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Parents and the College Selection Process

Q: Should parents be involved in their daughter's or son's college selection process?

A: Of course they should.

Q: Can parents make mistakes during their involvement in their daughter's or son's college selection process?

A: Certainly they can.

Q: Are there strategies for optimizing parental involvement in the process and minimizing mistakes?

A: Absolutely!

The transition from high school to college is not an easy one for most young people. Research indicates that parental support plays a critical role in successful college planning. Recognizing that, in the majority of cases, your money will account for the greater part of the family contribution to cover college costs, it is logical that you should be involved, to some extent, in college planning. Also, maturity has its rewards; your wisdom, decision-making skills, and the ability to see the "big picture" are crucial in the search for colleges that may be right for your child. In fact, finding colleges that are well-suited to the individual student should be a family affair. It can also be fun and a terrific opportunity for bringing the family together as the student prepares to leave the nest.

How you handle your involvement is the real issue, however. You don't want to be viewed as a "helicopter parent"—one who hovers over the student's every move and is too involved in a son's or daughter's life to allow the child to grow and mature in a timely and emotionally healthy manner. You also don’t want to come across as a "talent agent" who not only serves as a representative, presenting his/her child as a brand or portfolio, but also tries to broker the best college deal for the client (student). Your son or daughter deserves parents who are supportive and helpful--not indifferent to the process and the tasks inherent in applying to college, but involved in a practical and developmentally appropriate (in regard to the student's age and development) manner. The key is finding ways to balance your involvement so that you are working with your child, the teachers and counselors at his/her high school, and the colleges to help the student make good choices and experience success during the college search, admission, and selection processes.

Listening more than you talk is a place to start. Pay attention to what your child and his/her friends are saying (or not saying) about what is going on in their lives and the issues they are dealing with on a daily basis. Understand and be realistic about your child's academic abilities, talents, social skills, interests, and needs. Accept that his/her teachers, advisors, counselors, coaches, and peers may see some aspects of your daughter's or son's personality, performance, and behavior in a different (more objective) light than you do. Help your child to focus and remain focused on the long-term goals of success in high school and enrolling in college. Be firm (not overbearing!) about wise course selection (not choosing the easy way out!), timely completion of homework and projects, and participation in activities that will enhance their lives, as well as showcase their talents. Recognize and trust that the teachers care about your child's academic and psycho-emotional growth and that the counselors and admissions officers are the experts when it comes to college admission.

Begin real college planning early—ideally, no later than the beginning of ninth grade. Talk to your daughter or son about going to college and what that will mean for the next four years:

  • choosing college prep courses
  • getting involved in school and community activities
  • developing talents
  • making wise social choices

Engage the help of others—friends, relatives, ministers, coaches, and the like—who may be instrumental in helping the family achieve its goal of seeing your child enroll in college following high school. Discuss the various types of colleges and which ones may be suited to your child’s interests and abilities. (Both of you should research the different types of institutions and their admission requirements and processes. Compare notes occasionally to talk about what you've discovered and which colleges deserve a place on your search list.) Try to incorporate college visits and exploring college campuses into family outings and trips long before you begin your formal college search.

Finally, discuss college costs. Recognizing that the cost of attending college is increasing rapidly and dramatically, you should speak with your child realistically about what your family can afford and develop a college finance plan accordingly. Learn all you can about the various types of financial aid resources and how to apply for government and private financial aid programs.

My College Options® is a great resource for parents in the college planning process, as well as for students. We are here to work in partnership with your family to help you find new, high quality opportunities that may be outside of your personal range of experience. Take a complete tour of the My College Options website. Have your child complete the My College Options Profile and discuss it with him/her today. By completing the online profile, your son or daughter is able to create a personal college planning profile that will allow us to connect him or her with over 5,000 colleges and universities across the nation. Your child can begin—early in the college planning process—to receive valuable information directly from colleges and universities seeking students with his/her particular interests and qualifications. In addition to hearing directly from colleges and universities, you and your student may also hear from educational and career service providers offering products and services such as college admissions services, financial aid, career information, extracurricular enrichment and recognition programs. All of our services are free and respectful of student and family privacy.

So relax. You are on your way to becoming a terrific partner for your child in your parental role during the college selection process.

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My College Options® is an online college planning program that connects millions of high school students with colleges and universities.

Please email us at to find out if your institution is doing everything it can to reach qualified, prospective students. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Don Munce