How Much Should Parents Help With College Applications?

Walking the Line Between Helicoptering and Letting Go


Your little baby is almost all grown up now, and getting ready to go off to college. Sometimes it seems like they are ready to take on the world, and sometimes it is surprising just how much they don’t know! Of course you want your child to get accepted into the best college possible, but you still want this to be a learning experience. How do you walk that fine line between doing everything and letting your child take responsibility for their actions?

Here are a few tips:

  • College Visits: Have your child prepare a list of the top three to five college picks, and do some research to find out if the schools will be holding open houses any time soon. You’ll probably need to make all the travel arrangements and will definitely need to take the lead in talking to the financial aid office.
  • College Tests: You can help your child decide whether to take the SAT or ACT, and find out when the testing deadlines are for locations in your area, but it’s probably best to let your child do the actual registration.
  • College Applications: If your child is not organized, you can help by finding out admission deadlines for each college, and putting a schedule together. Unless it has to do with financial information, let your child complete as much of the application as possible. You can review the essay and application information once it is completed, but try not to take control of the process.
  • College Scholarships: You can do some research to help find college scholarships, but let your student complete the actual applications. Your role should be more of a counselor, advisor and sounding board than actual hands-on work.
  • College Financial Aid: This is the one area where you will probably have to take more of the lead. Find out whether your student’s target colleges use the CSS PROFILE or FAFSA for financial aid purposes. Gather the necessary documentation and make sure you are aware of all deadlines.
  • College Budgets: You must talk to your prospective college student about money. Make sure that he or she understands how much money has been received in financial aid and how much is coming out of the family’s budget. Be very clear about how much money you are willing to contribute, and how much you expect your child to pay.
  • College Student Loans: If student loans are involved as part of the financial package to attend a particular school, it is important for you to make sure your child understands about the repayment obligation. Make it clear whether you are planning on contributing to repaying the student loans, or if you are expecting your child to assume payments upon graduation. This could have an impact on the choice of school and major, and the motivation to do well academically.

Most of all, it’s time to start talking to your child as an adult and not just as a child any more. There are many important lessons that don’t come from college textbooks. If you need help discussing any of these areas with your student, a college financial aid advisor can help you explain all of the financial aspects about attending college.