Skip to main content

Applying to College

Amber Brandt  |  August 30, 2021

Applying to college can be one of the most exciting and stressful seasons of a student’s life – but as their parent, there are a few things you can do (or avoid) to help the process.

  1. Let them drive… but stay in the passenger’s seat. Parenting is all about learning the balance of where to step in/bail out, and where to let your child learn – even if they risk making a costly mistake. Applying to college is just another experience of learning how to hold on and let go. This is one of their first “adult” experiences. Help them keep a clear timeline of application deadlines, but allow them to handle consequences if they happen to miss one. Offer your support, but try not to nag.
  2. Do your own homework. Even if you applied to college for yourself, times have changed. Make sure you research the latest processes and expectations for college admissions and financial aid too.
  3. Discuss finances. Talking money is taboo for many families, but if you can speak openly and frankly early on about what you can afford, your child will know how to navigate colleges they’ll be able to attend. (This is also why it’s important to research financial aid. Your child may be able to afford more than either of you realize.)
  4. Make campus visits. College is a whole new world for your child. Help them discover whether they feel at home by touring campuses. You may have to rearrange your own schedule to make this happen, but they need your support.
  5. Let them make the decision. Lots of parents feel beholden to their alma mater or a particular field, but your child will have much more buy-in on the decision if it comes from them. Even if they change their major down the road or even transfer to a new school, you can be certain you empowered them to make the right decision for their own future.

Applying to College 101

Even if this process is new to your family, you can rest assured that millions of other first-time college families have navigated this process successfully before you. Here are answers to some of the most popular questions:

  1. When should my student begin applying to college? At the beginning of their senior year. Some colleges impose different deadlines, but most applications for a regular fall admission will be due by January.
  2. Where can I go for answers? The internet, a school guidance counselor, the admissions office of the school you’re applying to, teachers, or a tutor.
  3. What can these individuals help with? Everything from which schools to apply to, to understanding the application process, improving your child’s grades before graduation, to asking for letters of recommendation or helping your child write an essay.
  4. Can we start preparing during my child’s junior year? It’s never too early to begin researching and familiarizing yourself with the college application process. If your child has a good handle on the order of events by the summer before their senior year, they’ll be in a very good position.