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How Much Should Parents Help With College Admissions?

Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,923 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

Replies to: How Much Should Parents Help With College Admissions?

  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,825 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.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,923 Senior Member
    edited June 29
    @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.
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,825 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.
  • TiggerDadTiggerDad Registered User Posts: 1,641 Senior Member
    How much should parents get involved with their applicant obviously depends on the applicant's personality makeup and maturity level. My son was very motivated to go to a top school, so working with him was very easy although the whole application process was quite stressful on everyone. Still, as a 17-year old, he wasn't aware of the vast choices of schools -- state public, private, research, LACs, etc. -- out there nor what tools and resources available to help him narrow down the list, among many other critical things. I think it can be disastrous to allow a 17-year old to simply handle everything on his own with so much that someone as that young isn't naturally aware of and with so much at stake.

    My son and I both worked as a partner in this, but I was keenly observant about when not to overstep my boundary, i.e., how to balance the "partnership" in such manner that the application process becomes his and not mine. He was very good at letting me know that, too, so that most certainly helped. I found that limiting my role as that of being an information agent, motivator and coach worked the best while staying out of the actual content building and processing, i.e., personal essays, LOR's, Navigator, transcripts, etc. I did read his personal essays and gave him my feedback. He had sought feedback from a few other people he trusted, as well. Then he polished up the essays, often not incorporating some of the feedback because of his disagreement. We wanted to make sure his own "voice" was well protected rather than diluted by the influence of extraneous influences.

    We were both extremely exhausted by the time the last application was submitted, me with endless researches for good information and him doing all the rest. All the hard labor was worth it, though.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,923 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. ;-)

  • TiggerDadTiggerDad Registered User Posts: 1,641 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.
  • drewsmom17drewsmom17 Registered User Posts: 162 Junior 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!
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 35,331 Senior Member
    School is so much more expensive than when we went. No way would I just leave it to my kid. They knew that it was a big investment for our family and that they were lucky to have a parent willing to help pay and support their search efforts. So it was a team effort for sure. In the end they wrote their applications and decided within financial parameters I had set. But I provided plenty of admin support along the way and advice when they asked for it. It worked out well for them.
  • GoldPennGoldPenn Registered User Posts: 154 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.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 72,219 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)?
  • mamommamom Registered User Posts: 3,531 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.
  • jamgolfjamgolf Registered User Posts: 71 Junior Member
    Absolutely agree with everything @TiggerDad stated.
    And I hope I'm taking the same approach with my son.
  • allthelampsallthelamps Registered User Posts: 57 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.
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,366 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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