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Overparenting Part 2: Enabling Your Child to Own Their College Admissions Process

Zaragoza Guerra

Written by Zaragoza Guerraon May 17th, 2017

Prior to joining College Coach, I spent part of my career as director of admissions for the Boston Conservatory, where I oversaw overall recruitment and auditions for students interested in music, theater, and dance. I spent most of my admissions career, however, as an admissions officer for two institutes of technology. As an associate director of admissions at MIT, I directed overall recruitment and yield activities as well as international, transfer, and special student admissions. I also served as an assistant director of admissions for Caltech, where I handled specialized student recruitment and reviewed domestic and international student files.
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This is the second of a four-part series on the subject of overparenting, this post focusing on your part as a parent in the college admissions process.  Make sure to also check out our recently published  post on how to play an appropriate role in your middle schooler’s life , and stay tuned for upcoming posts on including your child in the college finance process and your role as a parent in the life of your college student. Let’s face it: You don’t want to be that parent. You know, that parent: The one living a little too vicariously through their child’s choice of colleges; the one contributing a sentence or two to their child’s admission essay; the one hinging their child’s every admission success or failure upon parental action or inaction. That’s right: that parent. Keep things in perspective. Your child is the one up for admission, not you. So how do you keep from becoming the topic of conversation within an admissions committee or guidance office, veering it away from your child to you? How do you distinguish between “a little” help and “too much” help? The following are a few rules of the game, some parental dos and don’ts that shed a little light upon what admission professionals might consider parental overhelp. If you end up recognizing yourself in any of the “don’ts,” rein it in. The Happy Medium:
  • Second semester junior year is the busiest of your child’s high school career. Don’t put too much pressure on them to write their personal statement until it’s over. Give them the time and space they need to wrap up their schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and standardized testing, all of which play their own important roles within the college admissions process. When school is off the calendar, though, it’s time to crack the whip.
  • Zip it. Don’t be the one asking all the questions on a college tour. Instead, sit back, observe your child’s reactions, and patiently let them absorb everything around them. Save a few sparing questions for the car, and remember to listen. If you’re hoping a certain set of questions get posed to each college, try talking them over with your child ahead of time. Write those questions down together; if they aren’t answered organically during your visit, let your child do the asking.
  • No matter how matter of fact the exercise might seem, don’t pull together your child’s resume or activities list for them; it’s still a student’s responsibility. Do remind them, however, of any activities or awards they might have forgotten to include.
  • Don’t become the human incarnation of your child’s thesaurus. Remember, essay writing is not a team effort—otherwise, you might get roped into helping your child write their future college research papers, which by the way, is also not okay. But you can help brainstorm admission essay topics. Remind them of the qualities that make them the wonderful human beings they are. Can we say great essay fodder?
  • Your child’s the one being interviewed, not you. So don’t even think about it. Wish them luck before their interview, step away from the door, and relax—they’ve got this. And if Junior is super-shy, their interview struggles will seem much less pronounced without real time help from Mom or Dad. Prove to an admissions officer your child can do this without you. It’s okay to coach them ahead of time, but when the studio light goes on, quietly make your exit.
  • If your child has narrowed their college list down to two “No Problems,” three “Just Rights,” and two “Challenges,” they’re more than good, they’re done. Three more schools above that? Fine. What about one more? Chillax, already, and keep it sane. You don’t have to go off the deep end here; the admissions process shouldn’t be made any crazier than it has to be.


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