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What Parents Can and Can't Do for College Admissions

Fellow parents, we are often described as helicopter parents. We are known to hover, protect fiercely, and want to ensure the best outcomes for our kids. Is that a bad thing? 

I would argue that at least my kids know I care. At times during my childhood, I felt like I was raising myself. Now as a mom, I sometimes feel like I am trying to overcompensate for my own upbringing. I acknowledge that I am overprotective, overly affectionate, and sometimes over-the-top with my love. Besides embarrassing my kids, there's no real harm involved—or at least I tell myself that! 
When it comes to the college admissions process, parents don't know what they can and can't do. Granted, I don't know the first thing about how to be a "stage mom" or a football parent. But I sure know the role of the parent when a student applies to college. After years of working on the college side of the admissions process, I know exactly when it's kosher for Mom or Dad to help, and when students need to handle things on their own. 

Related Reading: So You Want to Help Your Child Get Into College. Does That Make You a Helicopter Parent?

Given the admissions scandal this past spring, parents are afraid to even ask how involved they should be with their child's application. They don't want to overstep, or worse yet, do something unethical. So here is a list of what is perfectly acceptable for parents to do and what is taboo in the world of college admissions.

Parents CAN do the following:

  • Register their child for standardized tests.
  • Arrange test prep for their child: sign up for online classes, buy prep books, or pay for a tutor.
  • Fill out financial aid forms.
  • Plan out college visit trips and even register the student for tours, information sessions, and interviews.
  • Help their child finalize the college list.
  • Brainstorm topics for essays. (My free guide will help!)
  • Review essays and the application for typos, grammatical errors, and authenticity.
  • Drop their child off at college interviews and pick them up when the interview is done.
  • Appeal financial aid packages with the financial aid office. 
  • Ask a non-offensive, unobtrusive question on a tour. :)
  • Help their child stay organized and on a timeline for college admissions so that no balls are dropped. (Application Nation is one of the best resources for this!)
  • Be there for their child when they need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen.

Parents CANNOT do the following:

  • Pay someone to take a standardized test for their child (but we all knew that already!).
  • Fill out the admissions application.
  • Contact the admissions office about their child's application, status, or chances.
  • Ignore their child's wishes when it comes to the college list.
  • Write their child's essays.
  • Accompany their child to the actual college interview.
  • Check their child's admission decisions.
  • Call the admissions office and demand an explanation of why their child did not get admitted.
  • Embarrass their child on a college visit.
For those parents who have already gone through the process or those in the midst of it, what would you add? While parents are sometimes unsure of what they can do, this evolving list can help.
We may not have millions of dollars or connections to use for our children, but that's not how we roll. Just like me, I bet you want to teach your kids love, support, and yes, independence. These qualities will give them confidence to head off to college on their own, ready to tackle life's challenges ethically and wholeheartedly.