The Role of Parents in the College Application Process

The Role of Parents in the College Application Process

My husband and I live on a college campus where he is a professor. Over the years we have spent many entertaining moments watching families of prospective students doing the college visit – teenagers lagging behind pretending they do not know their parents, mothers excited about the grand adventure but fretting about the imminent pain of rejection, fathers equally enthusiastic but wondering if the place really warrants that exorbitant price tag. It ceased to be quite so amusing when we became one of those families ourselves!

College admissions present parents with difficult ethical, social and educational choices. We want our children to enjoy the adventure, act with integrity, feel good about the outcome, and be launched into successful and empowered adulthood under their own steam. Yet, we also witness the avalanche of requirements bearing down on them and we listen to other parents stressing about declining admit rates and soaring college expectations. In the end, many parents feel like they need to choose between allowing their teenagers the space to forge their own way to college or, given the stress and complexities of the process, usurping their child’s ability and right to retain ownership of it. The road to helicopter parenting is, like the one to hell, paved with the best of intentions!

There are no clear or easy answers to managing the application process well as a parent. But here are a few tips towards being appropriately and productively involved in your child’s college application:

  • You are their foremost model for how to deal with the stress, disappointments and joys of this process. It is not necessarily what you say but what you do that will likely have the greatest impact on their behavior and perspective.
  • Help your child develop the tools to evaluate colleges sensibly and thoughtfully – if you cannot move your own thinking beyond superficialities of rank and status, it will be hard for your child to engage constructively with the idea of a good college “fit.” If they don’t understand that what they do at college matters more than the rank of the school they got into, you might spend four more years worrying about the fact that being a mediocre or unhappy student at a highly ranked institution will probably not do for their futures what you had hoped it would! Remind your child – and yourself – that the college application process is only the opening act to the more important drama of succeeding at college.
  • The only thing perhaps more counterproductive these days than a helicoptering parent, is a snowploughing one! To be successful, students need self-motivation, independence and self-reliance in the absence of a parent herding them along. Admission officers always note at information sessions how parents ask all the questions. Resist! Give your child the opportunity – and the responsibility – to ask their own questions, make their own calls, and organize their own calendars.
  • Help set up campus visits, and then work at making these pleasant and instructive experiences for all. This requires that you bite your tongue when they express opinions that are thoughtless or even silly; keep your temper when they announce on arrival that this is not a good place for them; and listen for the subtext when they are having trouble articulating their dreams and anxieties. And remember to enjoy what may be your last extended trip with your teenager!
  • Overcome your reluctance to talk to them about money. College is expensive and there are few moments sadder than when families realize that getting admitted to a dream school is not enough to make the dream come true. This can be avoided if your family talks about what is affordable or beyond your means, and think about how to put the unattainable within reach. The financial aid process is largely in the hands of parents, so be organized about it. Do your taxes early, inform yourselves about requirements, and complete the applications in a timely manner.
  • Step away from that college essay! It is not yours to write, and in forgetting that fact you are not doing your child any favors. Essays written by parents often sound like it – smoothly written, adult in tone, and simply not very interesting. And if you do not model ethical behavior, will your child know that at college submitting another’s work as their own will get them ejected? And, more importantly, how can they have confidence in their own ideas when you show them that you don’t? But if they do ask you for essay ideas or comments, savor their trust in you and be supportive, thoughtful and gently honest.

Above all, help your teenagers develop a healthy perspective on this process by reminding them that your unconditional love does not depend on ivy growing on their colleges’ walls! As parents, we assume they know this. Yet this is a moment most likely to test their confidence and sense of self. But it is also a great opportunity for you to put finishing touches to the job you started 18 years earlier, and to send them off into the world knowing that whatever the outcome of their college application, you value them.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Protecting Your Family Against Digital and Identity Theft

Protecting Your Family Against Digital and Identity Theft

This is a custom heading element.[/vc_custom_heading][uncode_info_box items=”Author|Medium_avatar_size|inline_avatar|display_prefix,Date,Reading_time” separator=”pipe”][vc_column_text]My 24-year-old graduate-student son recently had a terrible experience that offers many lessons to college-aged students and their parents. As a nice, smart kid who typically thinks the best of people, he naively put himself into a situation (yes, he does admit he made a stupid choice) where his cell phone, credit cards and keys were stolen. The thief then managed to hack into his phone and into the banking app on his cell phone and drain his bank account!

As a parent 6,000 miles away, this was a nightmare scenario…. a son in a large city without access to cash, fear that his social security number might have been compromised, police who opted not to pursue this fraud case because they had more pressing issues, and a banking institution that refused to freeze his bank account after the theft and before the account was drained.

After many, many hours spent helping my son manage the results of the situation, we as a family have learned some big lessons about protecting family members against identity theft and digital theft in today’s world:

1. DO NOT share any login or password information by text or email…. ever! Do this over the phone.

2. Make sure a parent has every family member’s Apple ID login info, bank login info, and copies of current credit cards (in a secure place). That way, someone can lock phones and initiate freezes immediately in the event a family member is robbed or hacked, because time is of the essence.

3. Use a Password Manager. There are many programs out there, some with fees and some free, with a wide variety of features. The key is to choose one that works for you and use it consistently!

4. Make sure to keep anything with a social security number secure and NOT in your wallet (nor in a folder on your desk)! Take a look at what’s in your wallet and take out any credit cards, IDs or other things you don’t use regularly. And remember that your liability for a stolen debit card is greater than the liability for a stolen credit card, so report the theft or unauthorized use quickly.

5. Freeze the credit of all family members.  First, read this article: Then go through the process of freezing credit for all family members at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, either by phone or online. In my son’s case, I found this to be a relatively easy process. Credit freezes have to be renewed every year. When you know your student or another family member is going to apply for credit (e.g., car loan, credit card, student loan), temporarily “unfreeze” the credit.

6. Read these articles about how to protect yourself from identity theft:

7. Be careful about what apps you keep open on your cell phone! And, use a thumbprint or cell phone passcode that is not something obvious, such as part of an address, a birthdate or phone number. In my son’s case, not only did they hack his banking app (which was password-protected) but they also used his Uber app to order up a bunch of food for delivery.

8. Here are some articles about ways to protect your privacy online:

Parents, if you have a student heading to (or back to) college next month, now is the time to have a candid discussion about safety, online privacy, digital theft and identify theft.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Planning Your Summer with College in Mind

Planning Your Summer with College in Mind

Are you a high school student (or the parent of one) who is wondering how best to spend your summer? What do colleges expect high school students to do during their school holidays? While summer is a great time to relax and recharge, it’s also an excellent opportunity for teenagers to show commitment, responsibility, passion, leadership and reflection – all characteristics that can really boost your chance of getting into a good college!

Summer Job
Having a summer job is a great way to get work experience and demonstrate commitment and responsibility. Colleges understand financial realities and are impressed by students who work, especially if they are saving money for college or helping to pay some of their own bills. According to an article by Jenny Anderson in Quartz magazine (6-19-16), “Any way you turn it, holding a job is one of the most important things an adolescent can do…. They have to get up in the morning, manage their time and money, pay taxes, and be responsible to a schedule that neither kid nor parent designed.”

See: Quartz “Teens should have summer jobs, the less glamorous the better
(June 19, 2016)

Like a job, internships involve working for a company or organization, preferably one related to your career interests; but, unlike a job, they are often unpaid. Internships provide an opportunity to ‘test the waters’ and see if you really are interested in that career path. They also help students develop strong teamwork skills balanced with individual responsibility, build specific job skills, and network with people in their field of interest.

See: PrepScholar “Complete Guide to Internships for High School Students
(December 4, 2015)

Volunteer Work
Volunteering is when you do unpaid work that benefits others. Ideally, you are doing work that you enjoy, that supports a cause you care about, and that allows you to explore a career interest. There are many places where you can volunteer locally, such as libraries, animal shelters, schools, community theatres, food pantries, or other local non-profits. My daughter, for example, volunteered at the Emergency Room of our local hospital, as a way to explore her interest in medicine. If you’re passionate about national or local politics, or environmental issues, get involved! Work for a candidate whose values best meet yours, learn about the issues that matter to you, to your community… read, write and talk about them.

See:’s “Student Volunteering Guide

See: PrepScholar “The 9 Best Places to Do Community Service” (September 21, 2015)

Summer Classes
Summer classes can be taken in a variety of ways, either through your high school, at a community college, through an academic program at a college, or even online. Take a course in something that really interests you, but is not offered in your school, or community. Did you know that you can take online courses from Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, the U of Texas and other great institutions online, for FREE, through And there are many other similar options through other institutions, including and beyond If you need to stay on track with high school courses in order to prepare for college, see what’s available in summer school or at your local community college. If you are interested in pursuing theater, dance or visual arts, see what kinds of workshops are available both locally or as a residential program elsewhere. There are also many ‘pay to play’ opportunities on college campuses, where you study interesting subjects with students from around the world, while living on a college campus. While doing such a program will not improve your chances of admission at that college, it is a great opportunity to explore subjects not available at your high school, meet new people, demonstrate leadership, explore the college experience and expand the horizons of your world!

See: Forbes “College Summer Programs for High Schoolers: Are They Worth It?
(July 1, 2015)

See: Fastweb! Summer Programs for High School Students (March 1, 2016)

Pursue Hobbies or Talents
Summer is the time to pursue hobbies and talents, informally or formally. Perhaps you want to cook your way through one of Julia Child’s legendary cookbooks! It could result in a great college application essay! Are you an athletic, hoping to pursue your sport in college? Summer is an opportunity to focus intensively on your sport, by training or attending camps. Maybe you love to sit around playing guitar, writing your own songs, singing… great! Work on them, polish them, record them, maybe even YouTube them!

See: Psychology Today “Six Reasons to Get a Hobby” (September 15, 2015)

Your summer activities are more important than you imagine… NOT because you can rack up an impressive list to report on your college applications of the activities you attended, participated in, witnessed or accomplished. More important is that you are exploring the things that really mean something to you, and you’re investing your energy in excelling in them! With many opportunities available, choose ones that interest you and will communicate your passion to colleges. Colleges want to see that you committed to activities that are meaningful to you, in which you displayed responsibility and leadership, and where you both affected and were affected by the people and community around you.

See: Huffington Post’s “What College Admissions Office Look for in Extracurricular Activities” (April 11, 2013)

And don’t forget – bagging groceries, flipping burgers, doing construction work or restoring trails will be at least as respected by admission officers as attending a 2-week campus-based program.

Finally, remember that summers are probably the best time for you and your family to make the effort to visit a range of campuses, so you don’t waste time or money applying to colleges where you won’t be happy. Do NOT leave campus visits until after you get admitted… visiting campuses demonstrates your interest in each college, and that effort can significantly affect the outcome of your application.

Don’t wait! Summer opportunities need to be lined up NOW![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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