My youngest, a kindergartener, is learning to tie his shoes, and I so desperately want to do it for him. Partly because it will speed up the process, and partly because it is heartbreaking to watch him get frustrated. However, the counselor in me knows better (most of the time). I remind him I am here to help but only after he tries on his own. Sometimes, he asks for help which I gladly offer but mostly, he wants to do it on his own. I patiently (okay, painfully, not patiently) wait for him to tie his shoes. The pride on his face is worth the painful wait.
Letting go of our own agenda and allowing our children to fend for themselves is a learned skill set. Our natural tendencies are to jump in and fix the problem, find solutions, and make it all better. Same goes for the college application process. I see it all the time in my practice, parents want to jump in and take over. They mean well, and I know it comes from a protective place of love, but for the student, it shuts them down. Their college list becomes unfamiliar, colleges they researched get removed, and unknown ones get added. Often, the colleges that are added are not, from my professional perspective, a right fit. They might be too much of a reach, or not have the extracurricular activities the student desires. The writing they so proudly produced, that details something of significance to them written in their words, their voice, gets over-edited and morphed into something that sounds foreign. I once had a student whose parent decided at the last minute to “make a few corrections”. There was a word in the essay the student had never heard of. I asked her to define it, she couldn’t. But this is her essay, her words, her voice. Or is it? College admissions representatives can see right through this. They are not expecting graduate or PhD level writing - they want high school equivalency and proficiency level writing. College will teach them to write collegiately.
If there is one piece of advice I can extend to parents of students applying to college, please let them do this on their own. They need to get into college, not you. And where they get in (and decide to attend) should be their decision, not yours. I say this with compassion and understanding. As I watch my child struggle to tie his shoe, I think of your child obsessing over word choice on their essay or how explain an activity they cherish so deeply in just a few sentences. I force myself to not overstep and overedit. My job, as is yours, is to steer a student through the process, not do it for them. It is painful, but the pride on their faces knowing they did this on their own, is worth the wait.