Stay Cool, Mom and Dad: 5 Ways to Weather the Admissions Process

By Lee Shulman Bierer

There is no prep course for being the parent of a college applicant. Most of us feel like we’re out there, hanging on, with a frame of reference that is about 30 years old. The bad news is most of our kids know that. So here is my Top 5 list of the most valuable tips to make this college admissions process as positive and productive as possible.

1. Maintain Perspective – This is a time to take advantage of our age and wisdom! This is a big decision, but it is not life and death and it is not irrevocable. Don’t make a bigger deal about it than need be. There is no one perfect college. Most students who would be happy at “A” school would also be happy at college “B”. There is an old college truism that still holds that states: The vast majority of students are at their first-choice college by Halloween of their first year. Students are often more resilient than they and frequently adults give them credit. There are likely to be bumps in the road, but how the students handle the more challenging moments is an opportunity for growth. A student that makes a good choice for the right reasons will be a happier student.

2. Assess Your Child’s Needs – Some students get stressed beyond reason and need reassurance and some need a nudge, or perhaps a kick to get motivated. Some need more confidence to shoot higher and some need to take a reality check and examine their strengths and weaknesses. Some fear disappointing the people they love them the most, you their parents. And some need to know and accept that attending a less prestigious school doesn’t diminish themselves as a person or inhibit what they can do for the rest of their lives. Some need time and space to explore and be asked the right questions and many don’t want to answer any more questions at all!

3. Communicate and Support – Make yourself available to talk about the college admissions process when it’s right for them. Try to be a balanced sounding board. Don’t nag. The process can be overwhelming with so many deadlines (testing, applications, letters of recommendation, transcripts, scholarships, etc.) but they need to understand the consequences of their actions and their inaction.

4. Cheer from the Sidelines – It’s hard not to get caught up in the process, you want the best for your child and you can assist but in defined ways. Be sure to watch your verbal clues – don’t say “our application” or “we are applying to Bedrock U”. Your child is applying, you are not. The students need to be researching the schools, going online, asking their own questions during campus tours and information sessions. It is important for these young adults to take initiative. Resist the temptation to take control. Celebrate the small victories along the way.

5. Don’t live through your child – While we all want the best for our kids, it is not healthy to relive our own hopes and dreams through our children. Many students see college as their opportunity to create their own path, not follow in the footsteps or shadows of their parents.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;