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Parents' Role in the College Process: 5 Things We Will Do Differently

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A Parents' Role in the College Process

My older daughter jokes that she is our parenting “guinea pig”—we test out everything on her. It is true. With the first child, it is always about trial and error. From potty training to college applications, my husband and I do our best, but sometimes we make mistakes and hopefully gain insight that we can use with our other children.

As I said in my first post, my older daughter is currently attending a college where she is both happy and successful. So whatever we did “wrong,” it was nothing catastrophic, and in the end it all worked out. We hope our younger daughter will be just as fortunate.

Part II: 5 Things We Will Do Differently

1. Give our more responsibility from the start.

My older daughter tends to be focused on the here and now and had trouble thinking ahead about college. In addition, she had a very busy schedule of classes and activities throughout high school. I felt like I was being “helpful” by collecting information on all of the various colleges, setting up the campus tours, interviews, etc. But this led to a lot of arguments and wasted time on both our parts. This time around I will assist my daughter, but it is up to her to take the lead and do the preliminary research.

2. Encourage a stronger relationship with her guidance counselor.

Because we hired a private college counselor, none of us thought it was necessary to cultivate a relationship with her high school guidance counselor. Aside from a yearly scheduled meeting, my daughter never met with her school counselor to discuss her future plans or goals. This made it difficult for her counselor to advise her, and also for her to write a personal recommendation since she barely knew our daughter. Guidance counselors do have an important role and even if it isn’t natural, we are going to encourage our younger daughter to approach her counselor often throughout her time in high school, so she gets to know her on both a student and personal level.

3. Think in advance about the application.

When you hear the term “resume building,” it sounds calculating, and we never wanted our daughter to do anything that was not authentic to her.

But the reality is that when you apply to college, you do have to list activities, interests, etc. If you enjoy writing, it is great to write in a personal journal, but for a resume, it is better to have written for an actual publication such as the school newspaper or a local magazine. Of course, I won’t make my daughter join tons of clubs she isn’t interested in or volunteer for charities that have no meaning to her. But I will encourage her to think about being actively involved in activities that interest her and to not be afraid to take on leadership roles throughout high school.

4. Help our daughter believe in herself.

Both my husband and I wanted our older daughter to avoid rejection and this played a role in how we approached the college process. We looked at very few “reach” schools and her private counselor strongly encouraged her to apply early decision so she would have the best odds. Afterwards, my daughter felt applying early might have been a mistake. Although she was happy to be done with applications she was curious to know where else she could have gotten in. Acceptance rates are something to consider—but we overvalued them the first time around. This time I would only suggest my daughter apply early if she is confident that she wants to go to that school above any other.

5. Remember it's their experience, not yours.

Sometimes I have regrets about my own college experience and wish I had gone to a smaller university with a little more “rah-rah” spirit. My husband, on the other hand, loved everything about his college experience and really wanted our daughter to apply to his alma mater. In the beginning, our own positive and negative experiences played a strong role in how we advised our daughter. We needed to realize that this was not a do-over for us; it was a brand new experience for her. We had to listen to what she wanted in a college and let that guide her—and us.

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