Even the best students are not accepted by every school. Depending on each college's individual pool of applicants and needs, admission officers may accept your child or they may be looking for a student with slightly different, not necessarily better, skills. Avoid only considering attendance at one of the highly selective schools, and don't equate being denied with failure. Remember that even if your child does everything right, he or she may not—for reasons totally beyond his or her control—get accepted. The truth of the matter is that college admissions is always a gamble to some degree. Even the most qualified and deserving students are sometimes denied, simply because the college does not have enough space in the freshman class.
Plus, as you already know, success in life is not dependent on where you go to school but on what you do there. All colleges (including Harvard and other ivy-league schools) produce their share of losers. In the end, the best rule is to support your child in his or her decision and to be positive throughout the application process.
Once your student has been accepted to several of the schools to which he or she applied, give your child as much freedom as your checkbook can allow in making the final choice. After all, it is your child—not you—who is going to be at the school for the next four years. Obviously, since you are probably the one who will foot a good part of the bill, you can express your preferences to your child; but for the most part, let him or her choose among the schools you can afford. Be as supportive as possible about which school your child wants to attend and emphasize that you are proud of him or her, whatever the final decision may be. After all, it matters less which college your child goes to than what he or she makes of the experience.
Of course you want to focus on the admissions side of the whole college equation; but as a parent, it is also your responsibility to look at how to pay for it. While there are many options and strategies (we encourage you to explore the other guides on this subject), the best advice that we can give you is to create a plan and then share that plan with your child. You need to address the challenge of paying for college and how it will affect you as a family. The only way you can expect your son or daughter to pitch in is if you clearly explain the family's financial situation and what each of you will need to do in terms of saving, working and applying for scholarships and financial aid to make college affordable.
As you can see, successful college students are not created overnight. Truthfully, there is no regimen that you should have been prescribing for your child since birth. But preparing for college admittance in advance does allow your child to select courses, get involved in activities and cultivate relationships with teachers that will help him or her tremendously when it comes time to apply to college. By becoming knowledgeable about the admissions process yourself, you can encourage your child to make decisions that will make him or her a stronger candidate.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.