Insider Access: What Admissions Officers Tell Their Own Kids

April 06, 2016

When it comes to the college application process,  parents of college-bound kids have heard it all before: be emotionally supportive, give your input only if it’s requested… That’s all well and good, but what advice should you give when you do give it? How do you know you’re providing sound advice? In a recent NY Times survey, enrollment directors and deans of admission, who are also parents of high school or college students, shared the tips they would give their kids and other parents.

Be introspective. Ask: What motivates you?

Diane Anci, Kenyon College

Anci has a list of questions she plans to ask her children that will empower them to confidently say, “I’m the kind of person who…”

  • Do you like the idea of being the smartest student in your class or surrounded by really smart kids?

  • Is it important to find a specific course of study or to have a wide range of options?

  • Do you like the idea of meeting five new people a day or finding five people who will be your friends for life?

  • Are you drawn to familiar people and places or are you excited by a new region, meeting students from across the nation and around the world?

  • Do you prefer to work in a highly collaborative environment or are you energized by competition?

Submitting earlier isn’t just about time management; it’s strategic.

Clark Brigger, Penn State University

Briggers makes a deal with her kids when it comes to college applications. She tells them, “I pay for the applications completed before Labor Day, but after that, my children are responsible for the fees.” Don’t be fooled. This isn’t just to motivate them to get their applications done early. It’s a strategic move. Briggers points out, “There are thousands of applications and essays to get through. If you get yours in early, the reader may be more relaxed and in a better mood at that point in the process.”

Rejection is part of the process. How parents handle it shapes the kid’s reaction.

Doug Christiansen, Vanderbilt University

Rejection is tough for both the applicant and the parent. As the parent, you need to step up and set an example for your child. Christiansen explains, “When a rejection letter arrives, I see parents who can’t even move on because they are so mad at the school. But that is not letting the child move on. Then it is almost like the next school they get admitted to and may attend is a disappointment. Instead, tell your child: ‘It didn’t work, it is their loss, you’re wonderful, now what do we need to do to go forward?’” This may just be the emotional support your child needs from parents to help them learn how to make life decisions and manage any setbacks that may come their way.

Parents shouldn’t let their input get in the way of their love and support.

Stephen Farmer, UNC - Chapel Hill

How do you show your children you love and care during the application process? Farmer suggests giving “kids some air and room to breathe growing up”. He believes that “our kids need our love more than they need our direction about college. If that direction gets in the way of the love, it’s not helpful and it’s not worth it.” School was their education and their work - not a family project. Same goes for the college application, which is why he never read his essay when he was still applying.

Parents should take a backseat. The best students drive themselves.

Cornell B. LeSane II, Allegheny College

The applicant should be the one applying. Lesane II shares, “As an admissions officer, I’ve had parents tell me, ‘Oh, we missed a deadline — that’s my fault.’ At that point I’m thinking — just how interested is the student in our school?” How much you want to attend a school is not only indicated in your essays, but how you approach the application process. He firmly believes that students themselves should take ownership of the process, and be the drivers leading the way.

Challenge yourself, but not at the expense of spreading yourself too thin.

Stuart Schmill, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The number of AP classes you take does not determine your self-worth, or necessarily show how smart you are. These advanced classes are there to allow high school students to challenge themselves in subjects they are interested in, and Schmill very much advocates that. He says, “You should challenge yourself. For some students this might mean taking the most advanced classes, but it also might mean taking the most advanced classes appropriate for that student, and not spreading themselves too thin.” Plus, all those APs might not even be worth it!

Figure out how your values and interests intersect with what a school offers.

Gil Villanueva, University of Richmond

Applicants are always told to have a plan, and Villanueva has one that he recommends, even to his own son! He reveals his secrets: “I’m going to hand him a spreadsheet. Across the top will be the schools, and down the side will be the list of things he feels are most important to him in a college. When he visits these schools and does his research, he’ll fill in the spreadsheet, and it will be a nice road map for him.” If you’ve been on a college tour, you’ll know that after the third, or fourth school, they all start to blend together. This helps you keep relevant notes that you can always refer back to.

Applying to college is a learning process for both the applicants and their parents, but ultimately everyone involved wants the same thing: to find the school that best fits that student. We hope these first-hand expert examples provide some perspective to help your kid make the right choice!

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