College application process for parents

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Willamette University

The Common App deadline is looming — how is that college application coming along? 

Whether your student is one click away from submitting to schools or just creating an account, Sue Corner, Willamette’s senior associate director of admission, offers parents a few reminders to provide the best support.

Stay on top of financial paperwork. Parents must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form or the CSS Profile — or in some cases both. No matter if college begins next week or four months from now, fill out these forms ASAP. Ask the college about other financial assistance it can offer and check to see if there are additional steps you as the parent can take. 

Provide proofreading. In the rush to meet the deadline, students commonly cut corners by skipping the proofreading. One of the easiest things you can do is offer to check over their essay or application.  

“You should never rewrite something entirely, but a second set of eyes is always a good idea,” Corner said. “Sloppy mistakes can make a difference. When the application comes across as hurried, the admission counselor may read that the applicant is uninterested or a poor time manager, and those are not signals the student wants to send.”

Watch the clock. Admission officers regularly see applications with a time stamp of 11:58 p.m., frequently accompanied by panicked emails from parents or students stating “something isn’t working.” 

Willamette admission officers will still accept an application within a week or so of the deadline, but not every college shares this philosophy. Parents might encourage students to aim for completion 24 or 48 hours ahead of the deadline to make the experience less anxiety-inducing, she said. 

Study the calendar. Once the application process nears the end, encourage your student to envision the next few months: planning a campus or campuses to visit, the next steps for the most promising schools, important spring dates to track if decisions are coming in.  

“If you leave it entirely up to students, they may not think ahead then suddenly want a plane ticket to visit an important top college choice,” Corner said. “Being aware of what lies ahead can help ease the process for everyone.”

Be supportive. At every stage of the college application process, this is the most important assistance parents can provide. 

“Being pushy will backfire,” Corner said. “Quietly allowing students to work through the process will often lead them to the place you want them to go — successfully completing their application.” 

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