What Parents of College Applicants Really Worry About

college applicants

Call it the "Scarlet H."

The "H?"

"For Helicopter Parent."
The dreaded label hovers over all parents as we try to help (and let's face it, over help) our children, but never more than when our progeny become college applicants. That's when we become, well, a little crazy. Legends abound about parents writing college essays, berating admissions officers, and, in one particularly creative urban legend, applying to schools on our offspring's behalf (I'm told by a reliable source that the last one is more or less impossible, but you never know).

Getting My Big "H" Out of the Way

"The only thing worse than helicopter parents," berated a commenter after a New York Times article on families and college applicants, "are people who hire others to helicopter for them."

So let me confess right here, when my kids applied to college, I was more than happy to accept help from admissions pros when my company offered it. But the reasons might surprise you. It wasn't, as many might imagine, to micromanage every decision on my daughters' road to higher ed. Au contraire, it was to get my big "H" out of the way.

It's My Child's College Search, Not Mine

My reasoning: as I approached my eldest daughter's sophomore year in high school, I realized it was impossible - summarily and completely impossible! - for me to engage in her college choices without inserting myself into the equation. We all have dreams for our children. But as my children became young adults, it became clear that my dreams were not necessarily theirs. I'm city and luxury hotels; they're woods and campgrounds. I'm Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald; they're Stephen Hawking and Jack Kerouac. I love everything about them and admire their drive to simplify and save the planet. And while it's my job as a parent to help guide them, I couldn't help feeling that my presence might actually steer them in a new and unintended direction.

Objective advice helped ensure any detours - in whatever directions - were theirs. And I got much-needed reminders that the label affixed to their college of choice - brand name or not - didn't matter. It's what they did when they got there that would make the difference; what they decided they wanted from a future career and how hard they were willing to fight for it.

Saving Time and Sanity

Yes, I was happy for the essential how-to advice. But I also got assurance that my children were pursuing their dreams and not mine. And when worries wracked me, I had an educated resource to deflect my angst away from them. Maybe most important, I got the solace of knowing I wasn't going to screw it up. The people I worked for liked it, too, since I wasn't spending my days obsessively surfing which school made the "best party" list, or which one was voted "best seven years of my life."

My oldest in particular ended up pursuing a college I wasn't especially familiar with and that I probably never would have picked for her - and that fit her like a glove.

And it was only achieved because I was miles out of the way.

So if all of my experiences are worthy of the title, "helicopter!"

Well slap on an "H," and color me scarlet.
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
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