How to Best Help Your Student in the College Process

October 19, 2016

by College Counselor Kellie Lewis

The college application process tends to evoke many emotions all at once. Each fall, the seniors come in one at a time and take a seat at my desk. The first thing I ask them is, “how are you feeling?” Some students smile and respond with, “great!” or “I’m excited!” However, most of them respond with “overwhelmed” or they sit quietly and play with the items on my desk in front of them. The next question I ask is, “how involved is your family in your college process?” The answers to this question also vary. Some students believe their family is too involved, some are figuring it all out on their own and some say it is the perfect amount. I think it is important for parents to think through what the right amount of involvement looks like for their family. Every student is going to need something different from their parents during this time, but a commonality I see in students who are feeling supported is that their parents have built a healthy involvement level. This is a balance that looks different for everyone.

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It is crucial that students take ownership of their process. In a matter of months, they will find themselves on a college campus without a parent, and they need to understand what it means to advocate for themselves, meet deadlines and think critically about what their priorities are. Applying for colleges gives them great experience in all of these areas. This truly is the student’s process. The student should be active in forming their college list from the beginning. By researching possible schools, they are able to build excitement around details like roommates, sports, travel, campus traditions, unlimited cereal bar, etc. This helps the idea of college become more real and concrete for them and less abstract. Our ninth graders at King’s visit two college campuses each fall. King’s began doing this because we want to build enthusiasm for our students around the possibility of college and allow them to attach to some of these details that will hopefully push them to eventually apply.

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That being said, families play a key role in helping the student feel supported, encouraged and empowered. Some students need their parents to talk with them about the college experience without making it a list of to dos. Others will need their parents to sit down with them and map out a timeline for them to follow. One thing that students continue to tell me is that they appreciate when their parents talk with them about things other than college. This process can feel all-consuming and students can feel like college is the only thing they are asked about in this season. When parents can be the ones who talk about life outside of this process it helps decrease stress.

Each family dynamic is different and each process will look different. From what I have seen, the parts of the process that are great for parents to be a part of are: visiting college campuses, proof reading applications and essays and filing the FAFSA. I believe the best thing a parent can do in this process is to ask their student what they need. This helps them take ownership and decreases stress. It also follows the model that we practice with students at King’s.

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Counselor Kellie Lewis with King’s CWU-bound student, Marta

Kellie Lewis is the College Counselor at King’s High School. Her passion is to walk beside students as they navigate future plans beyond high school. She also serves as Advisor for both ASB and King’s Social Justice.