50 Ways To Help Your Teen With College Admissions, Without Doing Too Much

Applying and going to college is a complex, confusing, and insanely expensive process. Teens need to be taking the lead and make the decisions, but because of the expense and complexity, there is a role for parents to play.

If your family needs help and advice about admissions or paying for college, the College Admissions: Grown and Flown membership is an affordable way to work with nationally known experts. The membership will cover everything from merit aid to early admissions to making a college list. Grown and Flown readers can access over 125 expert events with seven-day trial access.

mom and teen boy
Parents can do much, without taking over, to help their teens through the college admissions process. (@sweetbabygirl143 via Twenty20)

Here’s how you can sit in the passenger seat of your teen’s college process without driving the car

  1. Talk early and often about the cost of college and how their four years will be financed.
  1. Discuss how loans will be repaid, future incomes, and debt will impact our lives.
  1. Download the Grown and Flown College Admissions Timeline and share a copy with your teen. It is a year-by-year guide that will help them plan.
  1. Use this experience to teach your teen about making complex decisions with many variables and unknowns. This will help them all their life.
  1. Remind your teen and then remind them again that colleges care more about the rigor of their high school classes and how they perform than any other factor. 
  1. If you see their social life or extracurricular activities impacting their grades, remind them of #5 again. 
  1. Visit colleges as time and money allow.
  1. Be quiet while visiting these colleges; you are there to learn about the college and your teen.
  1. Make a Google spreadsheet of college information and financial and academic deadlines that you and your teen will share.
  1. Check the deadlines your teen has entered into the spreadsheet. Different departments, supplements, or colleges within a university might have other deadlines. A small mistake by an overworked high school senior shouldn’t take away their chance to apply.
  1. Try to be aware of the part of this process that reflects your issues, things you wish you had done yourself differently, and then let those things go.
  1. Tune out most of your peers. Your child is not their child, and their information can be outdated or inaccurate. 
  1. Read actual college admissions sites; many write great blogs that can teach you much that is accurate and up-to-date. Be careful where you get your information from.
  1. Learn as much as you can from experts about financial and merit aid, along with loans if relevant, don’t assume you understand. 
  1. Learn about SAT/ACT testing as the landscape changes quickly.
  1.  If your teen is going to prepare for testing (and they may not need to), you might encourage them to start after 10th grade, when they will have time over the summer, and be prepared to test during junior year. 
  1. Hire or recruit essay help if your teen needs an adult other than yourself to brainstorm or proofread their essays. This might be a high school English teacher, a relative, or a service like Prompt or College Essay Guy. 
  1. If you cannot afford the time or funds to visit lots of colleges, visit “types of colleges” locally (a big public college, small liberal arts…) to give your teen a sense of the types of schools that might interest them. 
  1. If your teen has questions about colleges, tell them to search the college’s website and if they can’t find the answer, email their regional admissions officer. It’s never too early to learn how to write professional emails.
  1. Do more listening than talking; your teen is learning what they want and need in the next step in their lives, and you need to know alongside them.
  1. Read some of the best recent books about college admissions, including Jeff Selingo, Ron Lieber, and Ethan Sawyer.
  1. Learn about college fit. You are finding the best school for your teen’s academic, social and financial needs.
  1. Remind your teen and yourself that for a college to be a fit, it must work on all three dimensions. 
  1. Let go of what you learned about colleges in the ‘90s.
  1. Tell your parents to let go of their ideas from the ‘60s.
  1. Figure out the best time to talk about college, it will ruin family life if it is a constant discussion. Pick an evening to catch up on the topic. 
  1. Don’t talk about how it was easier to get into college in the 90s or ten years ago. What good does that do your teen?
  1. Be prepared for your teen to change their mind often; college admissions are a learning process. 
  1. Help your student create a balanced college list with colleges they are very likely to be admitted to, with a good chance, and a few less likely. Then help them fall in love with the colleges where they will likely be accepted. 
  1. Create realistic expectations around paying for college and admissions. Talk through scenarios with merit aid, financial aid, and loans, not leaving it all to the final month to consider.
  1. Spend some time exploring the websites of the colleges that interest your teen. It will allow you to ask more useful and informed questions when you talk with them. 
  1. Be careful what you buy at the campus bookshop; what will you do with that stuff if they don’t attend?
  1. Urge your teen not to be influenced by the impressions and opinions of their peers.
  1. Urge your teen to have a good working relationship with their college counselor. 
  1. Suggest your teen consider who they will ask for college recommendations during 11th grade. 
  1. Share with your teen how they can show colleges’ demonstrated interest. Remind them they don’t need to do all these things but should know what is possible. 
  1. Follow the schools your teen is interested in on social media and urge them to do the same. 
  1. Research application-free fees; can be a significant savings.
  1. Urge your teen to think about a rolling admissions school that might be a good fit for them. Early admission is a great confidence booster and can take some pressure off. 
  1. Watch for the FAFSA opening date of October 1.
  1. Watch for the Common App opening date of August 1.
  1. Run the “net price calculator” on many college sites to get some sense of your family’s potential EFC. You can start this long before your teen begins looking for schools. 
  1.  Remind your teen to open their emails regularly; colleges send essential information there. 
  1. Consult this list early about which colleges offer the best merit aid and how generous they are with families. 
  1. Find one friend you can talk to about the college admissions process.
  1. Urge your teen to get started on college essays during the summer before 12th grade. Senior fall is a time to shine academically, and having a good start on the admissions essays can help. 
  1. Tell your teen they don’t have to answer the prying questions of friends and family about their college process. “My parents and I keep our thoughts to ourselves until I know more” works just fine. 
  1. Tell your teen not talking about college is not rude; it lowers stress, and that helps everyone.
  1. Remember that this is their choice, their life, and you are just here as their advisor and number one fan.
  2. Remind yourself of #45.

The College Admissions: Grown and Flown membership is an affordable way to work with nationally known experts. Grown and Flown readers can get a 7-day trial to attend weekly live events and over 125 on-demand expert sessions.

More Great Reading:

21 Ways to Show Demonstrated Interest

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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