College Application Stress Tips for Parents

You’ve done all the college visits.  You attended the College Info Night at their high school. Their standardized testing is complete. Now you are just holding your breath until your child hits submit.  Does this sound familiar?   While every student is different, most will not complete their college applications during the time frame that their parents want.  While it can be frustrating, there are a few things parents need to keep in mind to help guide (not push) their student to the college application finish line.

It is their process. As difficult as it is to let go, you have to remember that this process belongs to your child.  Do not complete the applications for them and more importantly, do not write their essay.  Their application needs to be a reflection of them and therefore needs to be their work.

Help them organize and prioritize.  Some students drag their feet on submitting their applications because they just don’t know where to start.  If they are willing to let you, sit down with and help them organize their to do list.  Try to be realistic in the time frame that you can expect all the applications to be completed.  For some kids, organizing an application boot camp is helpful.  Set aside one weekend and help them fill out as many applications as possible.  For other students, setting goals of completing 2 to 3 applications a week is more realistic.  Students who are applying to more competitive schools and have additional essays to write, may need more time.  Go over our previous blog post, Four Steps to Help With College Application Stress for some insights.

Don’t micromanage.  For most teenagers, nagging seems to trigger an automatic “shut down” button.  They will just tune you out.  If they have let you help them organize what they need to get done (see tip above) make sure you have also set deadlines and consequences for each deadline missed.  Again, the level of consequence will vary, but it is important for the student to realize that if they don’t complete their applications on time, there are no second chances.  Colleges do not accept late applications.

When riding a roller coaster, just hold on.  Remember that most teenagers by nature are emotional.  The additional stress of the college application process can make them a constant roller coaster ride.  Try not to feed into their emotional outburst.  They need your support and to know that you are listening, but sometimes comments can add fuel to the fire.   Respond to their comments with short phrases:  “I know” or “I understand”.   Let them process information with you and give your input if appropriate, but most of the time, just listen.

Be realistic.  Part of the stress that many students feel during this process is that their parents may be disappointed if they are not admitted to their top choice college.  Often times, the student is realistic in knowing what their chance are, but the parents are not.  If your child has applied to a reach school, be encouraging, but not unrealistic.  If they say, “I am never going to get in.” Don’t reply with, “Of course you will.  What college won’t love you?”  While you think your child is amazing, it does not mean they will automatically be admitted to the college of their choice.  Helping to manage realistic expectations will keep them from feeling discouraged and motivate them to get their applications submitted.

Don’t focus on the “what if”.  Many parents focus on the “what if” aspects of the application process, even after the applications are submitted.  What if your GPA was just a little bit higher?  What if you were in the top 10% instead of top 12%?  What if you ran for President of (fill in the blank) club?  Fact of the matter is that by this time, you have no control over what could have been. This type of questioning may shut your child down and make them not want to apply at all.  It is better to focus on the accomplishments your child has and help them determine the best way to showcase these accomplishments in their applications.

Have a back up plan.  One of the best ways to alleviate stress in this process is to make sure your student has a balanced college list.  While you don’t want to dwell on the “worst case scenario”, it is important that the student is aware of their safety schools and is content with the thought that they may end up attending one.

Get outside help.  If you are running in circles with your child and fear that their college applications are not going to get submitted, be sure to ask for help.  Sometimes an outside influence can provide more motivation for your son or daughter.  You can ask a friend or family member to step in and work with your student or consider hiring an educational consultant.  We work with students and parents on this process every day, so we know how challenging it can be.  Feel free to contact us if you have specific questions.

The college application process is complicated, emotional, scary and down right messy. Remember to take lots of deep breaths.  It will be over before you know it.

Katherine Price

Senior Associate

Katherine Price

About the Author

Katherine has over ten years of professional experience in admissions and student affairs. Most recently, she was Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Babson College, in Massachusetts. Prior to her admissions work, Katherine also served various roles in student affairs, both at Babson and at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Katherine earned a Masters in Higher Education Administration from Boston College, and a BA in English from the University of San Diego.

One Response to “College Application Stress Tips for Parents”

  1. Emma | iHELP students loans says:

    Thank you for acknowledging that this process can get stressful for parents too!

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