Parents should take hands-off approach to college applications

August 18, 2003|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

As parents, we become accustomed to being involved in our children's education.

We read to them when they are very young. We help them with their homework and attend their school events as they get older. By the time they're ready to apply for college, many parents tend to step in and take charge of the application process.

The transition from high school to college is one of the important transitions in life, and that's why parents need to take a "hands-off" approach to a student's college application. Sometimes, too much parental involvement can hurt a student's chances of being selected.

Admissions officers typically examine a student's high school grade point average, the challenging nature of the courses taken in high school, admissions test scores, involvement in extracurricular activities and other personal information. Combined, this information provides a relatively complete picture of a student.


Many colleges also require students to submit an essay, one area that is prone to excessive parental input.

The purpose of the essay is to help college admissions officers learn more about individual students' interests and assess the quality of their writing skills. It's a chance for students to allow their personalities to shine through and convince the college that they would be a positive addition to the campus - a good fit. When parents become deeply involved in writing the essay, it can become too polished and the life can be sucked out of it.

Sometimes, admissions officers can sense the parent's fingerprints on the essay's pages. I work with a former admissions officer who tells me that if a student's essay is more polished than his high school grades or ACT scores indicate it should be, a red flag goes up. The question is asked, "Who actually wrote this?"

We know that a high percentage of parents fill out registration information when their children are preparing to take the ACT.

Parents probably do just fine providing the student's address, high school and other facts. The registration also includes questions about the student's interests.

This valuable information is used to guide the student in career exploration. If the parent completes this section, they have to guess at student responses and the results are meaningless. In the end, the student is denied valuable information that can help him or her choose a satisfying career.

It's equally important that students take control of the information colleges need. Both of my children resisted any parental involvement in their college applications. They felt it was personal - these were their applications, not mine or their father's.

Both of them ended up attending colleges I wouldn't have selected, but they were very happy with their choices. That's the most important thing.

When my daughter, Kristi, was going through the application process, I stayed up until midnight one night completing an online application for her because the deadline was that day and the college's Web site was clogged. She gave me the information she wanted to include, but I might have edited a bit.

As it turns out, that was the only college that didn't accept her. Instead of being accepted, she was "wait-listed." So much for Mom's help!

As a parent, you're there to support your children. Answer their questions and, by all means, provide input and information when they need it.

But as they prepare for college, it's time to let them take on the responsibility of making their own way, and of giving colleges a clear and accurate picture of who they really are, as students and as people.

After all, you've spent 17 or 18 years molding and shaping their character and personalities. Now is the time to let them take what you've given them and show that they are ready to take on the world. If they are, then you can congratulate yourself on a job well done and bask for a moment in the glory - then get out your checkbook.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. She has a master's of education in guidance and counseling. For more college and career-planning information, visit on the Web. If you have a question you want answered in a future column, e-mail Rose at

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