Advice for Parents Starting the College Process

Dear Parents, 

If you’re a parent of a rising senior you might feel like the walls are closing in on you and your child. There is no right way to feel at this time, but feelings of helplessness and stress are pretty common as you enter college application season. That’s why many parents decide to get help in addition to what some schools may offer, in the form of a college advisor. We understand that not everyone has access to this kind of help, so we are making some of our wisdom and knowledge available to you here. We may not be parents ourselves, but since all of us at The Koppelman Group have gone through the college admissions process ourselves within the last ten years, we are closer to the process, which gives us added perspective. We have also been helping kids get into college for years now, so we have a better sense of what parents are going through as well. We remember what our junior year in high school was like, with all the stress and pressure, not just from our parents, but from our peers as well. It was awful, and this is why we can empathize so well with our student clients, and help them avoid the pitfalls that we experienced. 

The clichéd advice holds true here: it always works out. Your kid will get into college. But, if you’re like us, you might want something actionable to check off your list. Before we get started let us just say the following: we’ve never worked with a kid who didn’t get into college. Moreover, 88% of our students got into their #1 school this year and 100% got into their top 2. So knowing that, here are the three biggest keys to getting in to college: 

  1. Diversify your school list. Like most things in life, it’s best to not put all your eggs in one basket. Familiarize yourself with our blog post on safety, target, and reach schools. The problem many people run into is that they don’t understand how to create a balanced school list. Some parents believe that applying to all 8 Ivy league schools is diversifying when in reality it’s actually a bad idea to do so. If you’re a parent who feels helpless and thinks that your child might not get in anywhere, we’d recommend doing some research on 3-4 true safety schools. Get comfortable with the “worst case scenario,” which most likely is a great scenario (college is college!). When you’re creating the list, try to avoid US News & World Report. Rankings tend to skew people’s perspectives on schools. If your child is applying to 10-15 schools, which is very normal, and 1/3 of them are safeties, you can relax. Remember that certain schools, regardless of your child’s test scores, aren’t safeties for anyone. As a rule of thumb, if a school has less than a 25% acceptance rate, it shouldn’t be considered a safety. 
  2. Stay on top of deadlines. This is a big one. No matter who you are or what you do, you cannot negotiate with Common App or College Board. There’s no getting around them. Before you do anything, mark your calendar of choice with the deadlines. It’s crucial to be able to see when everything is due. This includes: AP Tests, ACT/SAT/SAT II Tests, college applications, deadlines for sending in standardized tests, etc. A great way to decrease stress and anxiety is to have all of your deadlines in front of you. That way you’re providing yourself with a basic timeline. Figure out a system that works and stick to it. 
  3. Don’t compare yourself. This is a tough one, because most people are competitive by nature and as parents you want the best for your child. A lot of parents will use this time as an opportunity to brag about their kids and one-up other parents, whether it’s gloating about test scores or legacy connections or internships, it will happen. There are also the parents who play it close to the vest by not sharing information which is also just as discomfiting. Your kids are going to compare amongst themselves because they’re 16 and 17, and don’t know better, but you know better. Try not to feed this potentially damaging demon. Where your kid goes to school isn’t a reflection of how successful a parent you are, at all. In fact, we commend parents who allow their kids to apply to and attend institutions that are genuinely great matches, even if they’re not ranked highest. 

This process tends to drudge up a lot of feelings for parents. We all have scars associated with college and the college process because people care so much about where others went to school. If you didn’t go to an Ivy League school, maybe you want your kid to go to one. If you did go to an Ivy, perhaps you want your kid to follow in your footsteps, or you’ve decided that the whole thing is overrated. Either way, attempt to insert some perspective into this process and realize that it’s about your child and not your history or unrequited goals. 

Because so much of the burden, both emotionally and financially, is placed on you, it’s completely normal and easy to feel greatly invested in the process, and we want you to be involved. We often have company-wide discussions about how hard it is to be a parent during this time. It’s important that you take time to care for yourself because your child might have meltdowns somewhat frequently. We certainly did when we were going through the process. And that’s why we are here, to help maintain some sanity in the relationship with your child. 

Your child is most likely going through the most stressful time of their lives thus far. They’re placing an absurd amount of pressure on themselves and are constantly trying to out-do their friends and live up to their own expectations of themselves. And we haven’t even touched on social media. Teenagers are often ill-equipped to deal with all the stress, real or self-imposed. Lashing out in both directions is inevitable because you love them unconditionally. In fact, our students lash out at us frequently because they consider us family. 

As much as possible, parents should try to enjoy this process. If you can take a long-term view and have perspective, you’ll find that it can be an amazing time of self-reflection and growth for your kids. Let us know if we can help. We’re here for you.