A lot has changed since today’s parents went through the college application process.
Start with the delivery and availability of information. “It used to be that you needed to be on a school’s mailing list to get any kind of information at all,” said Ann McDermott, admissions director at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Now, there’s just an explosion of information everywhere. The depth and breadth of information is wonderful, but it can also be overwhelming.”
Another shift is that today’s parents tend to be much more involved.
“It’s become more of a communal event,” McDermott said. “There’s stress that builds up with that sharing.”
With college applicants and their families dealing with more information, complication and competition than ever before, how do you get through the process without pulling out your hair?
“Start early, work on your project consistently, and be open-minded in your process,” said Stephanie Kennedy, an independent educational consultant and founder of My College Planning Team.
There may be a ton of it to sort through, but getting information is a good thing.
“We read everything, and we went to about eight colleges and took tours,” said Julia Ziobro, a documentation manager and mother of two who lives in Bellevue.
Her daughter, Joanne Moseley, found a wealth of information at her high school, which held workshops on the application process, financial aid and decision-making.
A college’s website is the best place to get information that’s factual and up to date. For the schools that catch your interest, a visit is essential, so you can really understand the “feel” of the campus.
“When you tour the campus, ask questions of your tour guide: what they do on the weekends, what is the food like, housing, etc.,” said Carrie Thompson, associate director of admissions at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. “The more questions you ask during your college process, the better you get to know each university and the more comfortable you will be with your final choice.”
Some families choose to hire education consultants to help find the college that’s a best fit academically, socially and financially. The cost of these services can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, said Kennedy, and many consultants will work with families on a sliding scale or do some pro bono work.
Some high schools have counselors who can provide that kind of service, but independent counselors can help fill any gaps. Local librarians can be very good at helping to track down and navigate resources, McDermott said.
The role of parents
As tempting as it is to get heavily involved, parents should remember that is the student’s process, said McDermott.
“The student should be filling out the forms and, whenever possible, they should schedule appointments and make travel arrangements,” she said. “Parents need to learn how to sit in the back seat and give up the steering wheel.”
Ziobro looks back and can think of one thing she’d change. Her daughter applied to 20 colleges.
“I wish that she’d gotten serious about her dream schools and had narrowed her applications down to 10 or fewer schools,” Ziobro said. “As it was, she got accepted to 12, wait-listed for four, and rejected by four and still struggled to decide on Smith — where she is very happy, thank goodness!”
One way parents can help ratchet down the stress is to limit the number of conversations about the process. McDermott recommends picking one day a week for family talk about colleges.
“Otherwise it can become an all-consuming conversation, and fatigue and irritation will set in,” she said.
Having a plan is a key part of the process, said Debbie Zugates, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
“Knowing deadlines can help make the process feel more manageable,” she said. “Admissions and financial aid counselors can walk you through the process so you can feel well-informed. Talk to friends and family who have recently been through the process to get their insight.”
Stay organized throughout the process, said Barry N. Liebowitz, managing partner of International College Counselors.
“Between multiple classes, homework, extracurricular activities and other responsibilities, life can get stressful,” he said. So, find a system that works for you, including a calendar or planner and binders.
But stay balanced by finding some time to relax.
“Whether it’s doing yoga, going to a movie or listening to music, it’s important to unwind,” said Liebowitz.
A final tip from McDermott: “I think keeping a sense of humor always helps.”