Parents’ Role in the College Admissions Process
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Parents’ Role in the College Admissions Process

Dr. Mark L. Fisher discusses the many roles parents can play in the college admissions process

Dr. Mark Fisher
Dr. Mark Fisher

The counselor asks the student when he will be taking the SAT or ACT test. The student replies, “I don’t know, but my mother signed me up for the test.” The counselor says sarcastically, “I didn’t know that your mom was taking the test.”
There are instances where one would think a parent was the applicant rather than the high school student.

The parent’s role starts long before their child’s high school career. Isn’t that early? No! Parents have been interacting with their children for a long time. In the high school years, the relationship is sometimes great, although for some it becomes strained. Now, the college discussions begin, and the parent-child relationship is often based on the daily interaction prior to any college planning.

Readers are familiar with helicopter parents. And the opposite is the parent who plays a very small role, if any, in the college process. So much depends on the relationship the student has in the first place with his/her parents. In cases of divorce, much depends on custodial status, where one parent has sole or joint custody. In the end, the relationship with any parent becomes paramount.

Some children depend a lot on parents. Other children appear more independent in the decisions that they make daily. Thus, first one must look at the relationships between parent and student.

Remember, it is the student who is applying. Colleges want to hear the students “voice.” We want to hear from the student, admissions personnel say. Can they tell, in some ways? Yes. Examples: Is the parent always making calls to college personnel?; Or the essay does not sound like that of a student; On the college tour, one’s parent is asking all the questions; The student is tuned out or on their cellphone; The student looks disinterested, but the parent keeps asking questions.

This counselor gives a warning to parents if they are invited into the student’s individual interview. Politely refuse. If the parent participates in the interview, the admissions interviewer becomes confused as to who is applying to the college – the parent or the student.

Parents have every right to be involved. Some may be concerned about status, the decal on the rear window of the car, what neighbors may think, or people back at the office. Once, at a social gathering up North, parents were talking about colleges, but never was a non-Ivy League college mentioned. Wondering to myself, the poor child who doesn’t get accepted to an Ivy where applicants have a 10 percent or less chance to be admitted. And there are so many fine choices besides those eight colleges.

Other parents care about the “right fit” for their child. Where will my child enjoy college? Where will my student grow and succeed? And, for Jewish children, what opportunities does a college have when it comes to Judaism? That is a major factor for many families.

I remember a scene with a student, his parents and me when we were discussing the Jewish aspect of college. The parents remarked that the college should have a reasonable number of Jewish students. The student exclaimed: I don’t care about Jewish students. The parents were stunned. The student added, “Why should I care? We live in an area where there are hardly any Jews. You only go to synagogue maybe twice a year. You do nothing Jewish.”

As stated before, college admissions start way before the application process.

There are other reasons for a student to own the college application process. They include responsibility, editing, proofreading, brainstorming essay ideas, meeting deadlines and honesty. Are these not traits that one needs in college and beyond?
Why not sit down with your future college student and discuss some of these topics in a calm, unrushed atmosphere?

These are just 10 of the questions to answer and discuss:

1. There are many types of colleges, such as four-year, two-year, and technical two-year colleges. Student: What are you thinking about? Parents: Are you in agreement?

2. Why do you want to attend college other than “get a job”? Parent: What do you have to add to the student’s answer?

3. What college majors interest you? Parent: Let your student know why you agree or disagree.

4. There are a multitude of careers. Which careers are you thinking about? Why? What in your background leads you to those careers? Parent: Any other suggestions?

5. Talk about the distance from home. By car and/or plane.

6. A large, medium or small school? Discuss the options. Which sounds better based on your education to date?

7. Would you want a rigorous, challenging or less challenging curriculum? How does your answer fit in with your high school curriculum?

8. Campus life: What extra-curricular activities would you want to pursue? Fraternity or sorority?

9. What challenging aspects of the college application process do you feel will give you the most difficulty?

10. The BIG question: Finances. Sometimes this discussion occurs too late in the process. Example: The student applies and gets accepted to several colleges. Great, until April, when the parents let the student know that whatever scholarships and other aid was received, it was not nearly enough. All that work, tears flow, and the student is angry.

Parents, talk about finances early in the process with your student. However, beware, there certainly is financial aid at private colleges. Don’t just look at the sticker price. Of course, this holds true for public universities. In the state of Georgia, we have the HOPE Scholarship. Familiarize yourselves with the financial aid programs. For sure, become familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Mark Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants,, and a consultant for the College Planning Institute,

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