6 Qualities of a Successful College Parent

Your guide to being the world's best college parent.

Known as "The College Essay Guy," Ethan Sawyer has worked with his fair share of families, so it stands to reason that he has some sage advice for parents helping their children through the college admission process.

The application process is different for every family, but here are six important things for parents to keep in mind:

1. Remember your top priority

And what is your top priority? To empower and support your student through the process and remind them that you will love them no matter what.

Ask yourself: does my child know my love is unconditional? Maybe. But throughout this process, it helps to give lots of reminders. And hugs.

2. Set realistic expectations

Remember that the process of applying to college is now much more competitive than when you applied. So cut your child some slack if they don’t get in where they (or you) had hoped.

One of the best ways to avoid disappointment is to work together to develop a balanced college list that includes three reach schools (1-24% chance), three maybe schools (25-75% chance), and three match schools (76% chance or better).

Here’s a tip: fall in love with all nine schools on the list, not just one or two at the top.

3. Remember it’s their college education, not yours

I know you know this. But sometimes you forget. (I forgot too sometimes when I was helping my younger brothers with their college essays.)

Remember to empower and support rather than micromanage their college essay writing process. A great book that I’m reading right now (in anticipation of my first child) is Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. Amazing stuff.

4. Stay informed

How? You can: equip your child for the challenges of senior year, help your child pick the college that suits him or her best (not the school you secretly wished you could go to), and educate yourself.

5. Invest your time, not just your money

Abigail Van Buren once said, "If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money."

The university application process can be fun and can even bring you closer. So be a mentor rather than just an ATM. This might be the last year you live together.

Which reminds me. Once your child is off to college...

6. Let go

Don’t think like an empty-nester; think like someone who just got a lot of extra free time.

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About Ethan Sawyer

Ethan Sawyer, "The College Essay Guy," has been helping students tell their stories for more than 10 years and is the author of the forthcoming College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admission Essay. He has reached thousands of students and counselors through his webinars and workshops and has become a nationally recognized college essay expert and sought-after speaker. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and received an MFA from UC–Irvine.

Ethan was raised as a missionary kid in Spain, Ecuador, and Colombia and studied at 17 different schools. He’s worked as a teacher, curriculum writer, voice actor, grant writer, theater director, motivational speaker, community organizer, and truck driver (true story). He is also a certified Myers-Briggs® specialist.

He is an active member of the Western Association of College Admissions Counselors (WACAC) and the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC). He lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles. For more information, visit collegeessayguy.com.


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