The Challenge of "Hanging Back" as the Parent of a College Applicant

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The following guest post comes to us from Kara Courtois, Director of Educational Consulting at College Coach and former senior admissions officer at Barnard College.

"HANGING back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting."

This is perhaps one of the best points made in a recent NY Times article, Raising Successful Children, and couldn't be more poignant than in the fall of a child's senior year. There's a lot more at stake (or so it feels) in today's world of college admissions. This makes it all the easier for employees to want to become even more involved in their children's applications than expected, sometimes at the expense of both their own work and of allowing a child to learn from the process itself. And we all know how distractions on the home-front can take their toll at work.

So how do employees with college bound children avoid overstepping the bounds?

Working with an objective third party, like College Coach, who can provide the easy answers to the most pressing admissions questions that's how!  One of the first steps to de-stressing employee parents is having them read College Coach's Top 5 Parental Tips on Managing the Application Process:

  1. The college tour isn't about a parent's fit as much as it's about the student's fit. The student is the one who will spend 4 years there, so it's best to let them go with their gut reactions.
  2. "We" are not applying to college or taking the SAT/ACT, "my child" is applying to college.
  3. The bumper sticker that eventually goes on a parent's car is in no way indicative of his success or failure as a parent and doesn't tell much of a story about how his child's college experience will work out.
  4. Writing a college essay for a student diminishes her self-esteem and could end up biting a parent later if she is not admitted to several of her colleges she'll have someone to blame directly!
  5. Applying to 18 colleges is not a good idea for anyone! Occasionally, students who want combined medical programs apply to more than the average 7-8 schools suggested because admission to those programs is highly unlikely. But more than 10 applications is too many applications it will detract from a student's senior year grades, grades that will have an impact on admission.

So an employee has avoided overstepping the bounds as a parent. But how does she help her child manage the process?

With the assistance from College Coach, our most successful parents and students are those who:

  1. Have visited several colleges (5-6 on average)
  2. Seek out a college application list composed by College Coach and narrow it down to 2-3 Challenging Schools, 4 Just Right or Target Schools and 1-2 No Problem Schools.
  3. Set goals and deadlines to finish applications well before the college application deadline.
  4. Have the child do most of the writing and filling out of applications on their own and seek advice when needed but ultimately retain their "voice" in all they submit. In other words, let a College Coach expert conduct the essay review!
  5. Know that the name of their college does not dictate their future success because "what they put in is what they'll get out" of where they ultimately matriculate.

Yes, the college process has truly changed 100% since most of employees applied to college. What shouldn't change is allowing their children to figure out what's best for their future, while providing their children the tools and the support they need to voice what they feel and want.
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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