How to Help Your Teen During the College Application Process

Having met with hundreds of prospective college students and their families during my career as a college admissions director, I understand and appreciate the time parents have spent helping their student navigate the exciting, but often overwhelming, college search process. Once your student has developed a list of schools to apply to, work together to ensure successful submission of the applications. Below, please find five helpful tips for the college application process.

5 tips for parents to help their teen through the college application process.

Five Tips for Parents During the College Application Process

Know deadlines – Create a spreadsheet to keep track of all application and financial aid deadlines for each college. (Download this template.) This spreadsheet will also help you keep track of the required documents for each institution. Be sure your student requests transcripts and recommendations from teachers and the guidance office well in advance. Remember, it is better to have your student follow-up with colleges to be sure all documents have arrived on time, than to have a college requesting missing documents.

Visit Campus – Encourage your student to visit the campuses of his/her top choices. You can only learn so much from a viewbook or from speaking with an admissions counselor at a college fair. When I ask current students about how they make their final decision, so many of them say, “When I visited, it just felt right.” Most colleges offers many visit opportunities throughout the year.  Take a campus tour and/or having your student schedule an interview with his/her admissions counselor.

Choose recommenders carefully – Your student will want to choose recommenders who know him/her well. Some of the best letters of recommendation come from people who can attest to a student’s character.  Consider teachers who have had your student in class as well as in extracurricular activities. This allows the recommender to speak to your student’s academic potential as well as character.

If your student does not feel a strong connection to a teacher, find a coach, work supervisor or volunteer coordinator who can describe your student’s gifts, talents and strengths. The transcript and application provide admissions offices with many facts, while the letters of recommendation bring your student’s personality to life. Some schools offer a  letter of recommendation request form that will help your student provide recommenders with appropriate information for their letter.

Encourage creativity in the essay – Most college applications require students to write an essay. If your student has not already begun working on the essay, start now! Encourage your student to be creative with the essay. The essay provides students with the opportunity to share their uniqueness with college admissions offices. He/she doesn’t have to be the first to write about a topic – just make it authentic and memorable for the reader.

This is our favorite part of the application because we can make connections with students based on their own personal reflections and it provides an opportunity for them to shine a light on their unique strengths. Once your student is satisfied with the essay, proofread it for grammar issues only. Let your student’s voice shine.

Take a back seat – The college search process is one that will take you and your student on a journey of change. Your student is learning how to navigate adult life and will soon be moving off to college. Allow your student to take responsibility for submitting applications and requesting documents from schools or testing agencies. With your support, your student will begin to learn how to manage their time and priorities, crucial skills for a successful college experience.

I hope this advice is helpful in this exciting stage of the college search process. We always  look forward to reading applications and getting to know the newest class of students.  


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Michael DiPiazza is Director of Undergraduate Admission and Recruitment at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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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