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20 College Admission Tips for Parents: Dos and Don’ts

For parents trying to get their kids into a top college, here are the key college admission tips to try and what NOT to do!
20 College Admission Tips for Parents
Updated: October 24, 2023
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Have you had Ivy League dreams for your child since they were still in diapers?

Families invest their money, time and emotions into getting into a top university – hiring SAT tutors, spending weekends at sports practices and band rehearsals and touring colleges all over the country. 

Suddenly, it’s junior year and high school students and parents must face the college application process. Applying to college can be very overwhelming, especially for parents who have never gone through it themselves. 

Today’s students must work hard and discover unique methods to stand out because college acceptance is becoming increasingly difficult. 

Parents can help their children through this difficult journey, but too many parents get overly involved in the college application process and put even more pressure on their children’s shoulders. 

Related: Top 10 Things Colleges Look for in a High-School Student 

Parents need to understand just how involved to be in the college process and when it’s better for them to just butt out. These tips will help you prevent conflict with your kids and avoid the embarrassment of coming off like a helicopter parent to college admissions boards.

Key Steps to Applying for College for Students 

Every U.S. college admissions process generally follows the same key steps. Making sure your child completes these steps before the deadline is crucial if students wish to attend their dream school. 

  1. Learn what options are out there

The US News and World Report recommends high school students apply to four to eight colleges of their choice. Knowing what schools are your best fit early is a much better strategy than applying to dozens and dozens of schools to try and boost your odds. 

Encourage your child to research colleges even as early as their sophomore year (age 15 - 16) to identify schools that align with their interests, their preferred geographical location, their academic goals and their desired campus environment. 

After choosing the right colleges for them and making a college list, they must complete the application for each college.

  1. Get all personal info and academic records together 

All colleges need personal information. This may include the student’s name, address, citizenship status, contact information and date of birth.

All colleges will also require academic records of the student. The student’s high school transcript which includes the GPA and a list of high school courses completed and standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) will be required. 

However, some schools have a test-optional policy giving the students the option to decline to submit their SAT or ACT scores. It is a myth that test scores will determine whether a student gets into college or not. Colleges today understand that test scores do not accurately demonstrate a person’s academic potential.

  1. Pick an essay topic and write a standout college essay

The next step is to write a personal statement or application essay. According to International Student, most US universities request students to write a personal statement. This personal essay tells college admissions officers how well a student can write and who he/she is. It is usually a response to a specific prompt of their choice. Writing an outstanding essay is crucial. Some colleges ask for additional writing samples. If so, all writing samples must be well-written and unique.

  1.  Provide letters of recommendation

Letter of recommendation for college admissions USA
Image source: iStock

Typically colleges require two to three letters of recommendation from mentors in a student’s life that can speak to their skills and character. These letters could come from teachers, coaches or club advisors community leaders or a manager at their job. 

Students should make a list of adults they believe know enough about them to craft a meaningful letter (and have backups in case anyone is unavailable or declines). They should also give each person at least a few weeks before the submission deadline to write their recommendation. 

  1. Describe extracurricular activities and volunteering hours

Grades aren’t everything to getting into college. Involvement in clubs, teams or community organizations are essential factors that college boards look for. 

Students must list their extracurricular activities in the application if they want to gain an advantage over others applying for the same school. According to Post University, extracurricular activities tell colleges a lot about a student’s leadership skills and ability to learn new skills quickly. 

According to US News and World Report, many believe participating in as many extracurricular clubs as possible gives them a college advantage. However, that is a myth. 

Colleges are looking for students who follow their interests and are trying to develop their leadership and academic skills rather than just participating in sports or clubs. Adding hours of volunteer work and community service is a big boost to a college application as well. 

Volunteer work should show a person’s dedication to their interests and passions and be consistent over time – not just in senior year to check off a box. Some great places high school students can volunteer include hospitals, libraries, shelters, museums and schools.

  1. Complete an admissions interview 

Typically more selective schools will request students to complete an interview as part of the college application. Similarly, if your child is applying to an art or music school, they’ll likely be required to prepare an audition.

Every institution wants students who truly want to study at their school and have reasons to back it up. A college interview helps that passion shine through. According to Harvard College, students can prepare for a college interview by being themselves and discussing their strengths and unique personalities.

Cambridge Coaching urges students to complete the alumni interview because universities are looking for students who would guarantee to increase their likelihood of getting in. 

How Involved Should Parents Be in the College Admissions Process?

Parents should be involved in their kids’ college admissions process – especially if they’re contributing to the tuition costs. However, parents may feel too overwhelmed and busy to help or conversely overstep their high schooler’s boundaries and try and take it over. kids get into college and how involved they should be in their kids’ lives. 

The college years are about kids gaining independence and becoming young adults. So, if you lead your child through every step it only serves to make them less confident and more dependent on mom and dad.

Here are the key Do’s and Don’ts for parents with kids applying to college soon. 

College Application “Dos” for Parents 

  1. Allow your child to choose when they need help

High school students are nearly adults and can be trusted to ask for help when they need it. Having an open discussion about boundaries would help minimize the problems that may arise between parents and children during this stressful time.

  1. Keep track of application deadlines

Many steps of the college admissions process have deadlines. Missing one deadline could sabotage the chances of getting accepted. Parents should keep track of application deadlines and remind their kids to set reminders for these deadlines in their own calendars/planners as well! 

  1. Test prep with your kids

Mother helps her teen son prep for SAT tests college applications
Image source: iStock

Who doesn’t benefit from study nights? Quizzing your teen on their SAT vocab words or getting them test-prep books with sample questions shows you care about them doing their best. 

  1. Talk about their interests and what they want to study

According to Acton Academy Columbus, kids grow and think out of the box when parents allow them to pursue their interests. It is crucial to have conversations about who the children want to be in the future and what they enjoy learning.

  1. Research schools online with your kids

Parents should help students in their college search; however, parents should never create a college list independently. Giving them information about specific colleges is okay as long as the students are the ones who choose which colleges to add to their college list. Students should also make the final decision on which college they want to attend.

  1. Schedule campus visits and tours

Scheduling college visits is a great way parents can help their kids. Visiting colleges gives students a realistic idea of what it would be like to be at a specific college. This would help them make better decisions in choosing the right college experience for them.

  1. Have real conversations about finances and tuition

Parents should discuss with their kids about their financial situation. Will they cover their college costs? Would the kids need to apply for financial aid? Having open conversations about money would help prevent students from falling into huge debt.

Teenagers don’t always see money and debt as “real” yet. You should explain to them that student loans must be paid back. With many colleges charging upward of $40,000 to $70,000 in tuition a year, taking out student loans is a big commitment that will impact them far after they graduate.

  1. Fill out the FAFSA form together

Parents and children should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) together. Here are 10 steps to complete the FAFSA form.

  • If the child is a dependent, parents should go to FAFSA.GOV. and create an FAFSA account. The parent should create an FSA ID. The student must create another FSA ID.
  • Once both FSA IDs are created, the parent or student should select “Complete FAFSA Form” at FAFSA.Gov.
  • If the parent wants to complete the form on behalf of the student, he/she may select that option. The students may do it on their own; however, it is better for the parents to review everything written to avoid mistakes being submitted.
  • Next, the child or parent will have to fill out the personal information section.
  • They will be then given the option to select one of three forms. They should choose the one that aligns with the time period in which the student will attend college.
  • The parent or child will then have to fill out the student demographic section with personal information.
  • Then, the parent or the student should add the colleges the student wants to apply to.
  • Next, the “Dependency Status" and “Parent Demographics” sections must be completed.
  • The parent or student may then complete the financial section by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). This tool imports a person’s IRS tax information into the FAFSA® form.
  • Finally, both the parent and student must sign the form.
  1. Be a helpful proofreader if asked 

Some colleges request many writing samples. Parents should proofread them to bring the students’ attention to grammar mistakes. They could also give tips for the college essay.

  1. Talk to admission counselors and other experts

Many high schools have school counselors who help seniors navigate through the college admissions process. Parents should introduce their children to these admissions counselors to gain as many resources as possible. Parents could also hire a personal college counselor to help their children transition into college.

  1. Search for scholarships that are a good fit for your family

Most high school students and even parents do not understand the difference between financial aid and scholarships. Scholarships and grants are awarded based on both need and merit. They do not need to be paid back. It’s worth looking into any scholarship opportunities your teen may qualify for starting a full year before they apply and keeping track of the deadlines to be considered for these scholarships.

College Application “Don’ts” for Parents 

  1. Wait too long to have the college discussion

Parents should have a discussion about colleges with their children before the end of their senior year. Having a head start is important to get into the top colleges.

  1. Fill out the applications on your own

Parents should never do all the work for their kids. The students need to learn how to depend on themselves to complete an application on time. Doing all the work would just teach your child to be dependent and lazy.

  1. Write the college essay for them

Many parents write the college essay for their kids. This is a huge mistake. Colleges want to learn more about students and if they are a great fit for their school. Besides, many college admissions officers are capable of determining if the parents wrote the essays for their kids.

  1. Pressure your kids to join specific clubs or activities

Students should never be forced to participate in any club or activity they are not interested in. This would hold back students from reaching their utmost potential and would harm the parent-child relationship.

  1. Force your kids to attend your alma mater or favorite school

Students should make the final decision about which college they are going to study at. Parents should support this decision. Sometimes, children may choose colleges that are not at the top of college rankings, but that is okay. Parents should not force them to go to their personal dream school. 

  1. Set overly high expectations for getting into a certain school

Mother and father stress about son's college applications in the kitchen
Image source: iStock

Parents should never set high expectations for their kids. Colleges sometimes reject students for no reason. Setting high expectations would only harm the parents’ and kids’ mental health.

  1. Submit college applications late

Many things can go wrong with college applications. Many students make mistakes on college applications and may submit incomplete applications. To avoid this, parents should encourage their children to add all their information correctly and complete the application early to be able to fix any issue that arises. Some common college application mistakes include not listing extracurricular activities, not mentioning interest in the college, not demonstrating familiarity with the college and giving out too much information about oneself.

  1. Compare your teen’s acceptances and rejections to others

Being rejected from any school already stings. You should never shame your child for what schools they did and not get into. Be supportive and don’t compare your child to anyone else in their school. 

  1. Ignore lesser-known not “name-brand” schools

Name-brand colleges do not measure a student’s success. Many less popular universities offer much more for students academically and financially. The competition to enter an Ivy League school or any other brand-name school can harm a student physically and mentally and may not even be worth the cost, according to School Select. Many smartest college students attend a less popular school and are very successful.

Reacting to Your Child’s College Rejections and Decisions

Parents should always converse with their children before receiving acceptance or rejection letters. Every high school senior has a dream school he/she wants to attend. However, parents should encourage children not to have a top choice until after they receive acceptance letters. 

This would help them cope if they received a rejection from their dream school. Also, parents must be aware that their reaction to rejections or their child’s college choice will affect their children for the rest of their lives. 

Parents must remember that rejections should not be taken personally and that they do not mean that their children are not good enough. Some high school students are smart and proactive but still get rejected. The best thing to do is to celebrate the acceptance letters.

Moreover, children should have the final choice in choosing the college they want. Parents should not show any disapproval but rather support their choice. Students reach their utmost potential when they follow their interests.

Guiding Parents through the College Admissions Process

All in all, parents should be involved in their children’s college admissions process. They could help their kids in college search without standing in the way of their personal goals. Micromanaging their kids would only hold them back from the great future you want them to have. 

Think you know everything about the college admissions process now? Take our quiz: College Admissions: What Are Colleges Looking For

Sources +

Bhatia, V. (2019, December 26). Students should pursue their own interests. Acton Academy Columbus.

Claybourn, C. (2022, October 10). How many colleges should I apply to? - U.S. news & world report. US News.

Colino, S., & Loftus, M. (2021, September 20). 6 common college admissions myths - U.S. news & world report.

Colleges and universities that don’t require an admission essay to apply - essay writing center. International Student. (n.d.).

Dan. (2015, December 15). Why you should opt-in to the (optional) alumni interview. College.Harvard.

Federal Student Aid. (n.d.-b).

Lau, C. (2022, October 19). FAFSA® made easier: A simpler way to apply for financial aid. Going Merry.

Munson, N. (2022, January 19). 9 basic elements of a complete college application. Marymount University.

McGrail, S. (n.d.). Are students leaning toward brand-name colleges?. Student Select - Delivering deep insights about college applicants.

The best extracurricular activities for college applications. Post University. (2020, November 30).


Halimeh Salem

About Gemma

Halimeh is an experienced teacher who has worked in a variety of US classroom settings. She is… Read more

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