The college application process consumes much of a high school student’s junior and senior years. Your student has been focused on the application process through SAT prep time, tests, possible AP courses, college visits, deciding where to apply, filling out applications, writing admissions essays, requesting recommendation letters, applying for scholarships. It’s been overwhelming and all-consuming. As a parent, you’ve been more or less involved in the process — perhaps keeping track of important dates, planning and driving to college visits, helping with decisions and applications, and dealing with financial matters.
But now it is mid senior year. The applications have been sent. The FAFSA and other financial applications have been filed. Unless your student was one of the lucky students who was admitted through early action or early decision, there is nothing left for you, and your student, to do but wait. It’s a difficult time. You’ve both been so busy and focused for so long that it is difficult — perhaps almost impossible — to stop doing.
What not to do right now
You and your student have been so busy with the application process for so long that it feels as though you should still be working at it – until your student has that acceptance letter in hand. It’s difficult to stop. Here are a couple of things not to do.
- Once your student has determined that everything has been received by the admissions office(s), do not call unless there is an urgent reason. The admissions process takes time. Calling constantly to check on the status of the application will not help. Calls from parents especially will not help. Unless there is a major change in some information in the application, do not call.
- Do not ask your student about their first choice of school, or whether they have heard anything, or whether their friends have heard anything. Your student may need a break from the whole college experience right now. Allow them to enjoy being a high school senior for a while and think about now rather than next year.
- Do not compare notes with other parents. The admissions process can too easily begin to feel like a competition. Force yourself to take a break for a bit. Steer conversations away from college talk.
What you can do right now
Yes, you feel as though you should be doing something. It is difficult to go from full-speed-ahead to a full stop in the admissions process. There are a few things that you can be doing while you wait.
- Do have your student make sure that everything has been received by the admissions office.
- Do make sure that all financial aid forms are completed by the appropriate deadlines.
- Do encourage your student to spend some time searching for local scholarships. These may have spring application deadlines.
- Do have your student let the admissions office know if some important piece of information changes. Is there a major financial change in your circumstances? Has your student just won a major award or championship?
- Do help your student think generally about the college experience — not a specific college. What might it feel like to be away from home? What are they most looking forward to? What are they concerned or excited about?
- Do help your student do some preparing for the college experience. Help them apply for a credit card — and talk to them about responsible use of it. Talk about budgets. Make sure they know how to do laundry and cook a few staple items. Talk about alcohol and drugs. Buy them a good alarm clock and make sure they can get moving in the morning on their own.
- Do be prepared to listen if your student wants to talk about college choices and fears of rejection, but be prepared, too, if they just don’t want to talk about it. Let your student take the lead.
- Do give some thought to how you will respond to possible rejection letters. What will you say? How will you handle it? Don’t talk to your student about this yet, but your first reaction if that letter should come, can help your student keep perspective and deal with it. Be prepared.
- Do let go of the process. You, and your student, have done your work. Now you need to wait and be as patient as you can. Give your student the opportunity to enjoy this part of senior year. Once letters come, they will once again need to face realities and make decisions. Both you and your student need this break.
The college admissions process is rigorous and time consuming. Part of the process — in some ways one of the most difficult parts of the process — is the wait. Listen carefully to your student — both what they say directly and what they say between the lines — to take your cue about how to use this wait time. Use it productively if you both feel you need to continue doing something, or take a welcome break. The next stage — making the final decision — will be here before you know it.