If you have a high school senior who is planning to attend college next year, the coming months may be an emotional roller coaster for the whole family. The college application process can feel overwhelming, and some kids cope with their anxiety by avoiding the whole subject. They never get around to narrowing a list of schools or writing an essay. Their procrastination makes their parents feel anxious, which makes the kids feel even more anxious, and nothing gets done.
It may seem like it would be easier to just complete the applications yourself. But in addition to being unethical, taking over a child’s college application process communicates that you don’t think he’s capable of doing it himself, at a time when he needs to develop the confidence to go off to college and manage his life. It also deprives him of the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful exploration of his goals and interests, an important task for adolescents.
That doesn’t mean parents should be completely removed from the process. Most students need help getting organized. You can help your child make a chart with each school’s requirements and deadlines. Knowing what you need to do and when you need to do it makes the process less overwhelming.
If your child thinks he has nothing to write about, you can brainstorm essay ideas together. Pointing out some of his best qualities and recalling funny or interesting stories about his life can help generate essay ideas and boost his self-esteem. If he asks you to read his application, it can be helpful to mention an activity he neglected to mention that demonstrates his caring nature or intellectual interest. But rewriting an essay undermines his confidence and could sink his application, as admissions officers can recognize when an essay is written by a 45-year-old.
You can be a valuable sounding board and supporter. Reassure your child that even though this is a stressful time, things will work out and he will go to college. Let him know that he can be successful and happy at more than one college. Ask what he wants in a college and encourage him to explore some schools he (and you) might not know much about that offer what he’s looking for. By allowing a child to be responsible for his college application process, you help him feel competent and ready for a successful college experience.