The following information has been taken from the Elizabethtown College website. It nicely describes the role of parents in the college search process.

The College Search Process: Role of Parents

Parents play a very important role in the college search and selection process. Contrary to popular belief, however, a parent’s role is not that of organizer, planner or leader. Instead, a parent should be a partner — and, often, a silent partner.

Parents often get a bum rap in regards to their role in the college search process. Many colleges and universities, for instance, have begun holding sessions on “How to deal with a pushy parent.” Popular culture has even come up with the title “helicopter parents” to describe the hovering behavior that many associate with today’s parent.

Perhaps the story below, included in the book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Admissions Office written by Rusty Shunk, long-time admission officer at Dickinson College, best illustrates this point:

“One of the classic stories circulated among admissions professionals for a least a quarter of century involves an unrealistic parent who probably had a low math score herself. It was April and the decisions had been sent out from the admissions office. The Director picked up the phone to find a distraught mother wanting to know why her son was denied admission. She was put in the amorphous world of ‘hold’ while the application was brought to the director’s office. A quick glance yielded the information he needed, and he punched the blinking button. ‘Ma’am, I have you son’s application before me, and I must share with you that this is a very selective institution where most of our candidates rank in the top tenth of their graduating classes. Your son was in the bottom half of his.’ Shocked, the mother exclaimed, ‘The bottom half? I knew he wasn’t in the top half, but I had no idea he was in the bottom.’”

Clearly, unlike the parent described in the preceding vignette, you want to avoid being the subject of a long-told story among admissions officers! So here are some tips on playing the appropriate role as a parent and partner in the college search and selection process:

1. Listen—First and foremost, listen to your son or daughter during this process. This is where the silent partner part comes in. If dominated by parents, the college search and selection process is destined to fail. Listening does not imply not communicating. {We realize that sometimes it is difficult to get a teen to talk). But instead of forcing a conversation, ask thoughtful, not prying or pushy, questions. Wait for the answers and then listen, listen, listen. Through this process of actively and intentionally listening to your son or daughter, you will undoubtedly discover new things about your student’s goals, dreams and aspirations. Listen, listen, listen is rule number one!

2. Be supportive—when your student tells you that he or she is undecided about a major. A supportive parent might say, “That’s great, because there are so many wonderful programs to choose from and a world of ideas to explore. I hope you choose a program that will fulfill your dreams and make you happy.” The unsupportive parent, upon discovering that their student would like to study art or play a particular sport, might respond with something like, “You will never make any money as an art major,” or “You will never make the team.” You choose which type of parent you want to be, and remember that it is your son’s or daughter’s college and career choice, not yours.

3. Be realistic—Your son or daughter may not consider, let alone choose, the college or university that you think is the best for him or her. Get used to that idea right now. Your son or daughter may not be admitted to the place of his or her dreams either. This is sometimes the reality of the college search process, and you, in partnership with your son or daughter, need to prepare for this.

4. Maintain a school link—Do your best to understand the role of your student’s high school in the search and selection process. Ask about a timetable for applications to be submitted. Attend college nights and informational programs on the admissions and financial aid process offered by the high school guidance staff. And don’t always blame the guidance office or a teacher for a mix-up, as it is seldom their fault. A good understanding of procedures that your son or daughter needs to follow will ensure a smooth process. Remember, it is okay to ask the guidance office questions, but don’t immediately accuse them of “trying to keep your kid out of X school.”

5. Recognize your student’s successes—The day your son or daughter receives the very first offer of admission, do something that recognizes his or her success in achieving a great milestone. Make the day a special occasion and take the family out to dinner, bring some ice cream home, write your son or daughter a special congratulatory note…maybe even bake a cake. Whatever you do, make sure you recognize their successful endeavor!

The role of partner is not always an easy role to play, but parents have an obligation to work with their students and with colleges and universities throughout the college search and selection process. Good luck!