Newsflash: Your “Help” at College Admissions Time Could Hurt

Newsflash: Your “Help” at College Admissions Time Could Hurt

Teen girl in white tank top at the library trying to get into college

The college application process can be rough. Whether your girl is trying to get into the Ivy League school she’s dreamed of since kindergarten or just wants to go to the same school as her bestie, the whole process can be exhausting and majorly stressful for all involved. When the stakes are this high, of course you want to do everything in your power to help—but you might want to pause and take a step back before getting too involved. Here are some major pitfalls even the most well-meaning families fall into at college admissions time and how you can avoid them.

1. Don’t cloud her vision.
The fact that you, someone you know, or someone famous you don’t know went to a certain school doesn’t make it right for your girl—so ease off on pressuring her toward that one college you really want her to go to. Instead ask your girl about the schools she’s applying to. What does she like about them? Why are they right for her? If her answers don’t go much farther than, “well, everyone knows it’s a good school” or “my friends are going there,” see if you can get her to at least look into a few other options. Discuss factors like class size, campus life, affordability, and distance from home. Also have her take an honest look at acceptance rates at various schools for kids with GPAs like hers. Applying to one or two “reach” schools is fine, but she should also be applying to a few schools where she’d be an ideal candidate. She’ll be happiest and do the best at a school that’s truly tailored to students like her—even if you’ve always dreamed of her at a different campus.

2. Skip the helicopter.
Deadlines are everything when it comes to college applications. And some items, like letters of recommendation, require the time and energy of people outside your family. Do not—we repeat—do not make the ultimate helicopter parent move of asking for those letters on her behalf. You might think you’re taking one thing off her plate and making her life a bit easier at this super stressful time, but her favorite teachers, coaches, and other important adults in her life will not be impressed. Instead remind her to ask the people on her list if they can help while giving them plenty of time to write something thoughtful.

3. Stay away from that essay.
In the whole admissions process, your girl’s college essay or personal statement is usually the one chance she’ll get to set herself apart from the rest. Reading these essays gives admissions advisers the opportunity to understand why—beyond numbers—your girl specifically would be an asset to their student body. And if her statement has been written or highly edited by an adult? They can see it a mile away. Urge your girl to write about something that’s personally meaningful to her, something that inspires her and is central to who she is—not about what she thinks others might want to hear. Once she’s written it, go ahead and read for any punctuation or spelling errors that spell check didn’t catch, but don’t get too in the weeds here. This is the space for your girl’s true, authentic voice to shine through. No fancy SAT words needed!

4. Forget about grades (for a minute).
She’s being tasked with putting her best foot forward, but it’s easy to get caught up in grades and test scores while some of the other things that make her an outstanding college candidate get left out. Admissions officers look at lots of things besides grades. Does she have an after-school job? That shows commitment and responsibility! Did she start a sci-fi club at school? That shows passion and leadership! She kept up with schoolwork while overcoming a difficult health challenge? That shows strength and tenacity! Girls are typically taught to be modest and not brag about their accomplishments, but now is not the time to play down how incredible she is.

5. Remember: this is not about you.
Yes, this is a super stressful time for you as a parent, but it’s probably even more stressful for your girl. She’s the one having to put herself, flaws and all, on display for a bunch of strangers to judge before determining how she spends the next few years of her life. So if she’s a little cranky, moody, or out of sorts, remind her that you’ll always love her no matter what and that you’re there if she wants to vent. Then? Let her do her thing. Sure, a spontaneous ice cream break or quick coffee run with you during a stressful weekend could be just the thing the doctor ordered and help her shine her brightest when she gets back to work. But if she says she’s on a roll and doesn’t want to lose focus on her epic essay? Listen to her and respect her needs, then make time to kick back with her when she’s ready.