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How to Avoid Five Common College Planning Mistakes

posted Oct 26, 2015, 5:56 AM by Erik Arnold
From our college counselor Mr. Barr:
Dear Parents/Guardians: As the November  early action and early decision college application deadline quickly approaches, I know this brings varying levels of stress and anxiety to your sons/daughters (and in some cases, even you the parents). This also is a time where many parents want to know what they can do to help their kids. The most important thing you can do is be supportive, provide positive encouragement and guidance, and keep the ownership of this process to that of the student. I  wanted to share with you this insightful article I read recently about the parent role in the college planning and how to ensure the student is being responsible for their own college journey (while avoiding some common parent mistakes).
People talk a lot about how hard college admissions is on kids these days.  But it's no picnic for parents, either.  You want to be supportive and do whatever you can to make sure your kids are happy with their college choices.  Unfortunately, these good intentions can sometimes lead parents to unwittingly hurt their kids' chances of admission.  So here are five common college admissions mistakes parents must avoid.
For Parents: How to Avoid Five Common College Planning Mistakes
1. Don't get involved with college essays.
When a parent helps too much with a college essay, it is almost always glaringly apparent to an admissions officer.  Parents think and write differently than kids do.  And colleges want to hear your kids' thoughts and perspectives, not yours.  In fact, our experience has been that parental involvement in college essays almost never leads to better essays (or better family relations).  So let your student take the lead and write what she wants to write.  And while you stay hands-off, encourage your kids to seek feedback from an English teacher or a counselor knows them well. 
2. Don't contact colleges on your student's behalf.
When a parent repeatedly calls or emails an admissions office to ask questions, it's natural for admissions officers to wonder why the student isn't mature enough to call on his own.  That's why we recommend that any communication with an admissions office come from the student, not the parent.  This is the time for these young adults to begin developing the ability to show initiative and take care of themselves.  The one exception to this rule is when it's time to discuss financial aid, as the admissions offices don't expect kids to carry on discussions about family finances.
3. Don't secure activities for your student. 
It's easy for colleges to spot the applicant who volunteered at the hospital after his mother made all the calls, filled out the paperwork, and physically wrestled him into the car to get him there.  That mother has shown a great deal of initiative (and a surprising amount of strength).  But the student hasn't really shown much of anything.  It's perfectly OK to help guide your student and offer advice, but let her decide what she'd like to do and how she's going to start.
4. Don't always listen to what your friends say about admissions.
We're consistently surprised by the amount of inaccurate college information that parents get from other parents at dinner parties.  The truth is that while many people claim to know a lot about colleges admissions, very few actually do.  So unless the person giving you advice is a counselor or an admissions officer, check with your high school counselor before following any free advice from your friends.   
5. Don't lose perspective.
Don't forget that your son or daughter's future success and happiness are not dependent on the admission to one particular college.  We're not psychologists, but we've watched over 7,000 families go through the college admissions process, and we've noticed that the parents who seem to enjoy the best relationship with their kids during this stressful time are those who make it clear they will proudly wear the sweatshirt of any college their kid chooses to attend. Kids today are feeling an enormous amount of pressure about college admissions.  They need you to be the voice of reason who knows that good kids who work hard and have supportive parents will always turn out just fine. 
So be a supportive partner, but let your kids take the lead. 
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