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How Parents Can Help with the College Search—Without Taking Over

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

I remember telling a colleague when I worked in admission, “I just helped a mom brainstorm for her child’s college essay. Was I on the phone with the student? Noooo. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with the parent.” 

Sometimes I never got the opportunity to talk to students until they came into the admissions office.

You play a huge part in the college search process, but just take care not to swoop in and take away your child’s responsibilities.

You can still help your child with the college search without taking over.

How Parents Can Help with the College Search 

Parents, you’re instrumental in the college search. However, it’s easy to think you need to take over when you see your child start to falter during the search. He isn’t picking up the phone, answering texts or applying to colleges. What do you do?

1. Let your child know that most of it is up to him.

It’s a good idea to let your child know in advance that he’s in charge of the college search process. You’ll help where necessary (for example, you’ll drive to college visits) and help with scheduling, but beyond that, it’s up to him.

Make sure you talk about this ahead of time. You don’t want to assume that your child knows this intuitively. Make a pointed effort to have an actual conversation about your child’s role in the college search by sophomore year.

2. Encourage your child to make contact with authority figures on her own.

Let your child know that he must make calls to coaches, to admissions counselors, to people in authority. It’s great practice because your child will need to be able to talk to professors, internship supervisors and someday, his boss. Building relationships matters during the college search and beyond!

3. Remind your high schooler to hit deadlines early. 

Encourage your child to hit those deadlines, but then stay off his case about them. 

One firm, final reminder about a specific deadline is enough—and no more than that. It’s time for your child to take responsibility.

4. Have your child make practice making phone calls and talking to adults.

It’s hard for kids to talk to adults. The solution? Practice. 

When you want your teen to call and make an appointment for a college visit, that might seem like a Herculean task to him—one that might resort to him heading straight for his phone to sign up for a visit online.

Teach your kids tips and tricks for keeping a conversation going—a lifelong skill and one that’s totally helpful during college interviews too!

Some great ideas: 

  • Explain how to introduce yourself and how to ask other people about themselves.
  • Talk about how to ask other people great questions to get them talking.
  • Teach your child how to have a few surefire conversation topics ready to go.

Teach your child to take an interest in others and to really listen to what the other person says. Encourage your child’s sincerity during these types of conversations.

Is Test-Optional Admissions Here to Stay?

How to Help with Standardized Tests

Now, it’s true that the SAT and ACT both have a somewhat unknown future. Your child may take the SAT or ACT—or may not. However, just in case your child will take the test, check out some pointers.

5. Hone in on your child’s difficult subject areas. 

Does your high schooler struggle in a specific content area on the SAT or ACT? For example, let’s say your child isn’t as comfortable with mathematics but can take the English test in her sleep. Get her a test preparation workbook with practice exercises and questions just like the questions your child will see on the test. 

6. Time your child’s practice tests.

Does your child have trouble taking tests? Break them up!

Think of it like learning how to run a marathon. Do you start out by running the full 26 miles right off the bat?

No! You break it up,  starting with just a few miles at a time.

There’s no reason you have to overwhelm your test-averse high schooler with a 60-minute mathematics practice test. Break the test up into chunks so your high schooler builds confidence.

Shoot for small sprints before the big marathon! 

7. Prepare for test day.

Got pencils, an eraser and an approved calculator?

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you don’t have the basics to get you through test day. Read through the requirements for SAT and ACT test day carefully so your high schooler knows what to expect on test day. 

Finally, stay in good spirits about the test.

Don’t moan and groan even if your child’s conversations all start with, “Do I haaaave to take the SAT?”

How to Help with Scholarships 

Sure, you want your child to get as many scholarships as possible because it might impact your own bottom dollar.

What should you do when your child is a little more sluggish than you’d like? 

8. Whatever you do, don’t fill out scholarship applications for your child.

Sounds obvious, right?

Well, that’s easy to say when your bottom dollar is on the line.

Sometimes students don’t feel the sense of urgency that you feel, particularly if you’re paying for college, not them. 

9. Give your teen tools to stay organized. 

Does your child have three socks in his backpack, clothes strewn over the back of the toilet and an old egg sandwich that’s been sitting on the dresser for days?

Yeah. Organization isn’t most teens’ strong suit. 

Most of the time, kids can use organizational pointers when it comes to research, scheduling and organizing scholarships. 

When you get into scholarship research mode, you realize how much of a beast it really is.

It’s hard to sort through colleges scholarships that can come from anywhere—the internet, the local Kiwanis Club, right here on Niche.

Throw researched scholarships on Asana or another task manager so your child can visually see what’s coming—a must for visual brains!

If you both get stressed out about deadlines, you might want to delegate.

Ask a friend or relative to be your child’s scholarship secretary. Odds are, your best, most organized friend would jump at the chance to help. 

3 Apps To Organize Your College Search

How to Help Get Organized in General

Yes, we’re continuing on in the organization vein because it is so necessary! Here’s how you can help.

10. Teach basic organization skills.

OK. Before you laugh (because you’ve already tried that), paint the picture that your child’s future depends on his or her organization skills. His boss isn’t going to like it if he is missing files from his board report, and professors aren’t going to like late assignments. 

Even better, have someone else tell him this, like his favorite coach or English teacher. For some reason, teens prefer to hear this information from someone other than you.

As far as practical tips go, you could color-code assignments, install an assignment board in his room and encourage him to use task apps. (Your teen’s phone can actually be useful for a change!)

11. Help your child learn from past procrastination. 

One of the best things you can do is let your teen procrastinate, then reap the consequences. It could be enough of a shock to the system to get the first “F” on a paper or fail to play in a soccer game due to poor grades. It might guarantee that your teen will never, ever make that mistake again. 

12. Plan upcoming weeks.

Help your child get organized for each upcoming week on Sunday so your teen knows what to expect. Pencil in the big stuff: soccer games, time out with friends, tests and more.

Parents, You Can Still Help — but Be Careful!

Your child may need to sail through some choppy water before he can become captain of the ship.

Let him.

You can’t always come to your child’s rescue! 

Follow these tips and you’re guaranteed to help your high schooler with the college search without doing everything for him. Follow Niche’s best colleges in America guide to get started on your own research.

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Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!