8 Mistakes Parents Make With Their Kid's College Application

mom helping teen daughter with paperworkFew pieces of paperwork play as pivotal a role in your child's future prospects as college applications. And as a parent, you're probably just as nervous as your kid (and footing the bill to boot)! Is it okay to help kids with their applications? Yes -- as long as you don't go overboard.

"College admissions officers can tell if a parent is doing most of the heavy lifting in the application process, and it can backfire in a big way," says Brian Stewart at BWS Education Consulting. Yet that doesn't mean you can't pitch in with the application in appropriate ways. To help you know what's okay verses crossing the line, here are eight bloopers that can hurt rather than help your child's odds of getting in.


College application advice for teens and parentsMistake #1: Letting your child skip the "optional" questions. "Just because something is marked 'optional' does not mean it should be glossed over in the tedious application process," says Jessica Parnell, President of Bridgeway Academy. Make sure your child knows that answering optional questions is often the easiest opportunity to give her application a leg up. A good way to think about this is to equate optional questions with extra credit opportunities in school. College admissions officers, like teachers, like to see kids who are willing to go the extra mile.

Mistake #2: Writing or heavily editing your child's essay. College admissions officers are expert essay readers. They know what a high school student’s essay sounds like compared to an adult’s. Plus, "if a college admissions officer suspects that a student has had someone else write the application essay, the officer can check the quality of the student’s writing against that of their ACT or SAT essay," warns Brian Stewart at BWS Education Consulting. The upshot? To avoid helping too much with that admissions essay, parents should provide proofreading -- but not writing -- help.

Mistake #3: Not having your child use the "Score Choice" option with the ACT or SAT. When your son or daughter takes the ACT or SAT, they may be offered the option of listing a limited number of colleges to which they can send their test scores for free. Many students hesitate to do this, in case their scores don't come back as high as they hope. Yet most colleges and universities consider students who have their scores directly sent to be among their "hottest prospects." These are the candidates who usually get off-campus interviews and learn about scholarships. Bottom line: Encourage your kids to have their scores sent directly to their top schools. 

Mistake #4: Letting your child apply to just a few schools. In decades past, students had no trouble earning admission to a good state university. Now, getting into college is more competitive than ever. Students should apply to a full range of schools, including a combination of reach schools, match schools, and safety schools.

Mistake #5: Telling your kid a certain college "is too expensive." "I've had middle-class students earn nearly full scholarships to Ivy League schools," says Stewart. "With multibillion-dollar endowments, Ivy League and other top institutions will find a way to help your child attend if he or she earns admission." Get an early estimate of how much college will cost, your family's eligibility for financial aid, and more at the College Board's Big Future calculators.

Mistake #6: Failing to clean up your child's email address and Facebook account. Think about it: if you were a college admissions officer, would you go to bat for some kid whose email address was Superslacker@gmail.com? Or how about if his Facebook page or Twitter feed was filled with pics and comments about keg parties? Make sure your teen cleans up his social presence and has a professional email address; colleges can and will search for any red flags they can find online.

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Mistake #7: Not insisting your child actively seek an interview. Face-to-face interviews are often optional these days, but this is one opportunity you don’t want to pass up! Interviews give your child a chance to put a face to an application and convey their enthusiasm for the school. If a college is on the fence about an applicant, an interview can easily tip the scales, so if possible, insist that one happens.

Mistake #8: Contacting the college admissions office yourself. We know moms and dads just want to help, but remember: your son or daughter is going to college, not you! As such, colleges prefer hearing from the student rather than their parent. So step out of the way and encourage your child to take the reigns.

Are you helping your child with college applications?


Images © Zave Smith/Corbis; © iStock.com/Hailshadow       

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