College Applications: When Is Being Supportive, Overbearing? [Guest Post]

This guest post is by Risa Lewak is the author of “Don’t Stalk the Admissions Officer” by Ten Speed Press. To laugh at the absurdity of college admissions, please visit Risa at:


There are 5 surefire ways to determine if you’re an overbearing parent when it comes to college admissions:

1)    During the college tour, you ask the guide if “being the cutest munchkin in the senior class” will help your child get in

2)    You repaper your child’s room in vocabulary flashcards two weeks before the SAT

3)    You wiretap your son right before his college interview in case you need to feed him answers

4)    You take a casual look at your daughter’s essay and work the phrase, “gift to mankind” into every other sentence

5)    You dress up as an admissions officer for Halloween

It’s natural to be extremely concerned with your child’s college applications.  After all, your child’s Fate (at least for the next four years) is in the hands of faceless admissions officers who have no intention of making sure your “baby” will wear his Gor-Tex coat on his way to class next year. For the first time, your child will operate as an independent adult and the thought is terrifying.  No wonder you’re extremely anxious about the process.

Stop.  Interfering too much with your child’s college applications is not only counterproductive, but will cause a lot of needless tension between your and your child.  While it’s perfectly acceptable to offer input from time to time, you shouldn’t hijack the entire process. Remember, you are not the one applying to college.

Having trouble figuring out if you’re supportive or overbearing? Here are a few clues:

1)   You tell your child where he/she should apply instead of offering suggestions

2)   You re-write the entire essay rather than make a few editorial comments

3)   You are constantly nagging your child to work on her applications, even at 4am

4)   You dominate the discussion at college fairs instead of allowing your child to ask questions

5)   You e-mail admissions officers in your child’s name

6)    You wake up in the middle of the night with the sheets soaked  from another college rejection nightmare

If any of this sounds familiar, you are definitely too involved in the college application process.  Even though you think your child might need some prodding from you to get the applications done, it will happen.  Pushing on your part will only make things worse. Your child is on his/her way to becoming an adult and that means you need to allow him/her to take responsibility for the process.

While you’re allowed to voice your preferences in terms of where to apply, it’s important that your kid follows his/her gut and chooses schools that feel right to him.  Picking schools that might feel right to you might not make your child happy.  You don’t want your child to wind up at your first choice school and be miserable.

Your child needs you now more than ever, but allowing children to “own” the college application process is a healthy step toward adulthood.  Being overbearing and controlling now can possibly hamper your child’s development later down the road.  In ten years, do you want your daughter to consult you about what cereal she should have in the morning? You don’t want your grown son to ask you to call his mortgage broker to make sure he secures that loan, do you?

The bottom line: regardless of what college your child attends and whether or not those envelopes are fat or thin, you love your child no matter what.

Risa Lewak is the author of “Don’t Stalk the Admissions Officer” by Ten Speed Press. To laugh at the absurdity of college admissions, please visit Risa at:

2 Responses to “College Applications: When Is Being Supportive, Overbearing? [Guest Post]”

  1. Stephan Serrano
    August 30, 2010 at 12:18 am #

    I am current Junior at the University of Pennsylvania. While I agree with Risa’s sentiment that controlling aspects of the application is wrong/counter-productive, I know I made a number of mistakes that in college admissions process that could have been avoided.

    The biggest mistake I made was not realizing how daunting the process truly was. Supplemental essays, program specific essays, and impeding scholarship essays with December deadlines had me cranking out college related essays my entire Christmas break.

    I also did not research my colleges early enough. Consequently, I was unaware that two colleges I was interested in, Georgetown and NYU, required SAT II subject tests and was unable to apply. These mistakes came from procrastination. Sometimes, we need a kick in the ass to get started, and that, I believe, can come from parents without being crossing the line and becoming overbearing.

  2. new style
    November 4, 2010 at 12:43 am #

    Hey very nice blog!!

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