Expert Advice: 5 Tips for Parents Helping Teens With the College Search

University Prep college counselor weighs in on parental support

By University Prep October 8, 2019

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With this year’s college admissions scandal news wafting in and out of our newsfeeds, it’s an interesting time to be a parent of a high school junior or senior. It’s one more piece of news at a time when families are hit with a barrage of college information. With all the noise, it’s hard for parents to know how to help their student, says college counselor Kelly Herrington.

“Every student approaches college in their own way. There’s the teen who grunts every time you say the word college, versus the student who focuses on the search with a zealous intensity. What’s universal is that every student is worried about being judged by admissions committees, their friends, and their families,” says Herrington, the Director of College Counseling at University Prep, a 6-12 independent school in northeast Seattle.

He likes to remind parents that their kids are looking for support and companionship, not a bombardment of daily questions at the dinner table. From his insider’s perch as a college counselor with more than 20 years of experience, Herrington and his team have developed a College Handbook with valuable recommendations. Here are his top five tips for caregivers helping with the college search.

Discovering and nurturing your student’s interests can be just as important as studying for important college admissions tests.

1: Let your student be the driver

Avoid pronoun confusion: We are not applying for college, your child is applying to college. Of course, a bit of guidance is great when your teen is overwhelmed, but don’t overdo it. It’s a good idea to set aside 15 to 30 minutes weekly to talk about college, then restrain yourself from asking questions daily. Feel free to give them a high five for small victories and task completion, though.

2: Help your child understand themselves

Part of this process is figuring out strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. A good question to ask your student is: What gives you energy? These lists don’t necessarily connect to a career path, but they’ll help your student find a college that works for them. Encourage your teen to ask people they admire how they ended up doing what they do now. Asking multiple people shows how paths aren’t linear and that a well-defined 20-step plan isn’t needed.

3: Be mindful about costs but don’t let that limit you

Have honest conversations with your child about what you are willing or able to pay for college. At the same time, know that most published costs are not the actual costs. Some of the colleges with the most expensive published costs might end up being the most affordable option for your student. Before students submit an application, they can receive a rough estimate of their financial aid package by checking out each college’s net price calculator.

4: Step foot on college campuses with your teenager

This doesn’t mean you must plan an East Coast college tour. Instead, visit three local colleges: one large, one medium, and one small school, including a large state and a small private school. Three good picks for the Greater Seattle Area include the University of Washington, Seattle University, and University of Puget Sound. Even the kid who is most hesitant to talk about post-high school life will usually be glad to critique a college while they’re walking on its campus.

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