Family and the College Search Process

Family and the College Search Process

By Amanda Anderson

Family and the College Search Process

By Amanda Anderson
We’re All in This Together!

Years (admittedly, a decade or two...) ago, I was the oldest child in a first-generation college-bound family, ready to dive headfirst into this process. It was the summer in between my junior and senior year of high school, and I thought I knew it all: what I wanted to study, where I wanted to be, who I would one day become. My parents were just happy to be along for the (literal) ride in our Chrysler Town & Country van. They sweetly laughed as I put together itineraries, lists, and majors that I was interested in at each dot on the printed-out MapQuest map. I know, I’m showing my age.

Campus after campus visited, bellies full of pancakes and orange juice from little diners off the highway, we came back from each trip with brochures and branded t-shirts to stack on the kitchen table. With stories of seemingly magical tours and professors that enchanted us with tales of what was to come in this mysterious post-high school land. The possibility of it all. We were in this together and we might as well have a little fun along the way.

Now that I have worked in college admission for nearly 15 years, I’ve seen innumerable families come into my orbit in their own search for the perfect collegiate fit. Family is an indisputably influential part of this process. Allow me to give a few tips on how to get through this admittedly stressful process together.

1. More than an applicant

Your student is so much more than just a college applicant right now. They are a friend, a student, perhaps a sibling, valued member of a club, or an athlete, all while being a teenager. I have found just how important it is to ensure that you don’t just bring up the college application process at the dinner table every night or while grabbing breakfast every morning. Consider designating specific times during the week to talk all things college. That is the time to check in on how that essay is coming along or how those letters of recommendation are being crafted. The rest of the time, acknowledge those other aspects of their identity. Deliberately help ensure that they know that their status as “applicant” is temporary. What aren’t temporary are all of their other qualities/identities.

2. Visit together

In the years ahead, visiting a college may look different. Depending on the needs and safety of your family, you may choose to determine fit through the wealth of virtual options a college may be offering. You can still make this experience a family one. Join them (even if it is on a separate computer or phone), have their favorite snack at the ready, and let them take the lead.

If visiting in person, allow yourself plenty of time to find campus and to park. I hear more from families that getting to the campuses they visit is the most stressful part of their day. Parents: grab a fancy coffee that morning (you deserve it), make sure you all have eaten—hangry and late doesn’t typically equal a positive experience—and settle in for an immersive experience. Anything you can do to start off with positivity will set the tone for the day and will undoubtedly make for wonderful memories for you all.

3. Let them take the lead

By the end of the college search process, your student is going to find their fit—their home for the next four years. As impossible as this may feel as a family at times, if I assure you of nothing else, please believe me when I say that it will all come together. Letting them lead the process, with gentle encouragement and intentional check-ins, will allow your student to feel empowered in determining their future. Let them make the calls or emails to the admission staff when needed and ask them to sit with you when you reach out to financial aid with questions if they can’t make those calls themselves. This all will allow for a sense of ownership in this process and their future.

Discovering and then applying to colleges will be undeniably memorable for your family. What I hope for you and yours is that it yields positive experiences that you will bring up for years to come. In a decade, they may not remember the essay they wrote, or the content of the presentation they watched on any given campus, but they will remember how you made them feel throughout it all.

You’re in this together, and of course, we’re here to help every step of the way.


Amanda Anderson
Executive Director of Undergraduate Admission