For families, the process of children applying to college is not always easy.

hands writing in ledgerNaturally, parents want to be involved because there is a lot at stake. But children may not always perceive a parent or guardian’s involvement in a positive light.

As a result, conversations at home about college can cause good relationships to become somewhat strained during, sometimes lengthy, college application process.

As a parent, you may have encountered this problem before or heard of someone who has. One of the most common questions parents ask me is: “How, then, can I be involved the right way?” 

The Ultimate Goal for Parents’ Involvement

One of the wisest things I have heard anyone say about the college admission process is that applying is, in-and-of-itself, part of the student’s education. Obviously, a great deal of learning happens in college, inside and outside of the classroom. But the actual process of applying is also an important part of the student’s education.

To that end, being supportive should be the fundamental goal for parents’ involvement.

In other words, you must make the process something your child takes ownership of, letting them do the work and making most of the decisions.

Of course, it may not be easy to strike the right balance. There is a fine line to walk between guiding, supporting, and assuring that things do not completely go wrong and, at the same time, backing off enough to let this process happen for your child.

But it is of utmost importance that you fight the urge to impose yourself on your child and let the process be overrun by your own desires and dreams. Neither can you simply avoid giving them responsibility. It has to be their experience as much as possible.

What Parents Can Do to Be Involved in a Positive Way

Consider four specific things you can do to assure your very best involvement in your child’s college application process:

1. Invite collaboration

Invite—not demand or mandate—your child to collaborate with you. For instance, you could ask them what colleges they have looked at. Then, invite them to investigate some others with you, collaborating on research but not doing it for them. You could also work together on planning college visits and handling timelines.

2. Share information

Of course, at times, you may come across great information about a college by yourself. How can you present what you found without imposing your ideas? It is a simple as saying, “I was reading about a college that I think you may really like.” And then, share the information, nothing more. Present this only as an option, not a demand.

3. Serve as the operations and logistics manager

Being a manager does not mean you are the boss. It means you are the part of a team—made up of you and your child—that handles the operations and logistics. While it is up to each family how to exactly do this, it is another opportunity for you to be supportive.

As responsible and mature as some potential college students are, the truth is that they are not as experienced at meeting deadlines, submitting payments, filling out applications and registrations, or handling the day-to-day operations required for this application process as you probably are. Therefore, you can shoulder a good part of this work. At the same time, though, help your child learn how to deal with these things. In this way, you educate your child for the future while letting them continue their high school activities.

4. Have an honest conversation about money

Whereas the first three steps are simply suggestions, this one is an absolute necessity. You must have an open and honest talk with your child about college affordability and your family’s ability and willingness to pay for this education. They need to how this is going to limit and guide which colleges they can realistically apply to.

The biggest mistake I have seen parents make is failing to share the limits of what they can afford or are willing to spend with their child. Not addressing this matter can lead to a lot of problems, disappointment, as well as wasted time and energy.

Sure, openly discussing your finances can seem awkward and feel private, since it is sensitive information. However, it is important to be honest with your child before they apply to college. Keep them in the loop about any financial aspects of the decisions that are being made throughout the process, such as details related to their financial aid. All of this will help you and them to make the best of the college application process. In fact, talking about finances is a remarkable opportunity for your child to learn to weigh the value of their own education relative to the cost.

In the next post, Advice to Parents: How Not to Be Involved in Your Child’s College Application Process,” I will consider what parents should avoid doing and why. 

If you would like to receive more personalized assistance with your child’s college application process, please contact me. I am an Independent Educational Consultant with many years of experience in guiding parents and students through this important process.