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The Parent Trap: How to Motivate and Inspire Your Child Without Getting in the Way

Parent helps child with their college applications

By Alecia, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor 

The college admissions process is one of the most exciting and stressful journeys that families go through. That’s right — families go through the college admissions process, not just students! As a college counselor with IvyWise, I work with the entire family to ensure I’m communicating clearly, transparently, and consistently to meet the family’s goals and expectations. Clear communication begins with relationship building.

Parents are partners and have very special roles in the college admissions process. Let’s talk about some of the ways you can positively contribute to your child’s college admissions experience.

Allow Your Child to Be Independent

One of the most important and impactful things you can do for your child is to give them space for independence. Promoting independence demonstrates that you trust your child to manage their time and to come to you if they need assistance. The college admissions process has the potential to create rifts in families because it is such a stressful and intense time. I encourage all families to allow their child to manage their college admissions process — let your child lead! They will come to you when they need help, and allowing them to take charge will increase their confidence during a process that is exciting and challenging.

Provide Positive Encouragement

One way you can maintain your involvement in your child’s college admissions process is by providing them with positive encouragement. When they are going in for their first college interview, provide them with a pep talk and share your own experiences with interviews. If they are stuck on figuring out an essay topic, sit down with them and listen to their topic options. When they receive a difficult decision, remind them that admissions offices make decisions about applications, not people. Providing positive encouragement and support during this process will ensure that your child’s college admissions experience is positively memorable.

Make a Joint Deadline Spreadsheet

As a parent, you will want to help your child meet all the various admissions deadlines — for their application, interviews, etc. You can alleviate some stress for your child by helping them create a deadlines spreadsheet to track when all the parts of their applications are due. Creating a digital spreadsheet will allow you both to access the document wherever you are, and you’ll be able to track what your child is working on while allowing them to independently manage their process!

Plan College Trips

College visits typically happen in the spring of junior year and the summer before senior year. If you can, see if you can take some time off work to travel with your child to some of the colleges they are considering. Visiting college campuses is one of the best ways for your child to assess if the college is a good fit for them, and in doing so, determine which factors really matter to them in their college search process. It’s also a great way for your child to demonstrate interest in the colleges they are considering.

Read Their Essays and Applications

It’s very important in the college admissions process that students demonstrate integrity and authenticity. By reviewing your child’s college applications and essays, you can identify if something important is missing from your child’s application such as an activity, award, or accomplishment. In reviewing their essays, you can see if their essays sound like their voice and give insight into their personality and personal qualities. Reviewing applications and essays and providing feedback are some of the best ways you can be helpful during this process!

Start Early and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

In an ideal world, families would begin to explore the college prep process the summer before their students start ninth grade. This may include starting those early conversations about your student’s interests and goals. This is also the ideal time for students to start working with a college counselor.

As a counselor, I make it a priority to get to know each student’s parents, their personal backgrounds, their expectations for the college admissions process, as well as their hopes and dreams for their child’s future. In getting to know the student, I learn about their strengths, interests, and ambitions.

Through these conversations, I gain more insight into where parent and student thoughts around the college admissions process align and collide. I am then able to serve as a bridge, helping the student and their parents communicate better and align on key decisions that are made in high school — such as what precollege program to attend, which club they should pursue, and which essay topic they should write about. When relationships are built early and expectations are communicated clearly and thoroughly, counselors can establish rapport, which is so important during the intimidating college admissions process.

Celebrate Little Victories

Generally, the college application process is filled with both positive and negative news — take the time to celebrate little victories with your child. Cheer them on when they complete their college essays. submit their first application, and receive their first positive admissions decision!

Families should rest assured that they are in good hands when working with a counselor at IvyWise, as each of us has read thousands of applications and participated in admissions committees where decisions are made. We each have unique insight and perspective into how this process works and can provide meaningful counseling to our students and families due to the depth and breadth of our experiences. Contact us today to see how having our team on your family’s team can help your student achieve their goals.

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