Ground Control Parenting – Carol Sutton Lewis

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Surviving Your Son’s College App Process

If your son is a senior in high school, you know too well that this is the college application season. No doubt, it can be a time fraught with tension as your son negotiates the maze of determining where he wants to go and where he has a shot at getting in, all the while trying to keep up his grades (because they will count) and managing all of the extra work this process adds to his days.

As a parent, you are trying to figure out what he is supposed to be doing and if he is doing it all, is he thinking about schools which are right/realistic for him, how much do these colleges cost and can we afford them, and trying not to freak him (and yourself) out about it all. At least your son has guidance counselors to direct him. How do you figure it all out? GCP‘s got you. I’m going through this now for the third time (last one!) and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are some tips to help you get through the process:

1. Make sure he’s got the right tools: At this point he should be doing research on colleges he may be interested in. Make sure he has (or has access to) a recent general guide to colleges (The Fiske Guide to Colleges is a good one).

2. Know the terminology when it comes to the various ways he can submit an application. He can apply Early (deadlines are usually around November 1) or Regular (deadlines are around January 1). Some schools have Rolling Admissions with later deadlines.If he plans to apply early, he may choose Early Decision (if he gets in, he is obligated to go) or Early Action (he finds out early but he still has until the end of the season–usually around May 1–to decide). While applying early has become quite popular, especially for students who have a good sense of where they want to go, it is not for everyone. If your son doesn’t have a clue as to what he wants in a college, or if you want the opportunity to compare financial aid packages among schools, then Regular Decision is the way to go. Shmoop.com, a resourceful site with all sorts of interesting student aids, breaks down the application timelines here.

3. Understand the process: Your son’s school should be giving you some guidance as to what to expect in this process. If they haven’t scheduled an assembly, make an appointment to see or speak to his guidance counselor so you can know what they are asking of your son and what deadlines you need to know about. Make sure you understand the financial aid process and that you know how to (and do) meet every necessary deadline. *TRY TO BE NICE* to the guidance counselors, even if they are making you crazy. They are the front line advocates for your son in this college process, and you want them to be the best advocates possible, which is easier if the parents are not being obnoxious. Having said that, make sure you check in from time to time to confirm that your son is on the case and they are as well.

4. Talk/Listen to your son: Talking about the process with him will give you some insight as to what he is thinking. Listen to him. Don’t offer your advice as to where you think he should go (especially at this stage, when he probably hasn’t even applied yet!). If it is getting overwhelming, or if your son is reluctant to chat about it, my son’s school has a good suggestion: Agree to a time once a week for “the college conversation”, and vow not to bring it up otherwise. Scheduling the talk makes it simpler and easier on everyone.

5. No Typos: Even if your son is on top of it all, he needs you (or someone else) to proofread his applications, including the essays, before they are submitted. Typos matter, and it is worth the time to get rid of them all. It is too easy to make the (awful) mistake of putting in the wrong school name when applying to several schools. Someone other than the writer has to proofread.

6. Support his choices: If/when he makes a first choice, do whatever you can to support this. Know any alumni? Ask them to chat with him about the school. Are they active alumni, willing to contact the school on your son’s behalf? With schools sifting through tens of thousands of applications, it would be good to have someone there know that your son’s app is among them. Is he having an interview? Ask a friend to do a mock interview with him to help him get comfortable with the process.

7. Practice your Poker Face: You are going to be sitting on the roller coaster right next to him on this ride. But you can’t let him see you scream. If you look/act nervous about this process, it will increase his stress. Work on your chill face in the mirror if you have to. This is not your process, it is his. He will need and appreciate your calm strength, even if he never says it.

OK, enough tips for now. Deep breaths. Know that you will get through it all, and your son will be accepted into a college that will be great for him. Hang in there.

Any additional tips to share from the college app vets out there? Please share!

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