Whether your teen is knee-deep in college viewbooks and applications or he or she is just beginning to explore his or her college options, the college admission process can easily instill fear and anxiety in the calmest of parents and teens. “It’s not uncommon for parents to become obsessed micromanagers when their teens start evaluating colleges—feeling compelled to push them in the ‘right’ direction or even take over the process,” says Eileen Huntington, co-founder of Huntington Learning Center. “The parent plays a vital role in the college search and selection process, but should be more of a partner than an organizer.” Huntington offers these tips to successfully guide your teen through the college admission process:
Give up some control.
In your teen’s junior and senior years, many decisions will need to be made—about the college traits that are important to you and your teen (location and school size, for example), the best date to take the SAT and/or ACT and even which colleges to visit. Establish with your teen the types of decisions you are comfortable letting him or her make alone as well as those you must make together. Give your teen opportunities to explain the reasoning behind his or her viewpoints and decisions, and trust the decisions he or she makes, even if it you disagree with them. Doing so allows your teen to mature and learn to be more responsible for his or her choices.
Guidance is good. Overinvolvement isn’t.
There’s a lot to the college admission process, and it’s important for parents to be supportive, stay aware of important deadlines and get familiar with the financial aid process. However, your teen must take ownership of his or her college admission. While you should be on hand for questions and be a part of decisions that impact the family, you shouldn’t write your teen’s college application essays or fill out his or her applications. Ultimately, your teen is the one who will be attending college—not you.
Help your teen find a great fit, not just a random choice.
Remember that the college admission process is an opportunity to assess your teen’s academic strengths, personality and potential field-of-study interests, and find colleges that are best suited to him or her. Set realistic expectations at the outset—an expensive, highly competitive film school may simply not be possible given your budget and/or your teen’s GPA and test scores—then take a proactive approach to evaluate the choices.
Foster good communication.
The college admission process can be stressful for every member of the family, but regular, healthy communication can minimize conflicts and bring you and your teen closer together. Establish the best way for the two of you to stay in touch throughout the process. Understand that you will not agree about everything, but be sure your teen understands when your input is required and when you expect him or her to make decisions independently. And always encourage your teen to talk with you about his or her fears, questions and aspirations.