How to Help Your Teen Walk Away From the Admissions Process with Pride

The admissions process is well underway. Many Seniors have received decisions from early action and early decision applications and they continue to navigate final, regular decision deadlines. The college counseling office where I work is bustling with students’ energy as they seek guidance or reassurance for their next chapter.

As a college counselor, I want to remind parents to keep their children at the heart of the admissions process. (Shutterstock Monkey Business Images)

Keep children at the heart of the admissions process

For seniors and their parents and guardians, this process has been marked with an extra layer of uncertainty because race-conscious admission programs have ended, legacy admissions and early binding admissions at colleges and universities nationwide are under scrutiny, and the rollout of the new FAFSA form has complicated the financial aid application process.

As decisions roll in and families continue navigating decisions and deadlines, one constant should remain: a commitment to keep our students – your children – at the heart of the college admissions journey. 

Build the scaffolding together

Each of our seniors is capable of greatness, no matter where they land for college. It’s essential to remember this and to remind our children that they are amazing people with bright futures.

Throughout this college application process, which is marked by unusual unpredictability, there are numerous areas where we can continue to bolster our students and help them achieve success.

6 ways to help your student achieve success

1. Break the big tasks down

Looking at the entire college application procedure as one big task can make the process feel overwhelming. Parents, guardians and college counseling teams can encourage students to process it into smaller, bite-size tasks. By creating a list of these tasks, students can feel satisfaction checking off the areas they complete, such as writing an essay or finalizing their college recommendations. 

2. Manage check-ins to reduce stress

My students often express frustration when parents check in daily on their progress during college application season. Setting aside an agreed-upon, weekly time, such as Sunday dinner or a scheduled coffee break, to review progress from the past week and plan for the coming week can create structure and reduce anxiety.

If your student has completed their college applications, is awaiting early action decision, or has been deferred or waitlisted, confirm that they are following directions provided by their colleges. If admissions and financial aid applications are completed, it’s best to wait until the decisions from the college or university have been released to check-in.

3. Take advantage of the college counseling department  

We’re here for one reason: to help students and parents/guardians navigate the application process. We’re eager to read essays and provide immediate feedback. We are also here to help you and your child walk through college decisions, whether it is a time of celebration or disappointment. Students digest disappointment differently, but we can help encourage them and remind them of the amazing people they are and the bright futures they have ahead. 

4. Manage decisions alongside your child

As early decisions are released this is a time of excitement for many but also a season of disappointment for some students. It’s okay if your student needs a day or two to process the decision before they’re ready to talk to you or before they’re prepared to think about their next application.

Reminding your students that they are loved, regardless of college decisions, is critical. It’s also vital that you guard your own responses and are careful not to project your disappointment onto your child.

5. Help them navigate the changing FAFSA process  

As you may have seen or heard, the 2023-24 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) became available on December 30, 2023. Given the delayed release and technological difficulties families have experienced, we expect the release delay to be a bottleneck – while colleges will not hold off on admission decision, we anticipate a delay in the disbursement of financial aid awards.

You and your student must continue to follow the guidelines and directions that each college and university you are considering has set up. If this process feels overwhelming, break it into smaller tasks and continue those weekly check-ins to ensure every step is taken within the prescribed timeframe.

6. Let your students take the reins, preparing them for life beyond high school

As parents, it’s second nature to shield our children from risk and stress. But it’s essential to allow students to prepare for the possibility of failure, as college planning is also life planning. Remind them that we learn as much or more from our setbacks as we do from our triumphs. There are also additional ways to encourage independence this season before your child goes to college.

Assign them household chores such as laundry. Encourage them to seek part-time employment and save money for books and other expenses. Finally, talk about finances with your children and set expectations for the cost of borrowing and repayment terms.

Implementing these tips will help your students navigate the college application process with poise and certainty. It can also help you and your household to finish the academic year as a team, remembering that as you walk through each milestone, you are one step closer to the next exciting chapter.

Helping students feel proud of their efforts

Our goal should be for students to walk away from the college application process feeling proud of how they’ve spent their time and of the effort they’ve put in, regardless of the outcome – which is influenced by many factors beyond their achievements and in some cases even beyond their control

Let’s choose to focus on the many areas that we, as parents and guardians, can influence, like helping students own and feel positive about the application process.

More Great Reading:

To Parents of High School Seniors: 9 Important Reminders

About Sandra Sohne-Johnston

With more than two decades of college admissions and counseling experience, Sandra Sohne-Johnston has read countless applications and counseled hundreds of students through the college search process. Now the Director of College Counseling at St. Anne's-Belfield School, Sandra previously served as director of admissions recruitment and programming at Colby College, where she helped students find what was meaningful to them and welcomed the lifelong connections she made along the way. She reminds students to “love what you do and share what you love with others” and has found that this advice both grounds them and helps them find a sense of purpose.

Following her own advice is what led her to transition from college administration to college counseling and to pursue passion projects that continue to keep her energized. She is eager to work with and guide students through enjoyable and successful college processes. Sandra earned her B.A. from Franklin & Marshall College and M.A.L.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Read more posts by Sandra

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