Thoughtful Parenting: Demystify the college process |

Thoughtful Parenting: Demystify the college process

Applying to college can feel overwhelming. For some, this may be the first time students face failure in an academic realm. For others, the transition away from home and friends creates resistance. Relax.

With over 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. alone, the right fit is out there. Parents’ job is to help students sort through options and prepare for the next step while minimizing the stress they feel. 

Start early

  • Begin talking about college now. Casual conversations focus energy on sorting out options and help students mentally prepare.
  • Visit a campus, any campus. Just getting on a campus can energize students and alleviate anxiety. These visits generate enthusiasm and get students engaged in the application process. Plus, each college has its unique culture and programs. Get a feel.
  • Early conversations and research inform students about what they need to do now to be admissible later. For selective schools, having GPA and SAT scores within the mean is not a guarantee for admission. Have a back up.

Know what is involved

  • Components of the majority of applications: The application itself, including the essay and possible writing supplements (have a look at, transcripts, teacher recommendations, SAT/ACT scores. 
  • Standardized tests: Colleges will accept either, no need to take both. Which one? A Google search will yield information on which is best for you. Weak scores? Don’t fret. Many colleges have gone test optional, meaning students don’t need to report scores (check Statistically, simply retaking the SAT/ACT will not improve scores significantly. To improve, prep is necessary. There are awesome, free resources online, such as Khan Academy. A practice test book is also an effective, cheap tool. Start during junior year and, if necessary, early fall of senior year.

Manage expectations

Ultimately, students feel successful if they are left with choices. To achieve this, make sure that college lists include a variety of schools that are appropriate and realistic — academically and financially — for your child.

Remember: schools have resources dedicated to financial aid, so even if the sticker price is high, you won’t know what a college will actually cost you until you get an acceptance letter with a financial aid offer. Most importantly, don’t play into the narrative that life is over if your kid doesn’t get into your alma mater or his/her dream school. Opportunity is where you make it. 

Erin Davis is the academic dean and college counselor at Steamboat Mountain School.

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