Parents often want to know, “What can I do to help?” Especially at the beginning of the college search process, many struggle with walking that fine line between nonchalance and micromanaging. The admissions process is invariably fraught with emotion for everyone involved. It can be both wonderful and a struggle (and sometimes both, in the same day!) and parents can greatly influence their child’s college search experience. No pressure!
ROOT Tip #1: Not Your Mama’s College List
If this is your first child, think back to when you may have considered college 30 or more years ago… then promptly forget it all. A college that you knew all those years ago may have completely reinvented itself to be a great option for your child. Today’s college landscape is exponentially more competitive so your own safety school could very well be your child’s reach school. A negative comment could easily stick with them and could take away a viable option. So keep an open mind, rethink, and reset. Everything is different today.
ROOT Tip #2: Hit the Road
College visits can be valuable tools to help recognize the criteria that your child is looking for in their next academic home. They can also be fun parent/child time. Savor this. Plan fun dinners, go beyond the campus to enjoy the city or town, and watch movies together in the hotel at night. You’ll be grateful that you did. Ask good questions but resist the temptation to share your own opinions until they have formed their own. When planning the trip, think broadly. See reach schools, safety schools, small schools, large schools, private, public, urban, and rural schools. The variety will help your child clarify their preferences.
ROOT Tip #3: Accept What You Cannot Control
College admission is not fair. The hard-to-believe data and trends are true and they are not personal. Decisions are made according to institutional priorities and budgets. Enrollment Managers oversee admissions and make decisions that sometimes make us shake our heads. It’s easy to want to believe that it will be different for our own children. So don’t lock in on a “dream” school and be sure to help them build a college list that includes a variety of schools along the selectivity spectrum.
ROOT Tip #4: Be the Parent
A wise colleague once said something along the lines of, “College admissions is a roller coaster ride… your job as the parent is to keep your feet on the ground.” Nothing is more rattling than sitting in the stands at an athletic event and hearing nonstop discussion of admissions with dubious facts being thrown around. Protect yourself and your child by opting out. And remember that you seldom hear the whole story.
These tips are not going to get your child into college. Your child will do that on their own with hard work and unique qualities. These tips will allow you to enjoy the journey while being helpful, loving, and optimistic. Allowing your child to take charge adds to their necessary skill set for college. They ARE leaving the nest so serve them best by staying rooted in the realities of current college admission trends while allowing them to form their own opinions under your educated guidance and support.
Thank you to Meegan McRoberts for contributing much of the content for this ROOT article.