College Admissions – The Process for Parents

Our college-bound journey has been cleared for takeoff.  I am not going anywhere, though I wish this trip really included travel to a far, exotic place.

Alas, this voyage is one we’ve been planning for a while and includes more emotional baggage than I care to pack so soon. We started working on this itinerary four years ago; then faster than you can fasten your seat belt we touched down at a chosen destination. 

I’m talking about the journey to check our son into his new home: Purdue University. (The same college QB Drew Breeze, pop-corn king Orville Redenbacher and astronaut Neil Armstrong attended.)


Though I’d like to tell you that the college-search expedition was smooth sailing the entire way, it was not; there was a good amount of screaming, arguing, sleepless nights, anxiousness, nagging and moments when we felt downright terrified of the unknown which had as all on edge for the majority of our kid's sophomore and junior high school years.

In spite of what college guide books and others might tell you,  getting your kids into college is a task that involves the whole family, and not a job even the brightest student can possibly undertake alone. It's a stressful, impersonal and insensitive procedure which, in my opinion, is meant to weed out the weakest link — including the parents.  

Why? Well,  let me share with you just a few things I learned during the humbling college-application process so you can figure out what kind of college student you have, and more importantly, what kind of parent you are in this whole admissions racket.

Who, me? Yes, you! What kind of parent are you? This is as important as what kind of student your kid is because this will most likely determine the academic path your child takes in high school and therefore the workload, amount of stress and sheer determination you'll all need to reach the college goal — whether it's an Ivy League or your State University.

First off, consider this: Do you or does your child want to go to Brown (Emma Watson is currently attending this Ivy league school) or Ball State (David Letterman's Alma matter)? Does your child want to walk on the same grounds as Presidents and Pulitzer Prize winners or play on the same turf as Heisman Trophy winners?

While you ponder  these questions, reflect on the following scenarios and see if you can relate to any of them:

1. Is my child naturally smart, or does my child have to work harder than his peers in the same courses?

2. Is my child self motivated or do I ride him hard to get “As”, and if you didn't would he/she be a “B” or “C” student?

3. Does my child stress over the homework load, or does he/she do it without much complaining or needing a tutor's assistance?

4. Is my child going to try to get into a school athletically or academically, or both?

These are some of the HUGE questions we did not have the benefit of knowing before narrowing down the list of colleges our son was going to apply to.  Though these may seem small things to consider, they are important in the grand scheme of the college-application decision.

Now, take a moment to jot down what kind of parent you are. Do you want your child to attend a near-by school so you can have peace of mind? Or would nothing less than Columbia be acceptable for you?

More importantly, what does your child want? Do you know? Does it matter?

As parents, we do influence the ultimate decision, after all we foot the bill. However, the energy required to get through the admissions process alone can drive you mad.  To help you navigate the rough seas that lay ahead of the college application storm, here are three things I wish I could have done to make the college admissions season a lot easier:

1. Hire a college coach. If I knew then what I know now… we would have plunked down $3,000 faster than it takes to make a latte. Why? Because coaches, like teachers, don't have to worry about the relationship being damaged in this exhausting process. From helping with the essay on the application, to checking out the profiles on college websites to helping the student be realistic with his/her expectations could prove invaluable. They're also impartial, and not weighed down by the thoughts that sometimes consume parents like the notion that, “Yes, my kid is cut out for Princeton”.

2. Invested in an SAT or ACT Prep one-on-one tutor and not the courses. Besides a 4.0+ GPA, nothing matters more on the college app than this score to get pulled from the pile of 30,000 applications over to the other one and not end up in the rubbish bin. Don't believe it isn't so. There's a reason there are so many companies, entire sections in book stores and websites dedicated to this very topic. Heed the message.

3. Researched each college student profile earlier than junior year — especially the schools my child had high on his list. This would have given him, and us, a starting point during freshman year.

I don't mean to make you panic mentioning the word 'freshman' since you might be reading this and already have a junior in high school. Don't worry, it's not late for anything unless you've got your heart set on an Ivy League where grades and scores have to be top notch from day one coupled with extraordinary extra-curricular activities. However, as you've heard it a thousand times already, “There is a college for everyone.”

In the meantime, keep this in mind: it takes the same amount of school work, grades and scores to get into UCLA, USC, Boston College, and even Stanford if you live in California and this is your/student's goal — like it is for the other 30,000 who'll be applying to these same schools.

So how will your child differentiate himself from the pack?

More on this in part 2.

In the meantime, I'd like to tell you a short anecdote a friend shared with me when I asked about his son's college experience. 

His son was at Princeton his freshman year. Walking down the dorm hall the new student sees a boy sitting in his dorm day after day. He finally asks him why he isn't out with the guys and he answered, “Because I'm 15 years old and a freshman here. Who wants to hang out with a 15 year old?”

I thought this little tale might put things into perspective for some parents who are in the troughs of college applications and therefore expectations. It did for us.

Now it's time for you to share the tips, tricks or advice you've picked up during your (ahem) your child's college application ordeal.

Or if you just have a question like “What's the deal with those damn AP courses. Are they worth it?” Go ahead and ask. I'm not a college coach, but having done all of the research along with my son (and the shepherding), I can try to help you avoid the most common mistakes we parents tend to make.

Share with your friends here…


  1. Anonymous says:

    Great article. I think a lot of parents will identify with your journey. One of my favorite – and important points – is that parents need to look at themselves as they go through this process with their kids. Distinguishing between what we want and what our child wants is so important. Thanks for making that point.
    It's interesting how quickly so many of us are to be willing to pay a lot of money to get our child into school (coach, test prep), not to mention the cost of tuition, but then we send them off and cross our fingers. Knowing how to be supportive and helpful but not helicopter will be the next challenge.
    For parents who might want more information, http://www.collegeparentcentral might help. We try to give parents information and suggestions to help with the transition and to help make college a success.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Love it! Thanks for putting a link here for us parents learn how to deal with the aftermath of having a child leave for college. Success away from home for the first time is tough, so it is crucial that we remain in contact with them and be their cheerleaders and lend an ear when they need it.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.