A Family’s Survival Guide When Kids Are Applying to College

A Family’s Survival Guide When Kids Are Applying to College main image

Even the most harmonious families can struggle to make it through the college application process without feeling the tension. After all, the decisions being made will influence the rest of the applicant’s life.

Parents want the best for their kids, and they believe they know what’s best. At the same time, young adults are finding themselves and their voices, and in seeking independence naturally disagree with their parents.  

But families can survive this process and even grow closer. Find out how to keep the peace in your home at this stressful time.

Kids should recognize parents’ wisdom

Often, young adults think they know it all, but their parents have lived longer and experienced more. As a result, even if they themselves didn’t go to school, moms and dads can provide certain knowledge and opinions which are beneficial when making big life decisions.

It would behoove young people to at least consider whatever advice their parents are offering. Other adults in their life can encourage this change in attitude.

Applicants must take responsibility for the future

Parents want their children to find success. They are likely helping them finance their education (if not paying outright for it). Applicants don’t want parents to feel as though they’re wasting money or being taken for granted.

To offset these negative feelings, applicants should make the most of this time of self-discovery. They should give real thought to what they like doing and how that might translate into a career. Then, figure out which schools can best help them achieve such a life.

Other tasks include studying for the required standardized tests and performing well to score reputable recommendations, for example.

This way, when your parents get in your face about what they want or try to shift you in a different direction, you can respectfully prove you have this under control.  

Parents have to be honest

Sometimes, people exaggerate their skills and talents or resist sharing failures and mistakes with their kids. That’s a mistake.

Parents should be honest with their children. They should refrain from inflating standardized test scores or the number of schools to which they were accepted.

Instead, parents should share stories about mistakes they made and what the experience was really like without any sugarcoating.

It will help their children relate to them, but it will also keep things in perspective and send the message that rejection or mistakes aren’t going to ruin their lives. No one is perfect, after all.

Know where to draw the line

By the time kids are applying to college, their parents have been making decisions for them all their lives. It’s a difficult habit to break.

But these are young adults and they are the ones who are going to have to both attend the school and shape a career post graduation.

As a result, parents must avoid projecting their hopes and dreams onto their children. Instead, they have to support them in their quest to unearth talents and passions.

Parents also have to help kids find schools which will be a good fit for them. This might mean they pick a small liberal arts college instead of that Ivy League name brand dad was hoping to show off on his car bumper. He’ll get over it.

QS events can be a fantastic way to learn more about schools and figure out which schools will be a good fit. You can find out more here.

Avoid being a helicopter parent

Many parents will be used to being closely attached to their children, having been active in parent organizations and maybe even coached their kids’ sports teams.

When problems arose with friends or teachers, mom and dad swooped in to save the day.

Now’s the time to park the helicopter and embrace the soon-to-come empty nest. Parents should not be calling the admissions committee or showing up on campus.

This is the first time they don’t get to interfere in the process. In fact, most admissions committee members will tell you helicopter parenting can be a strike against the applicant. So, let your little birdies fly solo.

Consider counseling

College admissions counseling is a growing business. The experts on hand at reputable organizations can help both parents and applicants create appropriate boundaries and pursue the correct path.

By having a third-party interject, parents and kids won’t take things as personally. They also might gain a different perspective from someone who knows the industry of admissions from the inside out.

Make the parent-child relationship take precedent

Certainly, this transition won’t be easy for anyone, but it can help parents and children forge a new kind of bond. By giving children some space, parents give them the chance to miss mom and dad. They also might gain appreciation for the love and attention parents provided previously.

Applicants reading this should take a step back and recognize they don’t know everything. Everyone can use a hand now and then. Most parents will be there for their kids if they need them even if the relationship is evolving.

Of course, parents should still step in if they notice kids are making serious mistakes (partying too hard, stumbling with grades or experiencing depression, all of which are problems some experience in college).

Parents should give their kids room to make their own mistakes, learn from them, and begin to create a life—their own life. 

Nunzio Quacquarelli

Nunzio is the founder and CEO of QS. Following completion of his own MBA from the Wharton School, he has gone on to become a leader in education management with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He is truly passionate about education and firmly believes in the QS mission to help young people to fulfill their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. 

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