Super-involved helicopter parents that hover over their high school students during the college admissions process may have good intentions but frequently do more harm than good.
If you want a good chuckle about parents over-stepping their boundaries, check out www.collegeconfidential.com, a great college resource with blogs and chats. On a thread about helicopter parents, one mom volunteered that her mother-in-law opened her husband’s letter from Harvard and when she saw that he had been accepted, she threw it away! Seriously, she tossed the letter and never told her son. This was a while ago, pre-computers, and he assumed that no communication from Harvard meant that he wasn’t accepted, so he matriculated at another college. The mom never told her son what she had done and he just found out 15 years ago from his sister. The mom’s reaction was “Oh, I just love you so much that I didn’t want you to be that far away.”
Another mom wrote that she and her husband actually applied to a college on their son’s behalf, unbeknownst to him. They used an essay he had already written, filled out the form and hit submit. They wanted to see how much merit-based aid he would receive. They have few regrets, since he took the merit award letter to his college of choice to and received more money.
Okay, so we can all agree that these are both a bit extreme, but where should parents draw the line? When does a little bit of help turn into project ownership?
Here are some parental don’ts:
Don’t write their essays. Don’t over-edit their essays and turn them into something that you think the admissions office wants to read, you’re probably wrong.
Don’t talk too much on the campus visit. Keep your questions to a minimum or ask your child to ask your questions. Don’t introduce your child to admissions people, allow them to take the lead and introduce you.
Don’t ever refer to this as being “our” college admissions process. The first slip-up for parents is when you hear them say “we’re applying” or “we interviewed”, etc. Over-invested parents often blur the boundaries. This is the student’s process, their visit, their application, their essay and their interview.
Don’t limit your student’s choices based exclusively on price. According to recent research by Princeton Review, only 20% of the 17 million college students pay the entire cost of their college education. So, 80% of students are receiving some form of financial aid; merit-based, need-based, grants, work-study and loans. Most of this aid (80-85%) comes directly from the colleges and universities.
Students need to rise to the occasion and take ownership of the process. Parents who shoulder too much of the responsibility reduce their child’s self confidence. Turning over the reins earlier in the process and empowering your child, while often stressful, teaches everyone a multitude of lessons.
MORE INFORMATION – ON THE BOOKSHELF
“Parent’s Guide To College and Careers: How to Help, Not Hover”, Barbara Cooke, $12.95