Parents! How Hands-On Should You Be During the College Selection Process?

There are essentially three types of parenting when it comes to helping your child during the college selection process.

One extreme is that of total control–this is the parent that has already picked out the college, written up the application, maybe applied to a few scholarships, and has declared the major of their child already, despite the student not being involved in the slightest. This is not ideal for a number of reasons, primarily because the student has no say whatsoever in what will ultimately be their education.

Another extreme is the total hands-off approach, where the parent lets their child do everything. While this may teach some independence skills, the student won’t be as experienced in areas like finances, which play a large role in the college selection process.

Instead, aim for the middle ground–be a team. By engaging with your child and going through the selection process together, you not only allow them input and some control, but you also can guide them with your experience and ability. Here are a few guidelines for helping your student find the right college match.


Allow your child to voice their desires and opinions. What do they want to major in? What careers interest them? Do they want to be close to home or far away? Even if you may disagree with some of your kid’s ideas, allow them to voice their mind. It’s not like every conversation or brainstorm will be set in stone, after all.

Talk it Out

You have experiences and wisdom that your student just doesn’t have quite yet, not to mention opinions of your own. It’s important to voice your side as well, but make sure it’s a conversation rather than a monologue. If you’re concerned that your student’s interest in a certain major isn’t a stable career move, explain your concerns, but make sure they get to explain their interest as well. The conversation should be balanced and open.

Sit Down Together

Though you and your student can do some research independent of each other, when it comes to setting up college visits or filling out applications, sit down and do it together. Maybe pick out a few schools you think they would do well in, then let them pick a few schools that they’re excited about–go over both lists together and see if there are any overlaps, or explore the new ideas. Remember, teamwork makes the dream work.

Balance is Key

Ultimately you just want what’s best for your child, right? Of course! But that doesn’t mean you should make big decisions for them; it’s their life after all. On the other hand, they can be youthful and inexperienced, so you need to be there to guide them. Helping them select a college program might feel like walking a tightrope, but as long as you don’t fall to either side–controlling vs. lax–you and your child will be just fine. Compromise.

Be Honest

If you have financial concerns, worry that being so far away will be a tricky transition, or don’t like the reputation of a certain school–tell them! Honesty really is the best policy. And while you’re being honest, transform it into a teaching moment. Worried about finance? Take a few hours to teach your child about personal finances and budgeting. Worried about moving away? Figure out a call/Skype schedule so home is always close.

Additionally, let them know about your own experiences. How did you deal with moving away for the first time? What would you do differently? How did you manage your money? This is a big step forward into their adult lives, and you’re most likely the example they have to follow.

Work Smart

Finding colleges, doing research, working out financial aid, it can all be pretty stressful. In order to keep things running smoothly, you have to be smart about your search. Luckily College Raptor has your back. With College Raptor you can enter your student’s information–GPA, ACT/SAT scores, interested majors, etc.–to find a college match fit for them! On top of that, you can see what kind of financial aid a college can offer your child. Have them create an account and then create a parental account of your own! College Raptor has helpful articles and newsletters tailor-fit to students and parents alike.


Suggest, don’t demand. Converse, don’t lecture. Work together, don’t dictate. Guide, don’t control. Think of it as a partnership and you’ll all be just fine.