I recently commented on the role that parents can take to help their children with college. You can read that article here.
College applications can be a tough time for parents. You might find yourself feeling more anxious than usual, and you might find your relationship with your child is a little more strained.
This is not just a teenage thing, it's a college thing.
Here are my suggestions on four things parents can do to encourage and support their children without micromanaging them:
Tip 1: Practice active listening between you and your child. Have a conversation with your child where your only job is to listen. Resist the temptation to jump in and provide feedback and guidance. Process your student's feedback on your own time.
Have another conversation where you share your logistical concerns and hopes for your child's college aspirations. Focus your desires more on logistical (e.g. financial and location-based) rather than on guiding students to apply to the most prestigious college possible (or your alma mater). I see a lot of parents who force students to apply to colleges that are out of reach for the student. This pressure can be harmful to the student, and mental and emotional energy gets wasted by both parties in this situation.
Tip 2: Don't do everything for them. One parent I briefly worked with almost certainly did everything for the student--from writing the essays to emailing admissions reps--all from an email account with the student's name on it. I'd see this practice when I was at Wharton as well. An email was too well-written, too-adult and had too much cow-towing to the college-based recipients. While suspicions like these cannot be proven, this practice by parents raises ethical questions about the authenticity of the student's application. You don't want your child starting out in college cheating on his/her first test (the college application!) or to give them a disadvantage in admission for suspicion of cheating.
Tip 3: When visiting colleges, try to make it a fun family day. Go up a day early if you can or stay a day later to see the surrounding area. If you don't have a lot of time, try to find a cool restaurant or museum to visit in the area. This approach to college tours will help the student create positive associations with the colleges where he/she visits even if he/she decides that one particular college isn't a fit.
Tip 4: Don't be a communication director with high school counselors and college admissions officers. Relationships are critical currency in helping students stand out in the college process --the relationship between the STUDENT and these counselors and admissions officers, that is. Guidance counselors will write strong letters of recommendation if they deeply know your student and his/her potential. Similarly, thoughtful questions submitted to an admissions rep by a student are more likely to be welcomed than those by a parent. Interacting with adults and practicing relationship-building skills is a fantastic way for students to demonstrate leadership and build communication skills--critical to later success.
Remember that your job is to support your child, not to drive relationships or college choices on their behalf (of course except where money is concerned!). The most successful families I work with are available for help when and where the child needs but are not overbearing about providing it. Some parents, for example, support deadline tracking, coordinate college visits or write letters about a student to the school's college counselor to support the guidance counselor letter of recommendation.
The application process is one of the first rites of passage to young adulthood. Supporting your child as he/she takes an independent and active role through this rite of passage is the best thing you can do to get them into their top choice college.