Admission tips for parents

Lee Shulman Bierer and family at her daughter's graduation

Lee Shulman Bierer ’76

As president of College Admissions Strategies, independent counselor Lee Shulman Bierer ’76 works with students and families in selecting colleges, application strategies, and finding scholarships. Her weekly “Countdown to College” column for the Charlotte Observer has touched on just about everything related to admissions for 7.5 years. Her advice has also been published in US News & World Report, the New York Times, Seventeen, and more. Adding to her professional expertise in college admission, Lee and her husband, Jeffrey, have learned about the process through parenting their own two children, Lucy and David. This family photo (above) was taken at Lucy’s graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Many parents feel as if they’re walking a tightrope as they navigate through the college admissions process with their children. For starters, it’s chock full of details and deadlines. How do you empower your kids to take on this new and exciting project and still make sure everything gets done? There are some areas where it’s OK for parents to get involved:

1. Help plan campus visits. Discuss the trip details, especially if it involves multiple colleges. Schedule the visits on the college websites and make flight and hotel arrangements as needed.

2. Discuss “fit.” What kind of college experience are they looking for? Talk about size; distance from home; benefits and drawbacks to urban, suburban, and rural environments; their academic needs; fraternity/sorority life; sports atmosphere; and special opportunities such as research opportunities, internships, study abroad, interdisciplinary majors, clubs, and extracurricular activities.

3. Read over their essays — only if they want you to. Don’t edit too much. College admissions officials have become quite adept at recognizing parental interference. Remember, one of the essay’s chief objectives is to allow the college to get to know your child beyond grades and test scores. If the essay sounds like it was written by a middle-aged attorney, it’s lost its flavor.

4. Contact the financial aid office. Don’t wait until your child is accepted to be in touch. Ask about institutional and departmental need-based and merit-based scholarships and work-study options. Make sure you understand each college’s need-aware or need-blind policy and how that impacts your personal financial situation.

5. Support, encourage, and celebrate. Many students freeze up just at the mention of college. They often feel that they are constantly being judged, compared to their classmates, and forced to begin planning the rest of their lives. Support them by following their lead when talking about college. Encourage them to dream and apply to one or two reach schools that they have researched. At the same time, make sure that their final list is well balanced with reach, target, and safety schools. Celebrate all victories. For the small ones, such as completing college-related assignments on time, heartfelt congratulations or “I’m proud of you” means a lot. For the bigger ones, such as early decision acceptance or big jumps in test scores, hang their college-colored balloons on your mailbox, treat them to their favorite dinner, or write them a note they’ll keep forever.

What Do You Know?
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