The role of parents in the college application process has long been debated. Applying to college is the next big step towards independence for all our children, and In the wake of this week’s revelation of the actions that some parents have taken to guarantee their children admission to some of this country’s most selective colleges, the role of parents in the process begs to be revisited.
Applying to college is a stressful time for students, but it can also be a difficult time for the parents who generally fail into three categories:
• the micro-managing parent(s) - Living vicariously through their children, these parents control every step of the application process, as if it was their own. Among the many ways they are involved include influencing which colleges their child applies to, editing the college essay, procuring letters of recommendation from celebrities, and even selecting the roommate. They will spend the necessary money to hire whomever can guarantee their child is admitted to their college of choice, often an Ivy League school. Admissions officers can easily spot these manipulations and this has been known to work against the student's chances of gaining admission.
• the supportive parent(s) - These parents are conscience of the process, appreciate how much things have changed since they went to college, have an understanding of when and how the student would like them to help them out with their applications, and encourage their child to be the one communicating with the schools. They offer guidance, allow the student to make their own choices, and might hire a professional college advisor to help the student stay on track with the many steps involved with the application process, especially the deadlines.
• the absent parent(s) - These parents assume that their child is mature enough to know how to handle all the ins and outs of college application process, and that it is inherently the guidance counselors' responsibility to assist their child. Whatever the reason for the absence, this group will hopefully identify someone that the student can turn to for assistance.
it's easy enough to identify which group all parents should strive to belong to, and naturally, there are exceptions to every rule and many parents can and do fall between these groups. It is also very common for friction to exist between the student and parents creating a difficult situation and making it almost impossible for the latter to lend a hand, even when they want to.
The college application playing field has historically been tilted in favor of those students with the financial means to have tutors, take prep courses, and pay the tuitions many elite schools currently demand. In turn, students with legacy or a recognized talent in a sport often have an added bonus in the admission process. Lastly, Early Decision (ED) - a binding application option - favors those students who need little to no financial aid.
Community-based organizations (CBO), College Board and school districts have supplied applicants in the lower socio-economic range with free college application assistance, in addition to fee waivers for SAT/ACT tests and application fees, all in an effort to give these students the same opportunities.
The college application process has become a highly competitive process that is in constant flux. Planning should begin freshman year with the establishment of a high school course plan, assuring that the student will graduate with the best GPA/class rank based on their academic abilities, and culminates senior year. Ideally, parents will have been involved throughout the course of these four years of high school and the college application process. We all want only the best for our children, but if we really want to help them we should let them be admitted to college based on their own academic merits and not on what money can buy.