Why the student needs to “own” the process

by | Aug 8, 2019 | Advice for Parents

I heard myself say, “Don’t worry about checking your email. I will send you a text to let you know when you have an email in your inbox from me.” And then it struck me: what’s next? I’ll send a carrier pigeon to notify the student when he has a text that notifies him when he has an email? Professors in college aren’t going to do that. His boss at his job won’t do that. Why am I?


As a college counselor, I am often telling parents to loosen the reins a bit, let the student own the process, take a step back, etc. But, when I heard myself telling a student that they didn’t need to check their email, that I would notify them when they had mail waiting, that was when I realized I was doing too much hand-holding myself.


I offer this example to convey how easy it is to do the wrong thing in the name of helping students. No one is perfect, and it’s understandable that parents would be inclined to take care of their children. It’s easy to get caught up in doing things for them. They are busy, we tell ourselves. They are stressed, we reason. But if they don’t figure this stuff out now, when will they? If we don’t let students own the college process, we are doing them a great disservice.


In Jennifer Delahunty’s book, “I’m Going to College, Not You,” she outlines the importance of parents taking a step back and allowing students to own the process for themselves. “How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims is a good resource for parents too. Ultimately, we are raising our children to be successful adults, and that means allowing them to make mistakes and encouraging independence. 

So, how does this play out in the college process?  What can parents (and counselors) do?

  • The college essay is to be written by the student ONLY. Parents, college counselors, essay specialists, english teachers or guidance counselors can suggest edits and offer ideas, but absolutely all of the writing of the essay must be done by the student.
  • College tours should be arranged by the student. Of course they may need help with travel arrangements, and will likely need to check mom or dad’s schedule to make sure they are free to go with them, but the actual scheduling of the tour should be done by the student. It’s easy; they can do it.
  • Students must finalize their own college list. No one should be telling a student which colleges to apply to. We can offer suggestions and recommendations, and provide information, but the final list needs to be decided on by the student. (With a minor exception, as discussed in this previous blog post)
  • Applications must be completely filled out by the student. Financial aid forms may be completed by parents, but that’s it. Even the “busy-work” part of the application should be done by the student.


If a high school student can’t learn to check their email now, they won’t know how to in college. By not telling my students that they have an email waiting for them, they may miss it. And that’s on them. When they inevitably do miss it, it’s an excellent teaching- counseling moment for me to be able to remind them that they are at the helm of their successes and failures. If you, as a parent, find yourself doing too much to help your child through the college admission process, consider if you’re doing more hindering than helping. And if you need advice don’t hesitate to contact your child’s Campus Bound counselor. We are here to help both students and parents navigate this tricky time together.


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