January 12, 2024 | Estimated Read Time: 8 Minutes
By Alexandra Koktsidis
The undergraduate college application process can be long and overwhelming for everyone involved. Students are often the focus of this journey. But, what about parents’ role in the college application process? After all, college is a family decision.
Recent research from the education company EAB shows that parents' involvement and overall influence has increased compared to the past, with 48 percent of students naming parents or guardians as a source for information. That’s only second to the college or university’s website.
Adrienne Ramsey, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Babson College, offers some advice for what parents need to know about college, specifically admission. With the right knowledge and mindset, parents can play a critical role in the college application process.
Always Ask, Never Assume
Getting familiar with the college admission process is the first step to understanding it. Parents and college students should ask, and never assume the information.
“The college admission process is very different from when parents went through it,” Ramsey says. This year has especially seen some changes, she mentions, which include recent changes in test-score requirements, as well as the June 2023 Supreme Court ruling. It’s a completely new landscape, and often, misinformation about it fills the media, and influences public opinion, she says.
Not all colleges are the same when it comes to qualifications, test scores, supplemental essays, and other undergraduate application evaluation criteria. “Parents should feel it’s OK to ask us questions. I always want someone to get the right answer,” she said.
One of the top questions parents are asking in 2023 surrounds mental health and well-being support, Ramsey says. Parents want to know that resources like counseling and psychological services exist, whether students seek them out or not. “We have spent a lot of time together because of the pandemic. I do think the parents have witnessed shared time,” Ramsey said.
Some additional questions for parents to ask college admissions include:
- What is the college acceptance rate?
- What are the test requirements for this school?
- What financial aid options are available?
- How does the college assist students with internship and job placement opportunities?
- What percentage of students graduate or find jobs after graduation?
These questions and others offer a first look into what parents need to know about college.
Make Travel Plans Early
Campus tours and in-person visits are often one of the best ways for students to assess whether the college is for them. Oftentimes, the decision to apply to a school will hinge on the campus visit, and whether a student can envision themselves there. Mark off time on your calendars to make these visits and set a deadline for when you want to have them all done.
Charlie Sougarides ‘24 said that when he first visited the Babson campus, he felt that it was the right place for him. “The small campus feeling was very welcoming, and, at the time, the school was building a new athletic center which shows that Babson continues to invest in the well-being of students,” he said.
If you plan to visit college campuses far from your area, it’s important to start early, plan vacation times, have a budget, and make other necessary arrangements so that you’ll make the most of your visit.
When to Visit Campus
Many families choose to make college visits in the late spring or summer months of their child’s junior year, before the decision to apply. After all, a high school senior’s fall semester is busy with classes, extracurriculars, and to top it all off, college applications. For Sougarides, it was much earlier, as he tagged along to several college visits with his older sister during his freshman year. (Parents, take note!) “Babson still stuck with me, and it was at the top of my list,” he said.
Take advantage of guided student tours through the Admissions office—a perfect opportunity for families to ask questions, and get to know student life, and hear directly from students. Many schools also offer virtual guided tours, as well as self-paced walking tours.
Visiting schools, whether they are in a new city, new state, or a couple of miles from home, is an opportunity to bond with your student. This means it pays off to turn it into an opportunity for fun, Ramsey says.
Embrace Your Child’s Decisions
A top piece of advice for parents of high school seniors, Ramsey says, and something she always stresses during information sessions, is to remember that college admission is not a reflection on you as a person.
“Since day one, we are encouraging our child to become an individual with different preferences, academic strengths, and passions,” Ramsey says. “Oftentimes, our own children’s strengths may not line up with ours, and that’s OK.”
The college admissions process is about finding the right academic and personal home for a student—one that aligns with their unique qualities and aspirations. For example, students who attend Babson College are aware that they will graduate with a business degree, even if they may not know exactly what that means or looks like.
Every journey of self-discovery is different. As parents, it’s essential to support your child in this exploration and empower them to make choices that resonate with their own values and goals. The ultimate goal is to support your child’s decision in choosing a college that’s the right fit for them.
“The reality is, as you’re looking for a good academic and personal home for your student. Use the time to spend time with (them),” says Ramsey. Having this kind of mindset can lead to parents playing an invaluable role not only in the admission process, but in their child’s life. “You’re going to learn a lot from them. Use it as an opportunity to learn about your child, to connect with them, to listen.”
What About the Numbers?
When considering various colleges, parents and students may want to look at statistics and data that the college has, on points such as rankings, retention rates, graduation rates, and much more.
One essential number to look at is the retention rate. “A high retention rate shows that students have found an academic home, and network of support,” says Ramsey. While it indicates a positive college experience, it’s important to remember that no matter where a student attends college, there will be opportunities to learn and have fun.
More statistics parents can ask about during the college application process include:
- Third-party rankings, such as U.S. News & World Report
- Average undergraduate salary for jobs post-graduation
- Average class size and school size
- Percentage of international students
- Office of admission selectivity rate
While numbers like this offer insights, remember they are just a piece of the college selection puzzle. Finding the right fit means balancing data with the intangibles that make your college experience fulfilling.
Inside Higher Education
About the Author
Alexandra Koktsidis has a background in journalism and copywriting, and over a decade of professional writing experience. She is based in the Boston area.
(Photography: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com)