Helping your child with college applications (without doing them yourself!)

By Laurie Goodman
Undergraduate Admissions parent blogger

It’s only natural for parents to want to help with the overwhelming college application process. But, take care! There’s help and then there’s too much help!

(Full disclosure: I’m speaking from experience here. I went a little over-board with my first child. With my second, currently a sophomore at Penn State, I was much more restrained — and that was better for both of us.)

When friends ask for my advice on helping kids with college apps, here’s what I tell them:

1.    Relax! Take a deep breath. You and your child can do this! Their job is to get into college. Your job is to be supportive,  not to do everything yourself.

2.    Give the most help up front, at the start of the process. Help your child set up a spreadsheet to keep track of schools and applications. Set up a filing system for organizing brochures and other papers. Put important dates into their calendar on the computer and/or phone, and set up alerts to remind them of important deadlines or other dates. Establishing these routines and tools early takes the responsibility off your shoulders, but doesn’t require them to “sink or swim.” Step back and enable kids use the tools that are out there.

3.    Offer encouragement, empathy, optimism, relaxation, and food (good nutrition = good energy).

4.    Don’t talk about “our” favorite college or “our” application. Keep the separation clear at all times.

5.    Plan some family time where all talk of college and applications is banned. Focusing on college at every single family dinner and during every single car ride is stressful, and can cause kids to pull back and shut down. Believe me, they know it’s important. Take a break now and then!

6.    Proof-reading your child’s essay when it’s done = OK. Suggesting topics, directing their writing style or actually writing it yourself = NOT OK.

7.    Keep a sense of humor. It’s the only way to get through.

8.    Remember…your job is to be a cheerleader — and cheeleaders belong on the sidelines!

Those are just a few of the lessons I learned (and trust me, I learned some of them too late). If there’s one word that sums it up: RELAX. There are college opportunities for everyone, and maybe for your child it will be at Penn State like mine!

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