College is supposed to be the best time of our lives, so it’s no wonder that parents get excited when their kids begin the application process. From touring campuses, attending information sessions, writing essays, and completing interviews, there are so many aspects of preparation before you even get into college. Sometimes parents become too involved in the experience and obsess about your future acceptances.
You might feel an overbearing pressure to get into all of your reach schools or their alma mater; this pressure could eventually become too much and blow up in all of your faces. To prevent a nuclear explosion from happening and protect your relationship with your parents, follow this three-step guide to handling their obsession with your college process.
1. Acknowledge their enthusiasm and support.
At one point or another, many of us have been pushed into something our parents love. This could’ve been playing soccer or doing ballet as a kid. Parents love to live vicariously through their children. It’s not at all surprising when the same thing happens when you start applying to colleges. Kate*, a junior at New York University, had been expected to go to Penn State her whole life.
“Since the day I was born, my parents had been pushing me to go to Penn State,” she says. “Everyone in my family has gone there, so it was kind of expected I’d follow the tradition. I felt more and more pressure as my parents set up weekend visits without my knowledge and started buying me apparel that I didn’t want. Finally, I told them I appreciated everything they’d done, but I needed to make my own decisions.”
Kate handled the situation in the best possible way. Even though she didn’t want to go to her parents’ alma mater, she made it clear that the support was appreciated. However, she needed to make her own decisions about where to apply because it was her life. Of course, your parents might be hurt at first, but they’ll understand eventually and hopefully come around. Miranda*, a freshman at Johns Hopkins University, had problems with her parents’ excessive bragging.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to college,” she says. “My parents were ecstatic when I showed them my list of potential colleges, but in that moment, I didn’t think they’d want to get involved in the process. They didn’t know anything about it. That didn’t stop them from bragging to everyone they knew. Eventually, I had to tell them I loved how excited they were for me, but I hadn’t even gotten into college yet.”
When broaching the topic of your parents’ obsession, it’s important to start with the positive. They’re less likely to get defensive if they know you value their input. Blaming them or beginning with negative criticism of how they’re too controlling will only lead to more problems and arguments.
2. Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
Now that you’ve acknowledged your parents’ effort in a positive light, it’s time to get down to business and set boundaries. In any experience as important and taxing as applying to colleges, you should create ground rules for both yourself and others. You’re going to have to set boundaries with your parents before heading off to college, so you might as well start now. Elle*, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, took small but effective precautions when letting her mom become involved in reviewing her essays.
“My mom is an English teacher, so I knew when I started applying to colleges that she’d want to help me with my essays. With my school assignments in the past, letting her proofread meant changing entire paragraphs,” she says. “I didn’t want that to happen with these essays because I wanted them to be written in my own voice. As a precaution, I only let her read PDFs of my drafts.”
The boundaries don’t have to be complicated. It could be as simple as asking for more space, toning down the enthusiasm, or in Miranda’s case, waiting to celebrate until she received an acceptance.
“I told my parents they could brag to whoever they wanted once I actually got into at least one school. I didn’t want my relatives and friends to get their hopes up in case I got rejected from the top-tier universities,” she says.
If you know your parents are the type to push boundaries, write down the rules in a contract. Have them both sign it and then talk about what each rule entails. Keep it an open and civil discussion. In the days and weeks following the sit-down, make sure you stick to the contract, or you might find your parents continuing the behavior you disliked in the first place. It’s just as much your responsibility to remind them as it is theirs to listen.
3. Make sure to keep your parents in the loop
Even though there’s a clear understanding between you and your parents, it’s still important to keep them involved somewhat. College application season can be extremely stressful, so you wouldn’t want to keep all of those feelings inside. Let your parents know when you’re nervous about an upcoming deadline or confused about an essay prompt. Submitting applications can also bring a huge sense of relief. Celebrate each submission as a tiny victory, but tell your parents because maybe they’ll surprise you with a treat!
“I think it’s only fair to update your folks once in awhile about how the college applications are going. They want you to have the best chance of getting in and having the best four years of your life,” says Erica*, a junior at Millersville University. “Maybe they think that’ll be at their alma mater, but even if you disagree, let them in a little bit.”
Bailee*, a sophomore at Boston University, found a healthy balance after talking about boundaries with her parents. She was able to keep her privacy while working on applications, but afterward, she shared her work.
“When I was applying to colleges, my parents were super nosy. I know they only wanted to help and support me, but I wanted to keep the experience personal. They only knew what colleges were on my list. They didn’t know any of the essay prompts or details of my Common App,” she says. “After I overheard my mom saying how hurt she was, I decided to let them in a bit more. Whenever I submitted an application, I let them read an essay or two.”
Applying to college comes with enough stress without having your parents obsess over every step of the process. Whether they want you to get into a high-caliber program or a prestigious university, please recognize their over-the-top excitement stems from love. They care about where you spend the next four years of your life and what you do with them. This doesn’t mean you don’t deserve some privacy and control while working on applications. Just be sure to deal with your parents in a mature manner and use open communication. That way everyone’s content, and it’ll make talking to them about financial aid or other logistical information much easier.