An Open Letter to Parents Navigating the College Application Process
By: Laura Miller, LMSW
Congratulations! You’ve supported your child throughout years of educational and developmental milestones and you have now made it to the pinnacle moment of their educational journey, the college application process. Take a moment to reflect on this; the years of involvement in classroom activities, school plays, sporting events... you have been there through it all!
As you celebrate this achievement, also acknowledge how difficult it is to believe that your child is headed off to college. (Where did the time go!?) Furthermore, it is equally if not more challenging to determine exactly how to continue to support your child while working to promote their own independence. You may be feeling the temptation to remain as equally involved as when you first enrolled your child in Pre-K and this is normal, you are in the special group of people who know your child best! However, allowing your student to conduct the college application process independently will help prepare them to be independent when they do attend college. Knowing when to help, how to help and refraining from crossing the line into too much help is key.
So, how do you help? Perhaps your child has been avoiding conversations related to
college or is procrastinating working on their college admissions essay...you may be thinking; “Don’t they want to go to college?” or “Why don’t they just do it?? This is important!!” It makes sense to want to jump on these avoidance behaviors, and become your child’s Motivator-In-Chief, however, your child is actually right on cue. This is a huge task to begin and in most cases, this is likely the biggest and most stressful decision that your child has ever had to complete, and it makes sense for them to be feeling anxious about the unknown future. Oftentimes, when someone feels anxious they will avoid a situation, and you can validate this for your teen. Remember that their avoidance makes sense right now, and that becoming overbearing and controlling by demanding a completion of an essay by the end of the night will likely worsen their avoidance. Instead, have a candid conversation with your teen that you understand how stressful this is and that you empathize with what they’re feeling.
At the same time, complete avoidance of the college application process will be detrimental to your child’s success. Set up a weekly check in time to discuss your child’s progress, rather than asking frequent questions daily. This way, you will still be able to check in on your child’s progress, while encouraging their independence throughout the week. Remember, that there is a longer-term goal at play; teach your child how to manage big tasks, rather than being overbearing and adding more stress. During these meetings, encourage open and honest communication, and listen to your child’s desires about the type of school that they would like to attend. Your guidance toward appropriate decisions is needed, however be careful not to impose your own beliefs about the type of school that you think your child “should” attend. Remember, this is your child’s application process, not yours.
After you and your child have determined when to have your check-ins, you now need to determine the appropriate amount of help to offer. You may choose to help maintain schedules regarding application deadlines, work on financial arrangements that will
support the college education and help your child arrange campus visits. Continue to offer your child unconditional guidance, love and support, however, allow your child to
remain in control and take the lead. The temptation to get involved may at times be so
powerful that you may want to write their college essay for them. Remember, proofreading and grammar checking is okay, but colleges want to hear your child’s unique student perspective, not yours.
This is a stressful time for both you and your child, work to keep your own stress at bay so that you can support your child. (This may mean making a concerted effort to engage in your own self-care!) Do not lose sight of the fact that your child is going to college, not you, and that too much help or pressure from you will undermine your child’s ability to become an independent young adult. Provide continuous support while allowing your child to lead the way. All the while don’t forget to celebrate the wonderful accomplishments your child has already achieved!