How Much Should Parents Help With College Admissions?


Question: I'm the father of a rising high school senior and it seems that everywhere I turn, I find information advising the parents of college applicants to “back off and let students take the lead." But if I were to back off, my son — with his 3.98 GPA, top test scores, multiple unique extracurricular activities and elected offices — will do nothing. Trust me, I've tried putting him in charge and it hasn't worked. He says he definitely wants to go right to college after high school (no gap year) and I can see him thriving in a challenging environment like at MIT, Stanford or CalTech, but so far he hasn't done a single task related to college (registering for SATs, making a college list, attending regional fairs, even suggesting schools to visit) without my wife or me repeatedly reminding him. One of us will definitely have to keep track of all the deadlines this fall as he completes his applications. Am I really doing my son a disservice by helping? Aren't there other parents in my shoes?

Just because a teenager can ace AP Physics and run the Robotics Club doesn't mean that he will be proactive and organized when it's time to tackle the daunting and convoluted college admissions process. Over the years, “The Dean" has observed that there are titanic discrepancies between one child and the next when it comes to navigating the admissions maze. Some students have created college lists and requirements spreadsheets before the ink is dry on their PSAT scores, while others, like your son, will stick their heads in the sand (or at least under the covers) whenever they hear the “C" word. So no matter what the advice columns tell you, go with your gut. Don't write Junior's essay or ask every question at the information sessions, but do provide as much discussion as he'll tolerate and as much nudging as is necessary to keep him on task.

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