involved with their applicant obviously depends on the applicant's personality makeup and maturity level.

    Very true, of course. And this means that some kids will need tons more help than others ... whether they're readily receptive to it or not.

    But I think that the OP's concern was that he was being warned away from helping and concerned that he was doing his son a disservice with his involvement. I do feel that too many how-to articles for parents don't fully acknowledge the vast differences among teenagers (and among family dynamics). There are also huge differences in the demands of the college process that are commonly connected to where a student is aiming.

    Applying to college shouldn't be exhausting or require "hard labor," but sadly it often does. And parents find enough things to be guilty about. Assisting a child with this convoluted and stressful process shouldn't be one of them. ;-)

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  • TiggerDadTiggerDad 1894 replies70 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    "Applying to college shouldn't be exhausting or require "hard labor," but sadly it often does. And parents find enough things to be guilty about. Assisting a child with this convoluted and stressful process shouldn't be one of them."

    Typically, for those students who are looking to apply to top schools, they're not only taking the max number of rigorous courses but also preparing for SAT, SATII and/or ACT, as well as very time consuming EC activities. The college application process itself isn't -- and yes, shouldn't be -- necessarily exhausting but it often is simply due to another thing added to myriad of other things going on in the applicant's life.

    As for the OP's concern, I don't believe in allowing a 17-year old to take the helm all by himself, especially a procrastinator. It seems to me that the OP would like his son to get things going during this summer, and so it's possible that the son just wants to devote the summer to his well deserved relaxation and that he'll get things going quickly come fall. It'd be wiser to get some preps done during the summer so that things don't stack up in the fall, but it's not going to be a disaster if he doesn't.
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  • drewsmom17drewsmom17 306 replies10 threadsRegistered User Member
    I think that given his stats and potential, you have to get somewhat involved. If you stay out if it, he's going to miss deadlines, programs, and potential merit opportunities. That affects you directly if you are paying for his school.

    D18 was not at all into the process and I questioned several times if I should care more than she does. I did drag her to a few visits with her younger brother. She kept saying she just wanted to go to our state school. She would have been fine there, above average but not a high stat kid so I didn't push too hard. In early November of her senior year, she finally showed some interest and started looking around.

    She scrambled to get 2 apps in by the early deadlines and I pushed her to write the essay for one. She got a nice OOS scholarship and is in love with her city school 1200 miles away. I think she was not ready to deal with the future.

    It is a really big life change and I think some kids get overwhelmed with the idea of the process. Good luck, it sounds like he will have some great opportunities!
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  • GoldPennGoldPenn 158 replies6 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    I really don’t think you’re doing him a disservice because getting this right is so critical to his success in life. Helping with selections and managing deadlines, etc will ensure he’s given the very best start possible. I’m all for fostering independence but not at a time when the outcome is so life-altering.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 78242 replies690 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Wouldn't the biggest area of parental involvement be figuring out the budget, clearly stating the parental contribution limit, and helping with the net price calculators (all before the application list is made)?
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  • mamommamom 3674 replies24 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I got the initial list of schools for both kids. Second kid also did some research, but she ended up at one of the schools I identified. FIrst kid, did little except go on road trips with Dad and apply. :) He ended up with a full tuition scholarship. Second kid was a recruited athlete and we are full pay. arrgghh. I think for both kids, I was able to narrow down the formidable list of schools to something manageable. We left the final decision on where to apply to both kids.
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  • jamgolfjamgolf 101 replies4 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Absolutely agree with everything @TiggerDad stated.
    And I hope I'm taking the same approach with my son.
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  • allthelampsallthelamps 59 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    I'd like to provide a comment from a different, very personal, perspective.

    If I was a parent, I would be as involved in my children's college admissions as much as possible, but the sentiment comes from a conflicting place. I'm a child of immigrants (from a country with a vastly different higher ed system), and also an only child, so I had to learn to grow up quickly and not rely on my parents or siblings to help/guide me with anything academically. It was really tough. I was always jealous of my peers that had help from their parents throughout the college app process, which is why I would want to help my kids through everything. That said, I also think this experience is the reason why I'm more adjusted, independent, and can handle stress and unfamiliar situations better than some of my peers at Duke who had their parents *too* invested in their lives.

    Financially, I would 100% support my kids as my parents have done for me. I'd think that in other areas I would also help them in any way I can, even if doing everything by myself was a fantastic opportunity in retrospect. It's such a privilege to have guidance from someone familiar with the college process, and it's a privilege I would love to exercise for someone else's benefit, especially my children.
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  • LindagafLindagaf 9234 replies495 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I hired a private advisor for my first, but she wasn't a full-on "do it all" advisor. My first was also very independent and got on with it. For my second, I know what I'm doing now, and I ask for help on CC when I need it. If I wasn't guiding my son in it, it wouldn't get done until Christmas break, and it would be done poorly. Yes, I'm very involved because I want him to have the best chance of going to a school that's right for him.
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  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone 3018 replies1113 threadsCC Admissions Expert Senior Member
    @Lindagaf -Though I'll probably get skewered by some folks for gender stereotyping, I've heard from countless parents over countless years that it's much more common to have to light a fire under a son than a daughter. Although I've certainly counseled Type A boys who need no prodding at all, it's far more typical of males to require a shove through the admissions maze than females ... at least based on my mail throughout the eons.

    And I fully agree with you ... the goal is to have a happy kid at a college that's a good fit. And if some of our offspring need extra oversight to ... well ... spring off, and if the parents are in a position to provide it, then I'm all for it. It doesn't mean that these children won't ever spread their wings on their own.
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  • thermomthermom 462 replies9 threadsRegistered User Member
    I think a lot depends on how ready the kid is at different points when various actions need to be in process. My older D (now a happy college sophomore) was very conscientious and responsible when it came to her academics. She was not ready in terms of emotional maturity (facing the idea of "growing up", leaving home, etc. that the college process represented) at the same level.

    She did a lot of growing up in her senior year of high school -- but senior year is too late to just be getting started if your kid might want to attend a selective school! So I helped my D a lot in the early prep stages when she was a HS junior to make sure she was at least getting some testing in and figuring out the types of schools she might be interested in. She took over more the deeper into the process she got, and had complete ownership of her ultimate decision.

    My younger D, now finishing middle school, is probably not going to require nearly as much pushing to get going. It really depends on the kid.
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  • sta3535sta3535 195 replies106 threadsRegistered User Member
    If I was a parent someday, then I'd want to know what's going on with my kid's admission process because I
    I'll probably be helping them along the way. But, there's certain things that they need to do on their own, so I'll only help them when they need it from me.
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  • BoondocksBoondocks 285 replies37 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited September 2018
    Unless the 17-year-old is going to pay for college by himself/herself, parents need to get involved.

    How much depends on the kid.

    If I hadn't pressed my daughter, she wouldn't have gotten into get into a Top 15 college that wound up costing $12,500 a year, which was half the cost of our state university. It also turned out to be an excellent fit, she absolutely loved the school and its culture, and she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

    When my kids graduated recently, they were on their own when finding a job. I offered myself as a resource, but decided it was certainly time for them to do that one on their own (especially since after graduation, life was on their nickel, not mine).
    edited September 2018
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  • cfsnowycfsnowy 123 replies1 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Parents should be aware,informed, prepared, and ready to become involved when necessary. Mostly, they should serve as reality checks (financially and academically) in order to keep everybody's expectations in line and on the same page.
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