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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/ 2/2010

Parents' role in college admissions

By Valerie Strauss

I know parents who don’t get involved in their child’s college application process. And I know parents whose child doesn’t get very much involved in his or her own college application process. Somewhere in the middle is the right space to inhabit.

I asked a private college admissions counselor to talk about the right kind of parent involvement in college admissions. Here is what Marcia Libes Simon, director of College Planning Service, LLC, in Potomac, Md., has to say:

By Marcia Libes Simon
While some parents become overly invested in the college admissions process, they can play a valuable role.

When students are left on their own to choose schools, they often look for the university with a good football team, or where their friends are going, or what they think is the most prestigious school. Instead, parents should let their kids know that this is an opportunity to identify their interests, goals, and learning style to better select a school where they will thrive and be happy.

Parents can be very helpful with their support, encouragement and guidance. They should also let their children know that no matter how the college applications play out, the results do not reflect the student’s self-worth.

If a parent becomes too invested in having a son or daughter attend a prestigious and highly selective university, then the child may feel as though he has failed you – and himself – if he is not admitted. This may be the first major disappointment your child will face that parents cannot “fix” for them, so prepare him/her that things don’t always work out as we would like.

As for the applications themselves, it is fine for parents to review the final product prior to submission to check for obvious errors and typos. Parents can also help in brainstorming for essay topics, but should refrain from editing or rewriting a student’s essays.

Every year I have at least one well-meaning parent who does this, and every time it is glaringly obvious to me that that parent used a heavy hand in “editing.” No matter how intelligent a 17-year-old may be, his or her writing will sound nothing like the written work of an adult. If it is this obvious to me, you can be sure that it is equally obvious to the person who reads the essay in the admissions office, and in the end this can hurt your child.

On campus visits, parents should hang back and let the student take the lead. Let him walk ahead of you into the admissions office to introduce himself and fill out the various forms. Let him ask his own questions, because teens have their own set of issues that matter to them.

On the tour, though, parents can keep a watchful eye for details that may not matter as much to the student, such as campus maintenance and clues about how the school is spending its money.

Make college visits fun. Don’t give your child the third degree after the tour, but walk around the college town or city and browse in the shops or have a relaxing lunch and maybe even take in a game or cultural event on the campus.

Finally, don’t use the word “we” or “our” when referring to the application process; it’s a dead giveaway that you’ve become too involved!

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 2, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Very helpful column, especially for this parent of a 17 year old high school junior!

Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 2, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

This is a great article. I just read another one with more good advice about helping our kids through the college application process. It is an excellent adjunct to this column.

Posted by: amy3e | February 3, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

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