• Dr. Thom

How to Really Help Your Student Apply to College


Photo by Jan Baborák on Unsplash

When I worked in campus-based admissions, I kept track of the split between parents and student phone calls. On a given day of being on-call (when all of the questions coming in on the phones would be routed to you as an admissions officer), I would average 9 parent calls for every 1 student call. Now that I am working with families in the college application process, I regularly face the temptation by families to “help out” a student with some of the tasks involved with applying to college. I get it. The student is super busy with practice, recitals, and homework and there just isn’t enough time for all of the: Filling out forms Calling colleges and asking questions Setting up appointments Requesting transcripts Writing essays . . . I could go on. The college and financial aid processes are full of minutiae and tasks, and taken as a collective, they can be annoying at best, overwhelming at worst. But each and every one of them are important, and taken as a group, they present an organizational challenge for students that is even more important. Do not steal this from them. When they are older and are stuck in a less fulfilling job, which is also working them 60-70 hours a week, will there “be time” for searching for another job, or perhaps working on building their own business so they can be their own boss? Not likely. That’s why adults understand that the things we make a priority in life are the things we make time for. This is no different. Think back to when you were teaching your son or daughter to drive (or when you learned to drive if your children aren’t old enough). The learner is in the driver’s seat, the teacher (i.e., the parent) sitting right next to them. Everyone knows the deal: 1) The driver is responsible for all of the small tasks of driving.

Blinkers Headlights Checking the mirrors Watching weather and road conditions Etc.

What would be the point of reaching over and flipping the blinkers for them? 2) Everyone in the car knows that you are there to teach and that at some point, you will not be in the car with them. They must learn how to drive independently. That’s the deal. 3) You are in the teaching seat by virtue of you being a more experienced driver. These principles also apply to the college search, as the student is attempting to master the skills of adult decision-making that come with the college search. As you were literally sitting next to your child while they learned to drive, so too are you figuratively sitting next to him or her as they learn this fuzzy art and science of making adult decisions. You have a vital role to play because you are not going to college with them, and they will need to make positive adult decisions without you. Teach them well and let them struggle while you are there by their side.


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