How parents can help their children through the college admission process

Five best strategies to help parents help their children get through college admissions

June 17, 2023 04:44 pm | Updated 11:49 pm IST

The challenge is to be the best parent for each child.

The challenge is to be the best parent for each child. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Parenting an adolescent through senior school and college can be challenging for the most mindful and dedicated parents. Here are five best practices that that can help parents through this difficult time.

Own their goals

College is going to be tough even for the brightest student, and victory lies with those who can push themselves and stay the course. The most self-motivated students are those who are working for their own goals, rather than to please a parent. So help the student discover his/her path through exploration, self-discovery and research.

Setting up internships through personal networks, having conversations, even watching movies, videos and podcasts helps get some clarity. “Allow your child to be true to themselves. After Class 12, wherever she goes, she needs to be happy about it,” says Manu Dua, parent of Arshiya Dua, who has gotten into Barnard College in Columbia University, New York, the U.S.

Owning the decision on college and course also prepares them to deal with potential challenges and failures. This makes them develop a sense of responsibility for themselves – and avoids blame games when things go wrong.

Scheduling issues

Managing time is the biggest challenge as the demands on a student’s energy grow: entrance tests, SATs, internal exams, internships, self-led projects and leadership roles ... Building, following, tracking and adjusting schedules gives students a sense of control, makes tasks more achievable, and helps them balance work with fitness, friends, and fun activities.

Too many activities on the college application journey can exhaust the most driven students, so help them pick the most meaningful goals, and drop activities that drain time without adding value to their profile or mental relaxation!

However, parents run the risk of annoying and stressing out their children by micro-managing time. The best way to avoid this is by asking enabling questions like, “What works best for you?”, “how can you handle that” and “what did you do well this week?”

“I find that one of the best ways to motivate the child is to talk about the daily accomplishments and challenges,” says Anjana Anand, mother of an engineering graduate from Cambridge, and a global geo-design major at USC, California, the U.S.

Appreciate small wins

Positive reinforcement is most effective in motivating students to build behaviours to reach their goals. Observe his/her behaviour and point out instances of effective behaviour: “I like the fact that you finished your homework before the party” or “your Economics marks reflect your regular study,” and even – “I like how you argue!”

Appreciation makes your teenager see that you are on their side and feel safer in opening up with their questions, self-doubt or fears. This gives you an opportunity to guide them to find their own solutions.

Be realistic

Parental peer pressure is real and parents often start pushing their children beyond their capacity, as the names of Ivy League and other top colleges start entering the discussions among them. Parents who help their kids aim for and target colleges that are only a small stretch beyond their demonstrated capacity to create “positive tension” and motivate students to work at a sustainable pace. Creating a sense of success during senior school boosts self-esteem and sets the stage for future successes.

Aiming very high and expecting a big stretch creates the risk of exam anxiety and burnout. “It has to be in line with what they are, what their personalities reflect, because colleges see how committed you are,” advises Shail Talwar, mother of Aryan Shiv Talwar, currently pursuing aeronautical engineering at McGill University.

Plan visits to prospective colleges like a family outing, whether physical or virtual. Encourage your kid to lead college exploration and find answers to the “why” – why this course, why this college, why this country? Support them in connecting with existing students and role models in their target colleges and careers and in reaching out to admission officers.

Keep your cool

Parents’ Educational Anxiety is real but it only creates stress for the child and has little positive impact. Children (including young adults) sense anxiety easily and every moment of panic registers in their minds. Therefore, parents need to demonstrate a sense of control over the situation and over themselves, rather than getting involved in shouting matches.

Parents should seek therapy themselves if they find their anxiety rubbing off on the child. Some mindfulness and meditation will help maintain a sense of balance and continue to have fun with the child, instead of turning into a task-master.

Above all, it is key to recognise that each child is different. One may find something challenging that others find easy or may sail through a situation that another was stressing about. The challenge is to be the best parent for each child.

With inputs from Kamalika Chowdhurey

The writer is the Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, Gurugram

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