The College Application Process from One Parent’s Perspective


College Just Ahead Sign

Having served in the higher education finance arena for most of my professional life, the onset of 2014 finds me smack dab in the middle of my third (and last) child’s senior year of high school. Since this is the last time that I will be walking this unique road of sending one of my own kids to college, I admit that it is with a bit of sentimentality that I approach the journey this time around. After powering through a bit of nostalgia (…after all, where did all of those years go?), I thought that it might be useful to share a few of my observations. As I consider the business goals of the college administrator (more enrollments and less calls to answer) with the personal goals of students and their parents (finding a college or university that best meets a student’s unique educational, financial and career goals), I hope that my perspective will be of interest and possible benefit.

To that end, and with a great respect for all that college administrators do to make the process as smooth as possible for students and their parents, I offer you a quick peek into what’s happening at our house these days:

Undeniably, this “baby” of my family is now standing over 6 feet tall and sporting a full-faced beard. While this may not be totally relevant, it is tangible evidence that he has come a long way from where he started back in May of 1996. Try as I may, it can no longer be ignored that this child is growing up. While it may seem premature for him to be receiving information from colleges and universities, the time is now to be reviewing the options and submitting college applications. It hits me that this college application business is an extremely personal journey. While it is easy to get caught up in the immediacy of the tasks at hand, it may not be so easy to ride the emotional roller coaster of discerning my own educational priorities from those of my son’s or of embracing the fact that life will never be the same as this kid heads out the door to college. For now, I’ll stick to focusing on the tasks at hand!

After attending numerous “which colleges would be best for me?” meetings with his high school counselor, completing standardized testing for both SAT and ACT and preparing for high school graduation, in addition to submitting college applications, my son is also challenged to complete some online college prerequisites. Navigating numerous “must do” items within a short timeframe highlights the fact that these high school seniors are still “kids” and as such, many will need to develop some time management skills upon entering college. For now, we rely on mom’s nagging to get this “to do” list completed. Once he gets to college, I trust that there will be resources available to help him create (and complete) his own “to do” lists.

While some schools found him, he managed to find a few on this own as well and I am happy to report that as of December 31, 2013, he managed to submit online applications to several schools across the country ranging from the smaller liberal arts to the larger state entities with a few being in each of the four recommended categories (Reach, Possible, Probable and Safety) --- all by himself. While he might complain to his friends that we parents did not do enough to help him through the process (especially his mother who works in this industry...), I am ready to scream from the mountain tops, “Look everyone, he did it all by himself!” It feels good to know that he is invested.

On to sharing a few suggestions that are born of our experiences over these past few months:

Tip 1: Offer quick form applications/waivers to grab the student’s attention.

I was pleased to see that my son actually took advantage of applying to some of the colleges that solicited his attention by offering a waived essay, “quick and easy priority application” and/or waived application fee. These timely and proactive offers nudged him to research schools that he may not have otherwise considered. The reminder emails, expedited application process and messaging about the student being a priority to you (the school) all laid the groundwork to prompt action.

Tip 2: Use technology and form data to everyone’s advantage.

In marveling at many of the advancements that have been made to the college application process (albeit sometimes bought at a high price as highlighted this past Fall by the technical difficulties experienced when the Common App enhancements were released), I find myself wondering why a student has to physically enter every class name and grade that they’ve taken during their high school years on some college applications? This information was requested per semester and in a few cases, was requested even for the middle school years! Why can’t schools access this detailed information via a student’s state identification number?

Tip 3: Consolidate data and lessen the mystery.

Why are there two different school codes required when students go to the ACT and SAT testing sites to request that scores be sent to each individual college? As an industry, I believe that we have the responsibility to simplify anything that we can and this is one place where we have room for de-coding (no pun intended) the mystery.

Tip 4: Incorporate “Old School” reminders to bring a “new school” closer to home.

Out of numerous college applications submitted, only one school actually made a phone call to remind us about submitting test scores and ask if we had any questions. While surprised to receive a call, this student (and mom) appreciated the opportunity to connect and the live voice served to bring about a welcomed comfort level with the school.

Tip 5: Guide next steps through the student’s preferred communication method.

On January 7th, 2014, I am happy to report that my son received his first response – an acceptance via email - from a school outside of our home state. As a result of receiving a link within the email, he went right to the school’s website and naturally began the process of wondering what it might be like to attend this particular school’s College of Engineering?

While I embrace the natural evolution of life’s milestones and am excited to see exactly where this college application process leads my son, this mom can’t help but wonder exactly what door we’ve opened here? After all, this path inevitably leads to one thing: Him leaving home! As one of my dear colleagues is known to say, “Fortune follows the brave.” This reminds me that as parents, we get to navigate this college application process alongside of our kids knowing that, in the end, it will require us to be brave enough to let them go, trusting that a college education will permit them to satisfy curiosity, earn the gift of knowledge (a great fortune) and open doors to a career.

Ever grateful for the institutions of higher learning that shape our children and world, this mom stands ready to explore the college options and let go! And, no matter how the story continues for each of our 2014 high school graduates, here’s wishing that – in their own way – each one will pursue greater knowledge and approach life with a spirit of connectedness, optimism and whole-heartedness.



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