Families are an integral part of the college process and ideally should be involved from beginning to end. The level and type of involvement will likely vary depending on the student's needs, but the absolute best thing any parent/guardian can do to support their child is to be an encouraging cheerleader.
Some additional "Dos" and "Don'ts" borrowed and modified from Scott White, formerly of Montclair High School:
* Be honest with your kids about restrictions and needs (such as finances or geography). Communicating early on will allow time for a dialogue to take place and the creation of an appropriate list rather than having to have the difficult conversation after the student has already applied and been admitted.
* Listen to what your kids are saying about what is important to them and what their priorities are in finding a good match.
* Keep an open mind. The college admissions landscape has changed dramatically over the past 20 years so you can't rely on old stereotypes to make informed opinions. There are lots of fabulous schools out there that you might not have ever heard of.
* Move away from rankings and the "pecking order" mentality - the best college for your child may not be the most selective one or the highest on some list.
* Create a calendar together to set up a realistic timeframe of college-related items such as college visits, essay drafts, test prep, etc. Have these deadlines come from your child rather than you so that they take ownership of the process, but know that you will be there to help them be accountable and stay on top of things.
* Make sure your child has a college or two that can be a solid "likely" school both in terms of admissions and affordability.
* Although your child should be taking the lead on most pieces of the college process, it is appropriate and necessary for parents/guardians to be involved with the financial aid forms and documents. Please help in completing these forms and submitting them in advance of deadlines.
* Feel free to contact the College Counselor, Allison Cohen, throughout the process with any questions or concerns (firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-772-1220 x4). The more we can communicate and work together to support your child, the more successful they will be in finding good "fits" for college.
* Don't micromanage the process. Check-in occasionally to make sure that your child is on track or see what they need help with, but don't feel obligated to do the work for your child. The college process is already stressful, the more you can be a calming influence the better! If you are concerned about your child's progress (or lack thereof), contact Ms. Cohen so that she can follow up with them individually.
* Don't be tempted to compare with other parents about where your child is applying or where they were admitted. It creates an unnecessary environment of frenzied competition. Everyone's process will be unique.
* Don't write or over-edit your child's essay. Grammatical corrections or style suggestions should not remove their own voice from the piece.
* Don't get caught up in the college frenzy. Although it's a scary, overwhelming process, somehow it all works out in the end and everyone has options for higher education. Helping your child stay true to themselves and their priorities will help keep things balanced.
* Don't try to "package" your child or encourage them to do things just for the sake of putting it on their application. Foster what your child is good at or encourage their exploration of a new interest. It's about quality, not quantity.
For more information about the college application process (available in multiple languages) visit: http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/ELL/FamilyResources/hs+college+handbook.htm