There’s no one perfect way to support your high school student while they’re applying to colleges, but there are some general things to keep in mind as college application season kicks into high gear.
Get them thinking about what schools to apply to
This is a process that starts long before applications open. When your student is a junior in high school, get them thinking about the application process by narrowing down what colleges they want to apply to. You can guide them in this process without dictating where they should apply.
Ask them questions about what they want to study (if they have an idea; there’s no shame in going into college undecided), how far away from home they want to go, whether they’re looking for a big school or a small school and more.
Help them think about which factors they want to prioritize and which ones are non-negotiable. There’s thousands of colleges in the United States alone, but thinking about these questions will narrow the field and make the process less daunting.
Help with scheduling college tours
Once your student has an idea of what schools they want to apply to, have them look into college tours. While some colleges seem perfect on paper, visiting in person will give your student a better idea of whether it’s a good fit for them and whether they want to go through with applying.
If schedules allow, it may be helpful to visit campuses during the school year to see what campus looks like in action. After your student does research on what kind of tours their prospective schools offer, here’s where you come in: help coordinate schedules, transportation and lodging, if applicable.
See if you can visit multiple colleges on one trip to save time and money.
Keep an eye on deadlines (but don’t badger about them)
Regular decision, early action, financial aid, honors programs– there’s a ton of deadlines that come with applying to college. It’s enough to make a young person’s head spin. Help your student keep track of deadlines by helping them set up an at-a-glance calendar so they can see everything due at once in an organized way.
But don’t overstep. Your student knows that that application is due next week. Breathing down their neck about it won’t do anything except stress them out. College is a step towards adulthood, and your student needs to take accountability for their deadlines.
You won’t be able to hound them about course deadlines once they’re in school, so this is a good time to practice loosening the reins and letting your child manage themselves.
Provide assistance with financial aid forms
Financial aid forms are super important but can also be super confusing. If there’s one step in the college application process to do alongside your student, it’s this one. Sit down with your child to help them fill out FAFSA and other financial aid forms to ensure all information is accurate.
Know when to call in extra help
Sometimes students need extra help in certain areas, and that’s okay. As a parent, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what your student may be struggling with and call in extra help when it’s needed. Does your student have trouble with standardized tests? Find them an SAT or ACT tutor to set them up for success.
Is your student having trouble with their Common Application essay? Look into a writing coach to help guide them. Is your child going to be a first generation college student, and the whole process is overwhelming for everyone? Consider talking to a college admissions counselor to help along the way.
Let your child advocate for themselves
Much of the college application process involves your child making steps towards being independent. Encourage them to take the lead on things like communication with their high school guidance counselor and officials from their prospective colleges.
Take cues from your kid
Every student is different. Some students need more guidance than others, and it’s impossible to guess what kind of support your student will need when they’re in the thick of the application process. Always try to communicate with them about what their needs are, but keep an eye out for nonverbal cues, too.
If you’ve been hands-off but your child seems to be drowning, ask them if there are areas where they need extra support. Maybe you’re a hands-on parent, but your reminders about deadlines seem to be making your child irritable. Consider taking a step back and giving them some more autonomy.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so keep the door of communication with your child open throughout the whole process.
Celebrate small victories
Applying to college can be daunting, especially if your student is applying to a dream school. Celebrate when they open that acceptance letter, but don’t forget to commemorate smaller milestones along the way, too.
Congratulate them on finishing all of their applications, take a ton of pictures during college visits, take an interest in what they’re writing about for their college essay, make a huge deal when they decide on a school, no matter what school they end up choosing.
Not every student will get into their dream school, but celebrating small victories along the way will help remind your student about what the college application process is about: the journey.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, New York Family.