As your teen begins the college application process, it’s important that you have an understanding of how the process works. It may feel automatic to compare your child’s college process with your own, but it’s important to remember that the process is constantly changing and evolving, and each individual has their own unique experience. It’s a stressful time not only for your teen, but for you as well. Having a good sense of the process and how you can best support your teen is a key ingredient in relieving that stress.
Taking the time to do your own research is a great way to develop a solid understanding of the process and what to expect. Increasing your knowledge on what your teen is going through allows you to be more actively involved in the process. This article gives a straightforward breakdown of the application process.
Involvement is crucial for helping your teen succeed with the college application process. Senior year of high school is a busy time, and having extra support can help decrease feelings of overwhelm. It may be tempting to do things for your teen, such as filling out parts of their applications, but it’s important that you serve as a guide along the way, offering assistance as needed. It may be helpful to have designated set times throughout the week where you and your teen work on all things college together. You want to offer the right amount of support without being overbearing.
Help create a pros and cons list
One of the hardest parts of the college application process is deciding which colleges to apply to. Helping your teen figure out what they want in a college and creating a pros and cons list may be a helpful visual in the decision making process. Categories may include size, location, and price. This also gives you as the parent an opportunity to be transparent on how much financial help, if any, you are able to provide. When deciding what colleges to apply to, it’s helpful to have your teen make a list of ‘safety schools’ that they know they will likely be accepted into, ‘target schools’ that your child fits the criteria for, but may be a bit more challenging to get into, and ‘reach schools’ which have high expectations and low acceptance rate (Gordon, 2021).
Offer to read/edit your teen’s college essay
Writing a college essay is daunting for many teens. It’s an opportunity to talk about themselves and their accomplishments which may be difficult for some students. Assisting your teen in what to include in their essay may be extremely beneficial. If your teen has already started their essay, offering to read it or help make necessary edits can be helpful.
Assist with creating a timeline for deadlines
Deadlines are important to follow when it comes to the college application process. To make sure things are getting done in a timely manner, and to lower household stress, working with your teen to make a timeline with deadlines is a necessary step for productivity. Putting the timeline where both you and your teen can see it will be a helpful daily reminder of what should be prioritized. Hanging the timeline on the fridge is a great visual and will decrease the temptation to constantly give reminders. It may be necessary to have a timeline for each college your child is applying to. Important deadlines may include college essays, letters of recommendation, due date of the college application, financial aid due dates, and scholarship due dates. Timelines can be personalized to the individual student and can be easily created using Excel.
Offer support with financial forms and scholarship resources
Financials are one of the most stressful parts of the college application process. Expenses tend to add up fast between college visits and college application fees. Transparency regarding financials is crucial, and it’s encouraged to have this discussion sooner rather than later. Be transparent with your child on how much financial help, if any, you are able to provide. Offer assistance in filling out financial aid forms and searching for scholarship opportunities. It’s important to create realistic financial expectations so everyone is on the same page and there are no last-minute surprises.
Have confidence in your teen
It's easy to forget how capable a teen is when stress levels are high for everyone in the family. As a parent, you want to see your child succeed. You may feel the need to give constant reminders and want to do things for your child, but it’s important to remember that your teen is capable and the college application process is a great opportunity for them to practice independence. As a parent, you won’t be with them at college making sure they attend every class and complete every assignment, so this is a perfect opportunity to practice having patience and confidence in your child. There are many aspects of the college application process where you can offer valuable help, but things such as requesting transcripts and asking for letters of recommendation will need to be done on their own. This is also why having a timeline as mentioned above is beneficial, your teen is still able to complete things independently, but you can assist them with a visual reminder.
Validate your teen’s feelings
In addition to stress, your teen is likely experiencing a whirlwind of emotions relating to the college application process. This is a great opportunity for you to engage in active listening. Active listening requires paying attention to what is being said, using eye contact and appropriate body language, and truly focusing on what the other person is saying rather than how you plan to respond. Many times your teen may just want you to listen and be present, and offer advice only when sought out. It’s important to validate the feelings of your child and help them understand that it’s typical to feel a roller coaster of emotions during the college application process, and you are here as a support.
It’s important to communicate with your child that it’s okay for them to not be accepted into every college they apply to. Teens already put enough pressure on themselves, the last thing they want is to feel like they disappointed their parents. Just as you would celebrate their acceptances with them, validate their disappointed feelings if they don’t get into a school they applied to.
It’s important to recognize that your teen is not the only one going through a large change. As a parent, you are also experiencing a lot of emotions relating to your child beginning the college application process. Although it’s an exciting and important time in your teen’s life, It’s okay to feel all the different emotions that arise. It’s crucial to check-in with yourself and your emotions and do what is necessary to take care of yourself. Find what helps you stay regulated and relaxed, whether it be taking a walk, stretching, deep breathing, or having alone time, it’s important to know what steps to take to keep you feeling your best.
Remember to celebrate your teen’s accomplishments! Whether it’s celebrating the smaller victories along the way, or having a celebration when your child receives acceptance letters, it’s important to recognize their hard work and all the effort that was put in along the way. Remember to pat yourself on the back too, helping a teen through the college application process is no easy task!