high school graduation

A guest post by Lisa Oppenheimer

Call it the “Scarlet H.”

The “H?” “For Helicopter Parent.”

The dreaded label hovers over all parents as we try to help (and yes, over help) our children, but never more than when our progeny apply to college. That’s when we become, well…crazy. Legends abound about parents writing essays, berating admissions officers, and, in one particularly creative urban legend, applying to schools on our offspring’s behalf (I’m told by a reliable source that the last one is more or less impossible, but you never know). 

Why Hire a College Consultant?

“The only thing worse than helicopter parents,” berated a commenter after a New York Times article on families and college applications, “are people who hire others to helicopter for them.”

So let me confess right here… I was more than happy to accept help from professional college admissions consultants when both of my children applied to college. But the reasons might surprise you. It wasn’t, as many might imagine, to micromanage every decision on their road to higher ed. Au contraire… it was to get my big “H” out of the way.

It’s Your Child’s College Search, Not Yours

My reasoning: as I approached my eldest daughter’s sophomore year in high school, I realized it was impossible – summarily and completely impossible! – for me to engage in her college choices without inserting myself into the equation. We all have dreams for our children. But as my children became young adults, it became clear that my dreams were not necessarily theirs. I’m city and luxury hotels. They’re woods and campgrounds. I’m Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald; they’re Stephen Hawking and Jack Kerouac. I love everything about them and admire their drive to simplify and save the planet. And while it is my job as a parent to help guide them, I couldn’t help feeling that my presence might actually steer them in a new and unintended direction.

An objective voice helped ensure any detours – in whatever directions – were theirs. And I got a much-needed voice to remind me that the label affixed to their college of choice – brand name or not – didn’t matter. It’s what they did when they got there that would make the difference; what they decided they wanted from a future career, and how hard they were willing to fight for it.

Save Your Time and Sanity:  Leave it to the Experts

Yes, I was happy for the essential how-to advice from the pros. But I also got assurance that my children were pursuing their dreams and not mine. And when worries wracked me, I had an educated resource to deflect my angst away from them. Maybe most important, I got the solace of knowing I wasn’t going to screw it up. The people I worked for liked it, too, since I wasn’t spending my days obsessively surfing which school made the “best party” list, or which one was voted “best seven years of my life.”

My oldest in particular ended up pursuing a college I wasn’t especially familiar with and that I probably never would have picked for her.  And you know what? It fits her like a glove. She loves the environment, she’s doing beautifully as a student, and she’s making carefully thought-out decisions about internships and summer jobs to set herself up for a great resume. Every day, I’m impressed by something new – things I’m now certain she wouldn’t have accomplished if I had been in the driver’s seat.

And all of it was achieved because I was miles out of the way.

So if all of my experiences are worthy of the title, “helicopter…”

Well slap on an “H,” and color me scarlet.


Written by College Coach
College Coach® is the nation’s leading provider of educational advising, offering expert guidance from the best college admissions consultants on the college admissions and finance process. Our goal is to help each student maximize his or her chances of success through services focused on their personal desires, goals, individual strengths, and accomplishments.