It is that time of year again — when the leaves change, the temperature gets cooler, and school buses are back on the roads. Most students and parents dread back to school days, not only because they have to set alarm clocks, but because after-school activities like athletic commitments, clubs or volunteering begin to fill up the calendar. Hopefully your child participates in activities that are personally fulfilling and not just building a resume for college admissions!
With Fall in the air, homes with High School students start talking about colleges, admissions and the process of finding the “right school.” Parents tend to believe that “it was easier when I was applying to college”; or, “If I was applying today to my alma mater, I would never get accepted!” That is why it is more important than ever to help students understand the college admissions process and the options available for the student and the whole family.
As a college placement consultant, I have grown to understand that parental involvement, to a certain degree, is very important in the admissions process. On the one hand, it helps when parents provide support and structure in order to reduce college admission jitters and navigate the college admissions process. On the other hand, parents need to remember that you have already had this opportunity, and now it is your child's chance to explore and engage in a college experience.
Step 1: Talk with Your Child
The college selection process begins best with a careful look at what is important to each member of the family, so that everyone is working towards a common goal. Start the process by asking your child the following questions:
- What makes college different from high school?
- What classes do you enjoy the most in high school?
- If you could describe your college environment, what would it be like?
- Have you thought of where you would like to go?
- Are there majors or careers that you seem to be more interested in?
- How do you define success?
- What are your passions?
- What kind of support do you think you will need in college?
- Do you think climate will affect your college choices?
- What fun things do you hope to do in college?
- Do you want to study abroad?
- What makes you a good college candidate in general?
Learning about your child's academic interests, passions, social needs, athletic desires or college wishes can help you set the boundaries for a process that can be tricky and sometimes frustrating.
Step 2: Talk with the School Counselor
Once you have had a discussion with your child, I encourage you to set up an appointment with your student's college counselor. Explore his/her expectations and get a clear picture of the process. After meeting with the counselor, you should have a good feeling as to whether your child's needs will be met or if you will need to look for an independent educational consultant who specializes in college placement.
Some things that you should be aware of when meeting with your student's counselor are: experience; campus knowledge; professional integrity; dedication to stay current in the world of admissions, and most importantly, the ability to reduce anxiety in both the student and parents.
Specific non-threatening questions to ask the counselor:
- How many students does your counselor work with throughout the year?
- How many campuses have you had the opportunity to visit throughout the country?
- How does the counselor navigate the college selection process and best choose the appropriate college fit for your student?
- What ways can your counselor help decrease the anxiety that tends to appear during the process?
Step 3: Make a Decision
Some high schools are fortunate to have counselors who support students and have a handle on both the admissions process and the characteristics behind colleges throughout the United States. You may decide that your school counseling office offers sufficient support to meet your family's needs.
If you decide that your family should consider using an independent educational consultant, then it is very important that you find the right consultant. You want to fully understand the consultant's goals and objectives for your student. Understanding the Consultant's personality AND process can help you and your child choose the best fit.
Some great questions to ask before hiring a consultant:
- How often to you visit college campuses and how many have you seen?
- How does your process work and what goals do you have for your clients?
- How many clients do you take per graduating year?
- Do you belong to any professional associations?
- How do you keep up with admissions trends, academic changes and the overall landscape of college admissions?
- Do any colleges or universities pay you to recruit students?
- How long have you worked in the field?
- Do you have any former clients whom I could call for references?
- How do you define the college admissions process and what do you expect of our student and family?
- Do you specialize in any specific area like learning disabilities, athletics, arts, gifted, etc?
Step 4: Keep Communication Open
Parents play a critical role in the admissions process. However, your student is the one applying to college. In my practice, I spend time with the parents to help solidify the student's needs and understand the parent's concerns, but I work closely with the student — especially when it comes time for campus visits, interviews and the application season.
Before you start looking at colleges or delving into the world of college gossip in general, set the stage by simply communicating with your own child. Make conversations about college expectations clear, and share stories of your own college experiences. Be open and honest about your hopes for your child's college future, and learn about your child's dreams, as well. As a parent, you want to give every opportunity to your child. So remember, it's your child's life, and your goal is to help him/her be as successful as possible in making difficult decisions about where to apply and attend college.