What’s a Parent to Do?

Applying to college is an anxious time in the lives of students and parents, especially as deadlines draw close. Seniors in particular have a lot on their plates first semester – schoolwork, clubs and teams, college visits, standardized testing, writing applications. What can you as a parent do to help alleviate some of the pressure? Here are some ideas – and it’s a good idea to start arranging these things before the senior year crunch.

  1. Become a Travel Agent

Not literally, of course, but that’s how I often see myself, suggesting itineraries for students when making college visits. One thing that parents can do is to determine which schools can be seen together and to make travel plans, including signing up for college visits.

My word of advice is not to see more than two schools a day and then not more than two days in a row. The experience can become mind-numbing, especially for students. Figure on about two to two-and-a-half hours on an individual campus. Take pictures. Take notes. And hope for a sunny day and a good tour guide.

Also, keep in mind that it really is necessary to build in time for lunch and time to travel from one campus to the next. Check those tour and info session times carefully. Sometimes, a visit to two campuses in one day just won’t work due to college scheduling times. If it comes down to a choice, take the tour and skip the information session, as most of that information can be found online. Or see if the counselor on duty has a few minutes to answer your specific questions.

  1. Be Realistic

The rule of thumb is to apply to a couple of schools that are aspirational, and a couple that are likely, and the rest in-between. While it’s okay to tour one or two aspirational schools, please don’t limit your visits to only those schools. Focus on the admission rates of  the colleges and universities. At highly selective schools, a whopping number like 80% of applicants may not get in, even if those students have high GPAs and standardized test scores. That’s something that students don’t seem to focus on. Given the fact that some of the students who do get in are legacies (and there is an abundance of them these days), athletes, and international students, the acceptance percentage may be even lower for a particular student, depending on his or her background. It’s important to have sensible expectations and for your teen to like the schools where getting in is more realistic.

It’s also important to be realistic about the financial piece of paying for college. Worse than not getting in is getting in and not being able to go because of finances. There are cost estimators on college websites that can give you an idea of the cost of paying for college for your family and whether you will be able to afford a particular school. Don’t eliminate private schools without investigating their financial and merit aid options. The cost of attendance at a private school can be realistic for your family if these options are taken into account.

  1. Get the Information

Stay abreast of your teen’s progress throughout high school. Make sure you know his or her grades and that you’ve seen the most recent transcript – and checked it for errors.

4.  Schedule Interviews

If a college offers interviews, check your teen’s schedule and sign up for him or her. Some schools may be interviewing in your area, so it’s a good idea to check. If you are scheduling the interview on campus, try to do so after the tour so that your teen has a better idea of the school. Plus, the tour may have prompted some additional questions that only a college interviewer can answer.

A good time to start thinking about interviews is the spring of junior year, moving into summer and the fall of senior year. Many schools finish up their interview schedules in early to mid-January. Especially if your teen is applying early, it’s a good idea to schedule early so that he or she doesn’t get closed out of the opportunity.

  1. Know the Deadlines

Unless your teen is only applying to colleges that are test optional, he or she will have to sign up for standardized tests. You can check the deadlines and procedures online and you can sign up for him or her – and make sure he or she gets to the test on time!

The same goes for application deadlines. You can help your teen create a chart of the deadlines for each school. When the time comes to submit, it’s okay for you to preview the application for typos and missing information. My recommendation is that you count back at least three days from the submission deadline as the goal to apply. Things do happen with technology failing, and there’s still time to resolve any issues if your teen applies before the deadline. Applying on the weekend or doing a school break is fine unless a tech problem arises, as admissions offices typically are not open, and high school offices may be closed, as well. The help desks for the major college applications are open, so feel free to contact them should an issue or question arise at any time in the process.

  1. Stay Positive

December and March can be particularly difficult times for seniors, since these are the popular times of year when colleges release early and regular decisions. I’ve seen it happen time and time again: A student doesn’t get into a particular school, and Mom calls me to tell me that her daughter is crying hysterically. Then she calls me the next day to tell me that her daughter got into another school and is happy as can be!

Of course, hearing that one’s been rejected or deferred in December and that there is a four month wait to hear again can be difficult to process. It’s natural for students to be disappointed and it’s okay for parents to acknowledge that disappointment initially. And then look towards the future. Good news will come.