College Application Guidelines for Parents

By ColumnsFOXBusiness

Parents want what’s best for their children and while it’s normal to help students navigate the college application process, but there’s a fine line between aiding a child and taking over completely.

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Kaplan Test Prep’s 2010 Test Prep and Admission Survey, which includes admission officers at 387 of the nation's top colleges and universities, found that 77% of officers believe parental involvement is on the rise in the college admissions process. (

As a result, 61% admitted to developing new initiatives to keep parents informed, including social media outreach, separate tours of the school for students only and students with parents, and special seminars. Parents are playing more of a role during the application process to ensure their children secure a successful future in the current job market, claims Miosotis Perez, associate director of College Quest and Onward at the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF).(

“Higher education is a major investment, and in some cases, parents are taking on the financial commitment to pay for college. Making the right college choice ensures that students will stay in college and persist through to graduation, and graduate with the right education to succeed post-college.”

Here’s what college experts say is contributing towards the prevalence of helicopter parenting and how parents can help, not hover over, their student through the college admissions process.

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Why Parents Hover

Parents who understand the level of competition in college admissions may fear their student won’t take it seriously, says Jay Douglas, professor and author of Make Them Want You: How to Write a Standout Personal Statement 15 Minutes at a Time. (

“It’s a high stakes game and the parents feel that this is a teenager we’re dealing with and that their judgment may not be as good as what the parents would like it to be,” he says.

Parents may also be unintentionally living vicariously through their children and may want them to make a better college choice than they did, says Michele Hernández, co-founder of Application Boot Camp On-Demand. (

“When a parent talks about college for their child using comments such as ‘we are applying to college x’ that's somewhat troublesome as it's the child applying.”

Parents: Don’t Do This

When asked what application section parents are most likely to meddle with, the experts unanimously point to the essay or personal statement.

College admissions officers can tell immediately when a parent has written or influenced an essay in any way, says certified education expert Suzanne Luse. (

“What they’re looking for is that genuine, authentic voice and even if it’s not perfect, it’s better to have that than some overly done, overly edited, adult-sounding essay,” she says.

When deciding on the essay topic, parents should encourage students to use their creativity and interests, as they “tend to write much more interesting essays than they would if their parents shot down their imaginative ideas,” says Hernández.

To make it easier for both parties, here are four tips for parents to help with the application process.

Tip for Parents: Create a Good List of Schools Right Away

“The real key here is having a good college list: there are some reaches, there’s some ‘likelies’ that the parent can trust the child to go ahead and start applying because there are some colleges that he or she will get into for sure,” says Luse.

Now that colleges are required to provide families with a net price calculator, Luse says it’s also important for parents to help their student go through their list to calculate the expected cost of attendance and ensure that the school is affordable before applying.

Tip for Parents: Give Kids Responsibility

Douglas likens the parent’s role in the application process to the producer of a movie—don’t direct, but make sure the movie gets done well, on time and within budget.

“Sit down with your kid and come up with a timeline: when are you going to start brainstorming? When are you going to come up with a topic? When are you going to have a first draft written?” he says. “Put dates on them--I suggest formalizing that with a contract.”

With all of the application fees and costs for sending in transcripts and test scores, Luse suggests giving students a debit card and give them responsibility to keep up with associated costs.

Tip for Parents: Create Incentives and Reward Progress

While parents shouldn’t pay their child to complete applications or finish essays, Douglas suggests creating a reward system for meeting deadlines and stepping in if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain.

“Say, ‘if you [decide on] the essay topic by the weekend, then I’m going to pay for you to go to the movies with your friends or I’m going to make your favorite dinner or you won’t have to do chores for a day,’” he says.

“You’re able to help your kids through the process without doing the work and that kind of management makes for a happier relationship and it makes it less stressful for the student.”

Tip for Parents: Oversee, but Don’t Meddle

“Parents can help by becoming managers and administrative assistants rather than writers/editors,” says Hernández. “They can help organize their children, set up deadlines, send official SAT and AP scores to colleges, make lists, organize their computer folders.”

Luse suggests after having a trusted guidance counselor or English teacher proofread a student’s application, parents can have the final overview of the “print preview” or what it looks like from the college end.