How Much of the Application Process Should Mom Be Doing?

My son just started his senior year of high school. How much of the application process should I be doing? I feel like my son won't do anything for his applications if I don't sit with him and push the issue. Is this a sign that he isn't ready for college if he isn't willing to put in the work?

Many parents, like you, are wondering this very week if the child who will spend hours binge-watching Bojack Horseman but won't take ten minutes to set up a Common Application account is really ready for college at all. But the answer is, “Probably yes." Teenagers mature at different rates. Surely you've seen this in countless ways as you observed your son and his friends growing up right before you, and now you may be daunted by some of these friends when they sit in your living room and discuss college essays they've already finished or applications they've filed.

But take heart ... you're not alone ... and read this “Ask the Dean" column here, which answers your question in detail.

Don't be too terrified by all the advice columns that insist that the child must “own" this process. It's fine if he owns SOME of the process! Don't write his essays for him but give him suggestions if he wants them and deadlines if he needs them. (And it sounds as if your son does.) When my own son was going through the college process, he was clear that he expected to begin college right after high school (no gap year) but he was certainly not enthused about doing what he had to do to get there. Yet when I gave him a schedule and nagged from time to time, he completed all the tasks ... and he did them well.

If your son doesn't respond to your deadlines and your nagging but insists that he wants to go to college straight away, you may have to pull the plug on certain privileges (car keys? cable?) until he has done the assignments.

Also ask yourself if he has a reasonable college list. Although my son was aiming for some very snazzy schools, he only applied to six colleges, and three of them were sure-things. At the start of the process when he was in 11th grade, I made certain that our first visit was to a university that I was confident he'd like, but I was also confident would like him. And he did like it and he got in ... and he even went (and graduated!) although he had other options, including the one Ivy on his list.

Since your son is a senior, it may be too late to take this exact same approach, but you can help him to put a limit on his list (this will cut the work load considerably) and also insist that the list includes at least one school that excites him but which is “Realistic" if not downright “Safe." This should help with your son's stress level which, in turn, may boost his involvement.

Once you've confirmed with your son that he really does want to go to college straight from high school, then you may find that indeed you will need to “sit with him and push the issue." As you'll see in the previous “Ask the Dean" article cited above, the student who procrastinates at application time will probably be just fine once college begins. But, because kids do grow up at different rates, even when your son is off at college next year you can still provide some oversight from afar. Don't be that mom who makes dorm decor a full-time job or who phones every evening to see if the day's assignments are done. But do pay attention as your son navigates the transition ahead, and don't feel that you have to completely drop the baton until you're sure he's running with it on his own ... and it sounds like that isn't happening yet!

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at