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High School

3 Ways to Help Your Student With College Applications

Guest Contributor


By Julie L. Bortoli

As a high school counselor, I often ask students to log into their Common Application account or college-specific application portal. This is usually because they have a question or need clarification on an item.

It's commonplace for students to tell me that they don't know their login information, or that their parents completed the application on their behalf.

In that awkward moment, the student may feel inadequate or ashamed, and their confidence has been shaken.

I realize that convenience, your own nervous energy, or your student’s lack of motivation may fuel your desire to start (or finish!) their applications. However, I urge you to resist the temptation to complete college applications for your high school senior.

There is a better way to approach this.

Senior Year Is Tough

Senior year of high school is a time of transition. Students are acutely aware that their whole lives will soon change.

Up until this point in their existence, almost everything has been structured for them. They know what to expect from high school, their sports teams, their friendships and relationships. They can count on their 5:30 p.m. band practice or their 6:00 a.m. weight lifting.

The thought of it all changing evokes a very real sense of fear. Some students may be undecided on their plans, and not even sure about the idea of college at all. Quite a few seniors haven't had an opportunity to make many adult-like decisions, so the prospect of these kinds of decisions coming hard and fast as they wrap up high school and head to college is overwhelming.

You are likely to notice changes this year — some of which may be scary for you, too. If your student starts to “check out” of high school early, it may also be a natural part of their transition to college.

Not a Lack of Motivation

For many parents, their student’s hesitancy to start or complete college applications and essays is stress-inducing. Keep in mind that this is a completely new experience for them. They are likely very nervous about the process and not even sure how to begin.

I like to recommend that students begin to create accounts for the application portals and complete the basic information portions for their applications in the summer, just before their senior year classes resume. Have them complete as much information as they are able to without assistance. This way, they will have a head start on the task and won't have to face this mountain while they are also adjusting to their senior classes.

Encourage them to see their high school counselor as soon after their return to school as possible so they can ensure that the information about their high school is accurate and that transcripts will be sent promptly.

To make the most out of their appointment with their counselor, have your student prepare a list of questions, even if directed by you.

3 Ways to Help!

  1. Set up a time to sit down with your student and review the websites, databases and logins that they'll need to get started. Talk about the possibility of applying Early Decision and/or Early Action to the schools on their list and help them make decisions about this.
  2. Sit with them only for the first application. Guide them through it, but do not hover. Wait for them to ask you a question, rather than dictating the experience.
  3. Help them set a goal of completion and break down the entire task into smaller, more manageable parts.

Completing their applications on their own is a rite of passage. It is one of the first adult steps they get to take. Doing so will give them a sense of ownership and accomplishment, and empower them to begin their collegiate experience on their own.

This is a time for you to trust all of the efforts you have made as parents. As difficult as it is to take a step back, when you do so, you allow your student to step forward with confidence.

Julie L. Bortoli, MA, NCC, LPC, has been a school counselor in the Chicago suburbs for 16 years. She earned her BA from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a MA in Political and Justice Studies from Governors State University, and a MA in School Counseling and Guidance from Lewis University. Throughout her years as a counselor, Julie has assisted countless students with their post-secondary plans and the college admission process. She is an advisor with My College Planning Team.
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