What to Do When Your Parents Are Too Involved in the College Process

If you’re lucky enough to have people that really care about you in your life, you will never feel like you are going through anything alone. People close to you feel your pain, your happiness, and want to be there through everything in between. If you’re really lucky, though, these people will really want to be there through everything, including things you really would just rather do alone. Most of the time we don’t realize we were born with at least one of these people—our parent. One of the many things they’re there for upon invitation or not—the college process.

While you were working on homework, projects, and building resumes these past years, they were working on you. They want to see their work pay off just as much as you do. Parents’ involvement in the college process can become daunting, though, adding even more pressure to not only please schools but parents as well. Here’s what to do to let your parents know that this is the case—that they’re a little too involved in the college search and decision process.

1. Properly assess the situation

In high school, it can sometimes feel like your parents are too involved in your life. “Parents should be simply overseeing the process," says Brian Sieber, a counselor at The Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. "Although I believe it is beneficial for parents to voice their support and opinion, their role should be a resource. Students should be doing all the hands-on work themselves—especially when it comes to direct communication. There is nothing worse than a parent who keeps calling me when the student is down the hall and could be asking me the question themselves.”

There are countless students applying to your colleges of choice. The goal is to stand out one way or another, and with everyone submitting a stellar application, it becomes much easier to stand out negatively. Phone calls from a parent and evident parent involvement are some of the easiest, unintentional ways to do so. If your parent insists on contacting the counselor or other related official, suggest they ask what they believe the parents’ role should be; the person is bound to respond in your favor.

College is all about moving on with independence and an eagerness to learn; the opposite is reflected through your parent assisting you with each step to get there… but are you letting them?

2. Initiate actually taking control yourself

When your parents provide a list of schools to apply to, do you already have your own? Before your parent called the school, did you offer to do so yourself? If the answer is “no” to these questions, your parents probably don’t realize they’re overstepping. Parents often worry they aren’t doing enough, so try telling them they’re doing more than enough before complaining about it.

“I truly appreciate all of their support, but they wanted to choose the schools that I applied to, how I phrased my personal statement, and even the order of bullet points in my resumes,” says Rachna Shah, a freshman at Dartmouth. “I was able to convince them that my application needs to be my own voice, [but] I also compromised with [them], applying to certain schools based off of their recommendations.”

Parents inevitably take some sort of position in the process, but since it is centered around you, the applicant, it’s your responsibility to assure your parent they’re doing their part and that they’ve raised you to have the judgment they want to be applied to each decision making stage.

Related: How to Narrow Down Your College Application List So You Won't Have Regrets

3. Clearly communicate

Complaints can outweigh communication in the exchange between the stress-induced applicant and parent, the often astronomical price of tuition not making it easier on either. It's difficult to break the news that you’re feeling suffocated by your parents if they will be the ones providing the financing.

A subtle yet explicit way to express feeling overwhelmed is to ask your parents to agree to one day of the week where you discuss college. “And ONLY one day a week. This brings the stress level way down,” says Scott White, a college counselor at Montclair High School.

This will allow you both to really indulge in less combative conversation and express all of your well formulated thoughts, given that you’ve refrained from doing so the rest of the week.

If your parents are still making you feel like a passenger in the process after declaring this designated discussion period, you’ll have to tell them you want to be the driver. Share with them how your teachers and counselors reinforce the importance of taking responsibility and determining the fate of your own future at this time. You can even share your own findings and articles with them.

Chris Teare, a Columbia graduate and now admissions director, says it’s imperative that “the essay or personal statement [sounds] like a 17 or 18-year-old wrote it. Where guidance and help from concerned parents, teachers, and counselors are concerned, the essay must be your own, no one else’s. I know what sounds natural. So does everyone in college admissions. We have well-tuned ears.”

Teare's advice shows the importance of keeping a consistent, authentic voice throughout the application that can’t be achieved with too much parent intervention; finding input from reputable individuals like this will surely support your argument. They usually provide contacts, too—don't be afraid to reach out to a professional who's already made themselves an online source.

4. Outline both of your responsibilities

After respectfully requesting control over the driver’s seat, you should outline which responsibilities you want to take on yourself compared to those you want your parent to help with. You may want to ask them to look over all completed parts of the application, do research, handle FAFSA, or other tasks that make them more of an assistant but are also necessary.

Convey how much you value and require their emotional and financial support, as well as their personal preferences and requests regarding how you navigate the college process. Have you told your parents what it is exactly that you want for the future? They should know your goals, ambitions, and how you wish to attain them through college, even if you feel the restrictions they place upon your choices limit your aspirations. If they do, express that you feel suppressed, and ask for more explanation regarding their preferences.

Emphasize how you wouldn’t be able to go through the process without them, but draw the boundary where their participation remains beneficial. It’s important to express gratitude.

5. Imagine the opposite

Your parent’s involvement may be adding to your stress, but imagine if it were the other way around.

“I wish my parents were more involved in my college process. It was so stressful, it took away from my performance in anything else that required my attention during that time,” says Drew Lofaro, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. “I felt extremely alone, but I ended up getting into Penn. It was rewarding, going through the process alone meant doing endless research and other indirectly related things that my parents could have been doing. Although it paid off, it’s a really difficult time to even think back on.”

Parents just want to see their work pay off, too. Reassure your seemingly or actually meddling parent that they can trust the ability of their greatest work—you.

After accurately assesing your situation, initiating taking control, and clearly communicating the outined responsibilites of each of you, you should feel less of a burden. You'll probably feel more of a burden as far as the work goes, but that's how it should be and what you wanted! Don’t forget, this means regularly going into the counselor’s office yourself, waiting in the line of students who also don’t want their parent to call.

In the meantime, trust that your college application and admission process will all work out the way it's meant to be. Good luck, pre-collegiettes!

About The Author

A graduate of Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts where I majored in dance and a current student at Pace University. I'm now a Business Economics major, minoring in English and an artist at heart. I'm most likely somewhere in NYC sipping an iced coffee while silently correcting grammar. Follow me on instagram @angelalaurito and twitter @annngggg to get a closer look!