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How to help your senior apply to colleges this summer

Parenting a high school senior is tricky business. On the one hand, you want to be as helpful as possible, and you know that time is of the essence. On the other hand, your suggestions are likely to be perceived as “naggy”. We have compiled a list of strategies that we find helpful for parents of seniors. For those wondering how to help your senior apply to colleges this summer, this is the place to start.

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By NOELLE COMPTON

Applying to colleges is stressful for everyone, from parents to students to teachers. Oftentimes, we run into two big problems, when observing parents of high school seniors. One, parents tend to leave too much of the application process to the student. This is not ideal, since the student will have no experience with the application process, which is difficult, unfamiliar, and time consuming. Two, parents tend to be “overly suggestive”, and we often hear parents described as “naggy.” If you are wondering how to help your senior apply to colleges this summer, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve outlined some strategies so that you can be your own child’s mentor and learn how to help your senior apply to colleges this summer.

“The students who end up achieving the greatest success typically have a great deal of support from adults in their lives who are willing not only to verbally guide and suggest, but also to roll up their sleeves and help.”

Get your hands dirty… together

Applying to colleges is, hopefully, a one time deal. As such, there is nothing in the high school senior’s life to prepare them for this moment, nor will they have to learn the skills to repeat the process later on. The students who end up achieving the greatest success typically have a great deal of support from adults in their lives who are willing not only to verbally guide and suggest, but also to roll up their sleeves and help. 

First, we suggest that parents ask their students what they can do to help. If your student is a self-starter, they might be able to clue you in to their to do list and invite you to take certain tasks off their plate. However, if the student is overwhelmed, then you might offer the following:

College and program research  If the student knows where they’re applying, they will need to collect data for their Why Us and Why Major essays. If they don’t know, then having data will help them make their decisions.

Brainstorm essay ideas  Once the student has their college list, you can look at what essays they’ll be expected to write and consider suitable topics or experiences.

Keep track of deadlines   There are a great deal of deadlines that will coincide with the student’s heaviest academic load yet. Having a second set of eyes on the calendar can help mitigate disaster.

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Establish real goals

Establishing tangible, specific goals is a critical step towards actionable plans when it comes to how to help your senior apply to colleges this summer. The first place that this comes to pass is the college list. When speaking with your high school senior, try to work together to figure out what schools to be realistic and idealistic about. This will take into account several factors including the student’s academic ability, probability of being admitted, and financial restrictions. Second, we recommend that parents work with students to map out a plan of attack for essay completion (For our recommendations on an essay timeline, check out this article). And finally, make notes on the goals to ensure that you take into account any fluctuating factors, such as hypothetically improved test scores.

When the parent and the student see how much work there is to be done and can set early deadlines, then both parties will maintain accountability. Having real goals, such as making lists and deadlines, is much more helpful than simple reminders, like, “have you made your college list?” or “have you completed your essays?”

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Designate small targets

Assigning targets such as “Complete personal statement by the end of the summer” is good practice. However, it is even better to break up tasks into bite sized pieces. Establishing deadlines such as “Make college list and finalize two personal statement topics by June 20th” is more effective and helps combat procrastination. More small targets is better than fewer big picture goals. Plus, it offers the opportunity to reward small steps forward, if that is your parenting style. 

In general, we suggest completing every step of the process far earlier than you need to in order to limit stress. We know that the deadline for early applications is at the end of October. This means that your household internal deadline should be closer to the end of September in order to avoid unforeseen complications and to accommodate any last minute changes.

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Use organizational tools

Having a centralized to do list will remove the need to nag your senior, so long as everyone follows the agreed upon structure. A student is generally willing to check things off a list if they are assured that the parent will rely on the list to track progress as you’re helping your senior apply to colleges this summer. 

Here at The Admissions Angle, we like to use Trello, an online project management platform. Trello’s free platform has more than enough capacity to fully address your organizational needs. If you are an analog kind of person, then a bulletin board, vision board, dry erase board, or a piece of paper on the fridge can fulfill much the same purpose. The trick here is to rely on the organizational tools to answer your questions without the necessity of a discussion.

Follow a consistent schedule

It feels naggy when someone expects to have a conversation about something important at the drop of a hat. If a student is in the middle of his or her homework and the parent interrupts to have a “college talk”, then the conversation is already off to a frustrating start. It is better for both parties to treat the talk as an appointment. Moreover, if you can establish a consistent weekly meeting time, then it’s easy for both parties to observe and meet targets. 

We know that parents and students lead active lives and that it can be tempting to say, “not now, I’m busy.” But for students and parents who are taking the admissions process seriously, observing a schedule is a great place to start. Consider that all important things follow schedules– doctor appointments, work calls, oil changes, meals… Recognizing a set meeting time is a great way to respect one another and limit the opportunity for disagreement or hostility.

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Maintain patience and positivity

This may seem like a no brainer, but we find that many parents can use the reminder. The student will not always complete his or her tasks on time. This is okay. The student may become discouraged after “hitting a wall”. This is also okay. What isn’t okay is the inability to pick one’s self back up and try again. Students (and most people) respond well to positivity. Instead of saying, “you didn’t do your work this week and now we’re behind,” try, “what can I do to help you get back on track?” Remember that getting your own hands dirty is step one.

For a parent, it’s important to remember your role in the college admissions process. Yes, you are the parent, but at this time, you are also expected to wear a variety of “support” hats. Think part-therapist, part-counselor, part-cheerleader, and yes, part-assistant. The good news is that students only apply to colleges once, and when it’s over, you can celebrate and look to the future. 

Finally, we understand that family dynamics are challenging. For many families, it is not possible for the parents and students to engage in the process peacefully and a third party can be enormously helpful to give credibility to what the parent or student is suggesting. For this, we are happy to offer a variety of services to help ease the burden. Check out our free initial consultations for more details.