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Tips for parents as seniors apply to colleges

Buy a notebook, which will become your child’s college bible, where he puts passwords and assigned IDs, as well as application deadlines.
Buy a notebook, which will become your child’s college bible, where he puts passwords and assigned IDs, as well as application deadlines. Tribune

Hey, parents of high school seniors. Remember how bitter you used to be over having to “participate” in your kid’s science fair project?

Applying to colleges is that multiplied by 100 – no, 1,000.

You will have friends tell you that you should leave this all to your child. This is a lie.

Your child needs to take the lead, yes, but you need to be The Enforcer. There’s a lot at stake here, and it is simply too much for most 17-year-olds to handle without guidance.

I’m sure there are seniors out there who, in fact, can handle it – good for them! They are probably not your kids.

At the beginning of my son’s senior year, I had lunch with a friend whose son was entering college. As she was giving me college advice, I innocently asked, “But shouldn’t my son do all that stuff?”

Her answer was perfect: “Shouldn’t I be a size 4?”

It’s an imperfect world we live in.

So here are my top tips for dealing with the situation.

▪ Create a separate e-mail account to be used on college applications that parent and child both can access. I cannot emphasis how valuable this was. Do it now. (And keep the e-mail address professional.)

▪ Buy a notebook. This will become your child’s college bible, where he puts the ridiculously large number of passwords and assigned IDs that he will get from the various colleges and SSAR. Don’t know what SSAR is? Oh, you will.

Also in this binder, your child should write down the application deadlines for the schools he is interested in. This binder is so important that if misplaced, it will prompt white-hot fear and despair until it is located. Trust me on this.

Similarly, have a folder on your computer where you stash college essays, resumes, etc.

▪ Start early. As soon as your child begins his senior year, he can start applying to schools. My son’s high school had an informational session for seniors in October on how to apply to college. At that point, my son had already applied to several (maybe all, I can’t remember) of the colleges he was interested in.

He got his first college acceptance in October, when many students were just starting the process. (That was the point where, as his mother, I goaded him into thanking me for having the foresight to tell him to apply early.)

▪ Put a deposit down on housing early. This is a big one. And by early, I mean when your child applies to the school. I know this sounds crazy – we are, after all, talking about potentially hundreds of dollars. But many colleges and universities have limited housing, and they assign housing based on when the student put down the deposit. We were able to get partial deposits back from the schools my son didn’t choose. And, more important, he got his first pick for housing at the university he’s attending.

▪ Take your friends’ advice with a grain of salt. You and your child will be inundated with advice from friends who mean well – but don’t necessarily know what’s best for your kid. Trust your instincts, and don’t worry about where others think your child should go to college.

▪ Let your child decide. Even though you are The Enforcer, at the end of the day, the decision needs to be your child’s – with your help discussing pros and cons of each school. Of course, if your child picks a school solely because it’s near the beach, you may have to redirect.

Or maybe not.

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