College is a time of great change, your first foray into living independently. And yet the process of applying is often one managed intensely by parents — for good reason, considering they’re (probably) going to be the ones footing the bill. This can be really good, because your parents are a resource for support (both emotional and logistical) during the process and can help you make sure you put your best foot forward.

At the same time, however, there are downsides of parents being too involved — for instance, that they might mistake the “best” school for the right school and make decisions based on their own preferences without taking your preferences into account.

So how do you balance parent involvement with your desires as the one who’s going to, you know, actually attend the college? Keep open lines of communication, do your research, be honest about what you want, and be understanding about differences in opinion.

The primary rule to follow when applying to college is this: You’re in the driver’s seat, for better or worse. Parents should function as support resources, not main deciders of what colleges to go to, what essays to write, and how to apply. Attending college will already catapult you into a new life of self-sufficiency, and the sooner you can start to hone those skills, the better off you’re going to be. Don’t expect your parents to manage application details or schedules. Take initiative, because this is your life.

Parents can function as a second pair of eyes on everything from college lists to essays, and you as the student should take advantage of that.

Another thing that must always be taken into account is legacy status. If your parents (or siblings, grandparents, or aunts and uncles) went to a school, you’ll have a slight advantage in getting in there. How much of an advantage you’ll have is up for debate, as schools are often purposefully opaque about their own preference for legacy admits. Oftentimes, parents will have a preference for you attending the school they themselves attended.

This is a fraught situation, to say the least. While parent preference for a school doesn’t immediately make it the right school for you to go to, it also doesn’t immediately disqualify the school—be careful about the reflexive “I want to go somewhere different from my parents” reaction. It’s absolutely true that schools have changed since your parents went there, so their fond memories of their college days might no longer apply to the school. At the same time, though, if a school’s right for you, it’s right for you, and a familial connection to it can only be an added bonus. As with everything else, do extensive research into any school you’re applying to, because that’s the only way to know if it’s right.

Ultimately, parents want the best for you. It’s up to you to work together and communicate openly and honestly about what that means — this is too important of a step to take without fully taking everyone’s thoughts into account. As long as you keep things respectful and kind, understanding that this is a stressful time for everyone, you can make sure that you’re on the same team with the same goal in mind: Getting you into the best college for you.

 

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