How to Survive the College Application Process: 10 Dos and Don’ts

With a high school junior, I’m in the midst of the college application process and it’s a process that can drive even the most level-headed of us to madness. Here are some tips for getting through the next eighteen months with some semblance of your sanity intact.

10 tips for parents to survive the college application process.

How to Survive the College Application Process

1. Do provide guidance to your child based on who he is, and not on who you thought he would or should be.

2. Do realize it’s about them, not about you. That bears repeating; this is not about you, it is about your child. Your child being accepted into a “top tier” school does not validate your parenting choices, nor does their inability to do so invalidate your parenting methods.

3. Do be realistic. You love your child and you are absolutely certain that they deserve to get into any and every school to which they apply. You do not see them objectively and that’s okay but they should stretch within realistic parameters. Apply to some reach schools but also to a reasonable number of schools that your child actually has a good chance of getting into.

4. Do allow your child to take the lead. Again, this process is about them. It’s not “we” will be attending X college, rather it is “they” will be attending X college; it’s not “we” applied to these universities, rather “they” applied to these universities. If you can’t get out of their way, you might want to call in the school guidance person or pay for a private counsellor.

5. Do breathe deeply. The process sucks. It really does. But, there are multiple routes to the same destination and in the end almost all find their way.

6. Do help your kids take the long view. You’re the adult and it’s up to you to maintain perspective. Tell them that where they end up is where they were meant to be. Tell them this is the beginning of a long and beautiful journey. Help them put their disappointment in perspective. And, tell them you love them no matter what.

7. Do seize the day. Enjoy spending this time with your kid thinking about and looking at schools. This time will not come again and it really can be a good way to spend this time with them.

8. Do NOT take everything your kid says seriously. They may tour a school, love it, and say, “this is my one and only place” and a day later they’ll say, “I didn’t like that school at all.”  Don’t argue or push just let it all marinate until some final choices need to be made.

9. Do NOT listen to other parents. Parents bring to the college process the whole panoply of their own internal baggage. Fortunately, someone else’s baggage has little or no relation to you or your child so pay no attention to it. Leave others to their own devices.

10. Do NOT be that mom, the one who opens the college conversation with other parents only to be cryptic and secretive about where their own kid applied. It’s okay to ask if you’re willing to share, but ONLY if you’re willing to share.

Here, smack in the middle of the college application process, the only thing that is certain is that soon enough you will have an answer. In the meantime, trying to get through this without driving yourself and everyone else crazy is the goal.


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About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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