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What Role Should I Play in My Student's College Search?

Parents often want to help students in the college search. But when should they step in and when should they back off? Here's some expert advice to help you.

Suzanne Shaffer
Freelance Writer
College Coach
Parents are primarily coaches—coaching their children during the college search to prepare them for the application process and to eventually attend college. It’s natural to take this role in parenting, and it works well with college prep. Your student may not always ask, but they’ll need advice during this stressful time. Listen to their concerns and offer guidance. Listening is key, because teens don’t always communicate what they’re feeling or ask for help.

You can also help your student with more specific things like creating a college list, but the key word here is help. What factors are at the top of their search list? What are they interested in studying? What careers interest them? What college extracurriculars are important? Does location or size matter? Use these questions to help them begin crafting their list. You can also participate in college visits by helping them plan, traveling with them, and discussing the visits afterward, but under no circumstances should you take control during any aspect of the campus visit.

Lastly, parents should have a serious conversation with their student about money before starting the college search. Communicate clearly how much you’re willing and able to contribute toward their education and how much you expect them to contribute. This will guide you and your student to find colleges that fit into your budget from the very beginning.

Charlotte M. Klaar, PhDCharlotte M. Klaar, PhD
Klaar College Consulting LLC
Parents should be their students' cheerleaders. They should also remember that this is the student’s process to drive and that it’s the student who’s going to college. Don’t make this about you, the parent! Let your child take the lead, and if that isn’t happening, try to give them a little push to get going. If that’s not working, hire an educational consultant to help them through the process. Try hard not to send subliminal messages to your child that make them feel like a failure or make them disengage from the process because they know that their chances to get into the places you want them to go are slim.

Kelli DolanKelli Dolan
Senior Assistant Editor
The college search process should be primarily your student’s responsibility to conduct. Be there for support when they need it and help if they have questions or concerns you believe you can answer, but know that you don’t have to be an expert in something you’re not. There are plenty of online resources that can help them if you feel unequipped to do so. However, the one major part you can (and should) assist them with in the college admission process is financial aid forms. They’re going to need your financial information, and that’s a good time to not only feel connected to them in the process but also be candid about what you can reasonably afford to help them pay for college.

Learn more about a parent's role in the process by checking out our article on How to Team Up With Your Teen on the College Search.

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