This article by Tony Di Giacomo Ph.D. originally appeared on River Journal Online
Acceptance to a top-choice, best-fitting school is something about which students and parents dream. The application process, on the other hand, could be less enthralling. The deadlines, forms, essays, and life-changing decisions can certainly overwhelm, intimidate, and discourage those in the midst of their journey on the road to college. A Parent’s Role in the College Process means managing the complexities and uncertainties of applying to college is challenging enough for today’s students, but also poses its own unique challenges to today’s parents. Should you be involved? If so, how much? What’s the best way to keep your child on track? Should you take the initiative, or let your child lead the way?
As natural caregivers, many parents are quick to take the lead. From scheduling college visits to micromanaging final lists and essays, it’s easy to let the process and prospect of supporting your child in fulfilling their dreams take over, presuming it is in their best interest. After all, isn’t it the result that matters, or protecting them from stress at all costs? Shouldn’t we contribute whatever we can to help our child along the way to achieving their dreams? On the other end of the spectrum, some parents choose to let their child take the lead, deciding when to start and what to do when because they worry about the child being stressed by starting the process. Taking a hands-off approach can seem like the best option to motivate their child and have them take ownership over their own future. They are on their way to adulthood and independence, after all. However…
Our approach places parents somewhere in between these two competing poles, viewing a parent’s role as a guide, mentor, and supporter, rather than a facilitator or observer. We encourage parents to understand this multifaceted process not as a hurdle to jump over to reach the finish line, but instead as an opportunity for their child to learn. This is not to say parents need to be the sole teacher along the way with all the answers. Rather, being a successful guide means knowing when to seek out and trust the advice of outside experts, and even the knowledge and insight of their own child, building a network of players on your student’s team to yield the best learning outcomes and ultimate results. Trust your child to know and share meaningful and impactful experiences as part of their application portfolio, but encourage them to get to the drawing board and start drafting these ideas over the summer, not the week before applications are due. Understand and honor the values, opportunities, and learning environment that draw your student to a particular school as their top choice, but remind them to look at the bigger picture, create a well-balanced list, and consult with a guidance counselor, teacher, or mentor to set a clear plan for completing the numerous application materials they’ll need to gather and submit to reach their goal.
As one of the largest project management efforts your child will likely experience at this point in their lives, the college process provides much more than a long-awaited decision letter. Done right, it’s also an opportunity to learn time management, writing, communication, and organization skills, as well as practice self-reflection and build a deeper understanding of one’s values, goals, strengths, and areas for improvement. As a parent, balancing your child’s agency with practicality, a nuanced but important exercise, can ensure your advice, perspective, and support is recognized, honored, and implemented in a productive way while simultaneously giving voice to your child’s present and future ambitions. The road to college is long and arduous, and not meant to be navigated alone. Working with your child and others as a team, with your common objective in mind and an openness to learn and grow along the way, you can ensure this process is everything you and your child have dreamed as they will be ready for, most importantly, manifesting their future more ready than ever.