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10 Truths for Every Parent About the College Admissions Process

My daughter, a high school senior, had a short fall break this past week. We drove 997 miles over the course of three days. I am exhausted, but the trip gave her and myself tremendous clarity.

I have never believed in my own advice so fully until right now. Things I have said, warned against, or encouraged families to consider for years have never been more accurate and relevant.

1. Your child will change their mind about what type of college or major they want—not just once, but sometimes multiple times.

What they may like as a freshman, sophomore, or junior may evolve by the time senior year rolls around. Be ready for that change of heart. It is coming.

2. Colleges evolve too.

The vibe, culture, and experience of a college when we went there as students could be significantly different than what the school is like today. It is a reminder that what was right for us may not be right for our kids.

3. If you can afford it, visit.

Students cannot predict how they truly feel about a college unless they step foot on campus. I have watched my own daughter fall in love with a college she never expected to like after visiting. In contrast, I have seen her remove "favorite" colleges from her list after visiting. 

4. As much as it's difficult to visit colleges during the school year when classes are in session, do it.

A college campus looks and feels so different depending on whether you visit during the summer or school year. 

5. You might need to revisit a college to make sure your initial impression is the same the second time around.

Fall of senior year is super busy, but the perfect time to revisit.

6. There is no beating around the bush: The tour guide can make or break your visit.

If you have a less engaging or less competent tour guide, you might need to revisit that college sooner than you thought.

7. There will be some not-so-perfect college visits.

Whether the student refuses to get out of the car upon arrival or there is an anti-climactic feeling at the end of the visit, not every college will shine for a student. But visiting those not-so-perfect colleges helps the student gain clarity about where they want to go instead. I am trying to repeat this to myself right now after that 997-mile trip!
RELATED READING: Must-Read Tips for Your Upcoming College Visits

8. Try your best to finish all visits by November 1st.

There are a number of colleges with Early Decision or Early Action deadlines right around that time.

9. There will be some tense moments, fights, and disagreements with your child during this process.

But if you remain in the wings for them (always), they will come to you for advice. So, walk a few steps behind them on the tour. Be in the next room when they are filling out the application—they'll have questions to ask. And be a shoulder to cry on when they start to have doubts. You will be surprised how close you get if you remain in the wings...

10. What we want for our kids is not the same as what our kids want for themselves.

This is their life. We can be a sounding board for them. But they need to make themselves happy when it comes to where to apply, not us. 

READ MORE: What to Know if You're Applying to the Same College as Your Classmates

I have always said these statements to families, but now I know they are true. Good luck to all of the families who are in this process right now. I am in it with you.