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The Rules of Being the Parent of a College Applicant

dobler college consultingWhen I meet with new families for the first time, I do my best to make sure they know it’s the student who needs to be in the driver’s seat if they expect this process to go well. Some parents are relieved to hear this while I can tell that others aren’t so sure what to think.

They’ve been so involved with everything their son or daughter has been doing since birth that the idea of not being actively involved is, frankly, quite terrifying.

As a parent myself, I get it. But what I also get is that kids have to take responsibility for their college search. They have to figure out what matters most to them and which colleges (note the plural form here) fit them the best.

So while this is the drum I beat along the way, I also make sure parents know it’s okay to be involved, it’s okay to talk about college and it’s okay to have feelings about how the process is going.

It’s just not okay to do any of the following:

1. Calling the admissions office

Parents should not call the admissions office to ask questions about their daughter’s application, to share their view on an unfavorable grade or to try and explain why their son only volunteered so many hours at the local soup kitchen. Parents can and should call a college if they have questions on financial aid or anything to do with costs, but that’s where their dialing should end.

Admissions counselors tell me all the time that they want to hear from the applicants, not the parents. Having sat on their side of the desk for a number of years, I agree. Show me an applicant who has questions and is willing to pick up the phone and have a conversation about them and I’ll show you someone who is demonstrating maturity, responsibility and accountability.

2. Saying “we’ll figure it out” when it comes down to paying for college

Unless parents are sure they can pay for a school through some combination of means, saying otherwise never ends well.


There’s just too much emotion, effort and energy invested in the college search and application process to allow students to believe in a falsehood like this. For many parents, yes, it may be hard to talk about finances and affordability, but it will be so much better for their son or daughter to understand what is and what is not realistic up front rather than after months of falling in love with a college that will never work.

3. Making changes to their college essay

Depending on the kid, parents can sometimes be a great sounding board for essay ideas. But at the end of the day, this is their essay and it should sound like a 17-year old wrote it.

Admissions counselors aren’t sitting there questioning every last word choice as much as they are trying to learn more about who this student is through the story he or she is telling. Yes, an essay should be well written but in no way does that mean it should sound like a doctoral dissertation.

4. Making this about you

All too frequently I hear from parents that someone they know said their kid did THIS or was accepted THERE or was being recruited by THEM. Many of them feel the need to keep up, if not to flat out compete. I try to remind them that this process is about helping their own child to connect with a college where they will grow and change while creating a path into a happy and successful life. It’s never about bragging rights.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, let Eric know and he’ll set up a consultation to help you with your college planning needs.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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