Kaplan Survey: Parents May Be Too Involved in College Admissions

March 22, 2017
Russell Schaffer

When parents should let their students take the wheel in college admissions

Parents, learn when to step in—and step back—in college admissions.

If you’re a parent of a future college applicant, or your child is about to start hearing back from the colleges to which he or she applied, college admission officers have some advice for you: Let your child sit in the driver’s seat. In a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey of admissions officers from over 350 colleges, 75 percent say parents should only be “somewhat involved” in the admissions process, stepping in only when their child asks them*.

Just one in five (18 percent) recommend parents be “very involved,” guiding their child every step of the way; just one percent say be “extremely involved,” suggesting parents take care of everything themselves.

On the flip side, only six percent say parents should be “not very involved,” and less than one percent say “not involved at all.”

Here is some advice for parents trying to strike the right balance in helping with their child’s college admission process:

What role should parents play in college admission?

We dug a little deeper to get college admission officers’ experiences and perspectives on ways parents can be constructive players in the college admission process. Here are a few things they told us:

  • “Parents should be very involved in coaching and advising in the actual decision-making, but it’s also important for students to be the ones most engaged in the process and in contact with the admissions officers.”
  • “Students need to make the transition into college, where they’re going to need to be independent, so we appreciate when students take ownership.”
  • “Parents need to be most involved, especially when it comes to the financial aid process. Students are not knowledgeable in this area and need the most guidance with this.”
  • “Parents should be there for support, but the child should be driving. Like learning to drive, you can be a back seat driver, but let kids steer.”
  • “Parents should guide the student in thinking about certain aspects of the application and provide a sounding board for the students as they are considering their choices.”

How much parent involvement is too much?

When has a parent overstepped their bounds or violated norms in the college admission process? Admissions officers offered several scenarios they’ve experienced that can loosely be put in the category of “don’ts”:

  • “I once had a parent call pretending to be the student, but I had met the student before so I knew how their voice sounds. I called the student’s cell phone after to suggest that her mom not pretend to be her and call other schools, because that’s fraud.”
  • “We’ve had parents make their students sign waivers so that the parent can speak to anyone on campus regarding them.”
  • “We have plenty of ‘helicopter parents’ who are overly involved. We’ve had parents who wouldn’t let the student speak in meetings even when we tried to engage the student specifically.”
  • “There have been parents who’ve called requesting to change their child’s major because they don’t want their child in that major.”
  • “In some cases we’d get duplicate records due to parents and students both trying to complete parts of the application without talking to each other.”

How can parents strike the right balance?

At Kaplan Test Prep, we believe parents can play a constructive role in their child’s college admission process, whether accompanying on-campus visits, making sure they meet application deadlines, or helping them fill out financial aid paperwork. In other areas, it’s most beneficial for parents to let their child to take the lead, including deciding where to apply, letting them speak for themselves when talking with admissions officers, writing their own admissions essays, and the most important decision of all—choosing where to enroll.

Keep this in mind: The college admission process will have its ups and downs, so it’s crucial that parents and their kids establish good communication with each other, which could result in better outcomes and even turn it into a fun, bonding experience.

Check out the video from above on YouTube—and explore for more admissions tips and strategies.

*For the survey, 354 admissions officers from the nation’s top national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities – as compiled from U.S. News & World Report – were polled by telephone between July and August 2016.

Russell Schaffer

Russell Schaffer Russell Schaffer is Kaplan Test Prep's senior communications manager. Russell is responsible for helping lead our external media relations efforts, including speaking with reporters and bloggers on a regular basis about Kaplan's proprietary research and products. Russell also helps craft the surveys we regularly administer of students, advisers​,​ and admissions officers. The data collected helps guide the hundreds of thousands of students and parents Kaplan works with every year by giving them accurate and up-to-date information ​about​ the landscape. Russell is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany, where he received his BA in political science and MA in communications.

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