Parenting throughout the college admissions process

The following is a guest blog from my esteemed colleague and college admissions expert, Suzanne Shaffer, who writes faster than I can read.

I’ll admit (willingly) that I like to offer my unsolicited advice to my children. Even though they are grown, I feel the need to continue to parent. As they did when they were younger, they smile, listen, and then do things their own way. It’s a type of dance parents and kids do with one another.

The hardest part of the college admissions process for a parent is finding a balance in your parenting. You want to encourage them, guide them and help them make the right choices. But when you push too hard, nag and set guidelines that interfere with their independence and individual choices you create a stressful and frustrating college preparation experience. This is a monumental step in your child’s life and you don’t want to taint it with fighting, frustration and family discourse.

Following are 5 tips for parents of college-bound teens (based around good old southern truisms) to keep peace in the home and reduce the stress related to the college admissions process:

1.    Don’t bite off more than you can chew (attempt what you can accomplish)
The key to any college admissions process is organization. Overloading your student with to-do lists on top of their regular high school studies and activities will only result in frustration on both your parts. Sit down with them and create a schedule, a calendar and an email account to use for all college related information. As the application time approaches, your student will not stress over an overwhelming to-do list.

2.    Don’t get caught with your pants down (surprised and unprepared)
You owe it to yourself and your student to have a serious conversation about money BEFORE they start applying to colleges. It’s your job to let them know what you are prepared to pay and also explain to them the importance of applying for scholarships and financial aid to minimize debt after graduation. Too many students today are graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. You, as their parent, can help them avoid financial ruin after graduation.

3.    Don’t get your feathers ruffled (upset and pout)
Teenagers are moody and shut down often. The stress involved in applying to college will often cause them to become angry, frustrated, and distant. When this happens, give them some space and wait for them to come to you for advice (They will!). College has become such an important step in a young person’s life that they feel overwhelmed and scared at times. Expect this to happen and don’t take it personally.

4.    Don’t go off half-cocked (have only half the facts)
A huge part of a successful college admissions process is knowing what to expect and understanding how it all works. Spend some time online and research articles about college admissions. Never accept the theory that you are at the mercy of the colleges. Remember that you (and your student) are paying for this education and you are the customer. Approach the process as a wise, educated consumer.

5.    Don’t let your mouth overload your tail (talking too much)
The best advice I can give any parent is to listen. Teenagers will often talk during car rides, getting dressed in the morning, or while helping with dinner. Find that time when your teen likes to talk and listen carefully to what they say (reading between the lines as any good parent can do). Once you have listened to how they feel, you will be much more likely to provide the help they need when they need it the most.

Finally, remember to laugh and enjoy the process. It’s just one more step in your child gaining independence and moving toward productive adulthood. And believe me–it happens in two shakes of a lamb’s tail!


Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parents Countdown to College Coach blog offers timely college tips for parents and provides parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze. She is also a member of the Unigo Expert Network, a College Money Insider Expert and the College Coach for


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2 Responses to “Parenting throughout the college admissions process”

  1. Suzanne Shaffer (@SuzanneShaffer) Says:

    Thanks Paul for posting this. Helping parents of college-bound teens is my passion–(and I also love a little humor sprinkled into the mix). It’s so stressful, you’ve got to laugh sometimes to shake off the tension!

  2. Susie Watts Says:

    As a private college counselor and the parent of five college graduates, I think you have offered some excellent college planning advice for parents. I believe the listening part is most important. Teenagers want to know they are being heard, even if what they say may be just the need to rattle off. I know that many of the students I work with have come to me because the parents find the college admissions process causing more friction in their family than they like. It should be an enjoyable process and not one that divides the family.

    College Direction, Denver, Colorado

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