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Parental Involvement: How Much is Too Much?

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A recent survey found that 95% of students indicated that their parents were either “very involved” or “involved” in their college plans. Students reported very little unwanted or intrusive behavior on the part of their parent’s. This is great news, but unfortunately, there exists something known as the “helicopter parent”. The helicopter parent is named for their incessant hovering. They are over-involved in their children’s lives – including the college application process. The admissions process can bring out the worst in some parents.

Colleges report an increase in parental involvement regarding the college admissions process. While this can be a very positive thing, in many cases their actions are getting out of hand. Colleges have reported such actions as: parent’s completing applications and essays for students, parents attempting to attend college interviews, parents choosing colleges and majors for their kids, parents faxing daily updates to the college, and parents threatening lawsuits for various reasons.

These actions are often misinterpreted by admissions officers and can actually be detrimental. If a parent does all of the work for a student, the student is sometimes seen as not independent enough for college. When a parent visits campus and asks all of the questions, admissions officers may see a passive kid who is too lazy, bored, or uninterested to think of any questions. When parents dominate the admissions process, they are detracting from the perception that their child is a young, mature adult.

Some colleges are holding special orientation sessions for parents to address parental involvement and the role parents should play in their child’s education.

Since most parents will share or assume the cost of college, they often times feel they are “protecting their investment” and should have some degree of control over this investment. Make it very clear to your parents that you appreciate their financial sacrifice. Conduct yourself in a responsible manner. This means going to class, studying, and staying out of trouble. Show them you are using their money wisely. If your parents insist on certain behaviors because they are paying for your education, try to compromise. In the most extreme situations, you may have to sacrifice your parent’s approval to follow your own dreams.

The college admissions process is an initiation into adulthood. Parents need to offer support and encouragement and then step back and let the student make the actual effort. Students should do the actual work. This includes acquiring application materials, scheduling interviews, and asking questions on campus tours.

Parents should show support and encouragement if their child is not accepted to the college of their choice. Instead of threatening a lawsuit against the school, parents should help their child focus on the positive and on the other opportunities available to them.

If your parent’s involvement is borderline ridiculous, gently but firmly declare your independence. Assure your parents that you are on top of things and promise to ask for help if you need it. Follow through on this if you do need help.

Most parents play an important and positive role in helping their child make the transition to college. At the very least, your parents will need to fill out financial aid forms. Most parents opt to do much more.

There is much value in rejection, failure, and adaptability. You must learn to pick yourself up and go on instead of letting your parents swoop in and fix things.


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