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5 Ways Parents Can Help Without Hurting

Kevin McMullin

Money, Jobs, & College

The best way for parents to help their college applicants is to step back and let their students take charge of the college admissions process. But that doesn’t mean that parents don’t get to be involved at all. Here are five appropriate ways parents can help without hijacking the process:

1. Lead by example. Your student is going to reflect how you treat the college admissions process. So lead by example. Be excited about the opportunities that are waiting for your student at hundreds of potential colleges. Don?t act as if an acceptance from Princeton or Duke or Michigan will be the only outcomes worth celebrating. And most importantly, don’t give your student the impression that a GPA, test score, or a college admissions decision will measure their self worth. Treat the process for what it is, an exciting time in your student?s life. Your entire family will enjoy this process much more.

2. Schedule visits. Many students are not as interested in visiting colleges as parents are. This is one of those times where I encourage parents to override their kids—schedule visits anyway. Just make sure you don’t limit the visits to prestigious colleges (see tip #1). Instead, plan the occasional visit to a college when you happen to be in the area anyway, like when visiting a relative. And if you do decide to plan an extended trip, ask your student where he or she would like to go, then take charge of the planning and travel arrangements.

3. Show up at college?related events. If your student’s high school hosts a junior parent night, make sure you attend. If the PTA brings in an outside college speaker, or there’s a college fair in town, or representatives from colleges are hosting sessions at the school for students and parents, show up. Of course, you shouldn’t show up for your student. But it’s not only appropriate for parents to attend, it’s also important. You’re deservedly invested in your student’s future education, and attending these events is one way to be involved without taking over.

4. Cheer from the sidelines. Remember that the best thing you can do for your student is to cheer from the literal and figurative sidelines. Go to every softball game. Applaud how hard she studies for her biology midterm no matter what grade she earns. Be in the front row at the jazz band concert. Cheering will help you focus on effort rather than solely on results. And the positivity will be contagious.

5. Be a historian. College applications not only ask students to detail every activity, accomplishment and award from their high school years, but also to provide dates, time spent, and other details about each listing. Parents are often much better historians than students are. So keep a folder with every award, press clipping or other achievement. If there’s no hard proof, keep a parent pride journal of what your student does and when they do it. When your student applies to college, bring out that information so your student can accurately describe each one on the applications.

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Kevin McMullin

Kevin McMullin is the Founder of Collegewise, a national college admissions counseling company, co-founder of The Princeton Review and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. He also writes a daily college admissions blog,, and has given over 500 presentations to discuss smarter, saner college planning.