Posted by: sistermom1 | February 19, 2014

Ten Things I Learned During the College Application Process

Our son is a high school senior who just completed the college application process. Our daughter is a freshman in high school, so we will apply this learning again soon. In this blog entry, I share some of what we learned about maintaining our perspective and sanity while helping our oldest child apply to college. I have come up with 10 simple rules (there are a few more, but I narrowed it down to 10!) that were very helpful to me and my family during the process. (By the way, our son was accepted into several colleges, including his first choice!)

1. You start when you start – There is never a “right” time – some start when the kids are infants, others begin in middle school. Bottom line, at the very least, it is important to begin thinking/planning for the college application process once your child is a freshman in high school.

2. Breathe – Not those short, nervous breaths, but those deep wonderful breaths that the body really savors. According to the website, there are at least 18 benefits of deep, purposeful breathing, including relieving tension, and relaxing the mind and body. Both of these will definitely come in handy throughout this process.

3. Remember the child in front of you. You are looking for the best place for your child — not the child you would like to have or wish you had. Not the child that will accomplish what you were unable to do for whatever reason. This has nothing to do with you/your legacy, wherever you did or did not attend college, or whether the school is considered acceptable by others in your social/family/peer group. YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THE BEST COLLEGE FOR YOUR CHILD! Besides the standard college directories, I read 2 great books by Loren Pope: Colleges that Change Lives, and Looking Beyond the Ivy League.

4. Gear up — competitive parenting is a full-contact sport. Especially where I live, you will be subject to lots of people sharing their opinions (well-informed or not!) about what you are doing, (whether you want to hear it or not!) and how it compares to what they did/are doing, or think you should be doing. When they do…

5. Remember #2

6. This is so not about you (except you will probably have to pay for it!) This is your child’s experience. Keep that firmly in your mind. Your child needs to write the essays, not a consultant. According to several college admissions directors, the committee can tell when the applicant has not written the essay themselves. Your child needs to manage the deadlines (with your help whenever needed!), and the relationships with the people who will write their recommendations, not you.

Also – your child may be eligible for many scholarships/grants. College is expensive, and whatever help you can get will be invaluable. Please complete the FAFSA, regardless of your financial income. It will make it easier once your child is accepted into a college. You never know where the support will come from, and completing the FAFSA really helps. In fact, many of the private resources for funding require that you complete the FAFSA form to be eligible for consideration. Please don’t overwhelm you child with extra essays – it is not worth it – to you or them.

7. Realize that you don’t know anything about the world that they will need to navigate/be successful in…Fifteen years ago, had you ever heard of blogging? Cybersecurity? Website design? Life coaching? None of these legitimate careers existed 15 years ago. Even if you are determined that your child is heading in a very specific direction (doctor, lawyer, accountant, scientist…), please breathe deeply and release it to the universe. Your child may find something else that really inspires them in college – maybe in a completely different direction than you expect, and that should really be ok…

8. The basics are still important and need to be addressed. It is really important to come to grips with the application schedule. Encourage your child to apply early if you can, (not necessarily early decision, but early application – there is a difference!) Be ready to help your child successfully manage deadlines, because there is no wiggle room. Not just for the applications, but for the supporting transcript requests from the school.

Consider this – If you are writing your child’s essay, will you write your child’s homework for the next four years? What is this teaching your child about your opinion of his/her writing skills? About honesty? When they do write their essays, encourage them to be honest – do not add extra activities to “look good” that they really do not do.

Being polite/appreciative of whatever help you receive from teachers and/or family members along the way is a huge part of this, as well as communicating well in writing and via email. In addition to this point, please consider and…

9. Remember #3

10. This too shall pass. Remember when your child was learning to walk? How about toilet training? Hopefully, your high school senior is able to walk and use the bathroom correctly without your help. How did you get here? Patience, other helpful people, an open mind combined to get them and you through it. They were successful then, and so will you be now!



  1. As the mother of a graduating senior as well (who is the first of my brood to pass this landmark and go to college), your post resonated with me. I thought it was wise and beautiful. My experience was at times so stressful that at one point, I actually got sick; navigating these waters for the first time is such an unknown process. I’m grateful for what I learned, for the maturity with which my daughter made her choice…and that we’re on the other side of it now! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and advice – I know it will be helpful to others who are making their own way. Best of luck!

    • Jennifer,
      Thank you very much for your comments — what an amazing journey this has been. Congratulations on your daughter’s graduation – please wish her well on her journey forward! Best of luck to your entire family!

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