Are You Helping or Hindering Your Child's Chances for College Admission?

Learn what colleges are looking for, how parents may be overstepping in their role, and how parents can help.
Mother and daughter reviewing college admissions items

Most parents don't often stop to ask themselves "What is MY role when my child applies to college?" Usually, the general thought process is something to the effect of "My role is to do whatever humanly possible to ensure the greatest possible outcome for my child." This philosophy has the potential to be helpful or harmful to applicants during the college admissions process.

What are colleges looking for?

It's no secret that college admissions offices are looking for highly qualified candidates to fill their limited spots each year. The fairly obvious things that make someone a desirable candidate are good grades, rigorous courses, extracurricular activities, and strong standardized test scores. But schools also look for certain characteristics, such as maturity and self-determination, and certain actions taken by parents can actually convince colleges that students lack these traits.

How are parents overstepping their role?

The college admissions process can seem daunting, confusing, and overwhelming to many. It often leads to a myriad of questions, and this is where well-intentioned parents can start to go down a slippery slope. In an attempt to have their questions answered as fast and accurately as possible, parents will immediately start calling or emailing the admissions offices. What's wrong with that? Doesn't that seem like the most efficient way to get questions answered? The answer is yes, but when parents call the admissions office, they have overstepped their child's role in the process. When admissions offices primarily hear from parents instead of applicants, it can have a negative impact. Admissions representatives might view these applicants as unable or unwilling to speak on their own behalf because their parents are constantly speaking for them. Is this type of applicant likely to find success at college when his or her parents have always been the ones making decisions, negotiating, and asking questions? It's not to say that the applicant can't or won't be successful, but simply that he or she hasn't personally demonstrated to the college certain abilities and skill sets.

What can parents do to help?

How can we help our children navigate the college admissions process without doing it for them? The answer is to help them develop their self-advocacy and leadership skills. We want to increase opportunities for our children to practice and develop the important skills needed to become self-reliant adults. Encourage your child to speak to teachers directly when there is a concern about a grade. Have your child be the one to make appointments with his or her Guidance Counselors to discuss appropriate course selection. Make sure all correspondence to colleges comes directly from the student applicant. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, this is great practice for when your child will need to have conversations with college professors, advisors, and roommates in the near future.

The most important role the applicant should have in the college admissions process is that of the driver, while the parent should be the co-pilot, or even the backseat passenger. Learning to ask questions, advocate for himself or herself, and direct the course of the admissions process will help your child succeed in both post-secondary education and life.

Learn more about the parents role in the college process