In short: Not Much! I know that answer disappoints multitudes of parents of college-bound high school students. The intentions of parents vary from just wanting the best for their kiddo to the “helicopter” or “snowplow” parent to those living vicariously through their child. The bottom line is your child needs to OWN the college selection, application, and admission process.
Getting to Know You
Colleges are wanting to get to know THE STUDENT. It will be the student, not the parent, heading to school and the college needs to be the best fit for the student. Therefore interaction directly with the college needs to be initiated and followed up by the student. Ask college admissions officers and they will tell you they can confidently peg the parent who calls or emails impersonating their child. If you do that, how will it reflect on your child? Could you be limiting their future options? Furthermore, the student reaching out shows maturity and initiative on the part of the student; both are qualities the college seeks.
If the student isn’t ready to speak up, stand on his own, and fully engage in the process, then will he really be ready for the freedom and responsibility that comes with going to college. The journey can be part of this maturing process so they are ready. Therefore embrace it which each player in their correct role.
All is not lost though. For parents anxious to be part of the process, there are things I recommend you can do in the background as the skipper while your child steers the ship.
- Researcher: Much of the “homework” involved in college selection is collecting data. Unearthing the important under the mounds of resources available. Parents can help by finding out essential information like graduation and retention rates, which majors are offered, cost of attendance, freshman profile (average GPA and ACT or SAT of the previous year’s admitted students), study abroad, and internship options. Take it a step further and create a spreadsheet of the data collected for quick and easy comparison.
- Clerk: As soon as you take the PSAT, ACT, or SAT, you’ll receive a boatload of college literature from these groups selling your name. Viewbooks, postcards to return, test prep options, and more will pile up on the kitchen table. Parents can assist by sorting through into Keep, Review, and Discard piles for the student. Even checking the box and mailing the postcard back to demonstrate interest is something a parent can do.
- Travel Agent: Look for special visitation dates at schools of interest, college receptions in your area, and college fairs. Find colleges close to your next vacation spot. Plan the travel and visitations from a logistics perspective, but let your kid contact the college to set-up the visit.
- Financial Advisor: Parents tend to be much more concerned with cost. Do the background work on this piece as it will be a key part of the family discussion when finally choosing a school. College Navigator’s “net price” for each school can be helpful as well as each school’s mandatory “Net Price Calculator”. Complete the FAFSA4caster as well.
While the student should captain the ship, there is plenty of support the parent can lend in the background for the parent anxious to have some ownership in the college selection process.