Parenting through your child’s college search

One of the strongest predictors of a college student’s success is parental support and involvement. So just by asking the question “How can I support my college-bound child?,” you’re already helping to get them on the right track!

The more complicated question is: How do I help my child in their journey to college AND allow them the chance to gain independence and ensure they find the school that’s right for them?

When I think back to my own college application process, I don’t remember it! Why? Because my parents did everything for me. Of course, they had the best of intentions and wanted to ensure I would be in the ideal situation and ready to start college with the right foot forward.

But, the problem with parental over-involvement was that I missed out on important skill-building opportunities. Plus, we chose my college before I had a chance to genuinely explore my options and engage with the colleges in a meaningful way. My advice to the fantastic parents out there is to learn from my family’s missteps!

Consider these key steps to meaningful engagement and finding the perfect level of involvement in your child’s college search:

  1. Be there for the big stuff. We love for parents to attend our events like preview days, tours, webinars, and parent focused events. Your presence is so important to help your student understand the crucial information being conveyed, especially regarding topics they may not fully understand. Topics like financial aid, student success, and academic rigor are subjects you may have better context to understand than your student, and your contributions can help them make informed decisions by considering aspects of the college they may not have considered otherwise.
  2. Skip the small stuff. By small, I don’t mean unimportant; I mean personal. Things like advising meetings, scholarship interviews, and class visits are opportunities for students to learn their responsibilities and gain important skills they’ll need for college and beyond. With parents in the room, many students tend to clam up and let the parent do the talking. When that happens, an important engagement opportunity is missed!  That also includes being an invisible participant in zoom meetings or phone calls. We advise you sit those meetings out and get the play-by-play afterward.
  3. Ask important questions. We absolutely want you to feel informed and engaged by all the colleges you visit. The best way to gain that perspective is for you and your student to communicate with university staff to find out what you need to know. Some of the most important places for you to be an active participant in the process are when it comes to financial aid, career readiness, and safety.  We know these are important to you and asking your questions allows you an opportunity to be an advocate for your child’s best interests!
  4. Allow your student to speak for themselves. Just as it is important for you to engage with the college, it is just as crucial for your student to engage on their own. As we’ve all experienced, students tend to disengage if they know a parent will speak up for them. If your child is curious about something, they should ask their admission representative about it! We know many of our students are shy or have anxiety regarding reaching out to us, but there is no better time to begin practicing assertiveness and autonomy over their own education. We encourage you to encourage them to speak up and ask for what they need! 
  5. Don’t be an identity thief. Please don’t fall into the temptation of impersonating your student over email, or worse, becoming more than a sounding board for their essay and application questions. Believe me, we can tell if we’re speaking to a 17-year-old or their parent!

Kellie Butler is Director of Admission at Oglethorpe University.

To sum up, parental participation in the college search and enrollment process is invaluable, and we welcome your involvement from the first campus tour to graduation day. We know it’s difficult to take a step back and let your child lead, but they’ll thank you for it when all is said and done.

You’re doing great, and we can’t wait to meet you!

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