Making the College Application Process Fun for Parents and Teens


For anyone with children under the age of 12, October 31st means costumes, candy and sugar highs.  For those of us with high school seniors, it means early action college applications are due at 11:59pm. Suddenly, you long for the days of running to Target for a missing piece of the princess costume.  I have friends who have threatened “no candy” until applications are submitted, but bribery has never been my style. I am more apt to provide a bowl of candy to fuel the late-night essay writing marathons. Like all parenting milestones you will survive this one, too. 

Well-meaning friends begin asking around 9th grade where you kid is going to college and what they want to major in—you gently remind them your kid is 14 and still wearing braces.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed alongside your child during the college search and application process and but it’s important to remain positive and be a steadying force for your child. 

With a son in college and a daughter who is a senior in high school, here are my top tips for surviving the college search and application process:

  • Turn college visits into mini vacations: Place a premium on dining at local haunts and finding out if Target is within an Uber ride of campus.  Long car rides are a great time to reconnect with your child and get a better idea of what they want their next four years to look like.
  • Help your child make a realistic list of colleges in which to apply:  Prioritize safety and reach schools.  Manage the number: does your kid really need to apply to 17 schools?
  • Visit local schools on the weekends: Get a vibe for what appeals for your child—urban or rural, large or small, contained campus, access to public transportation, or does a short car ride seem too close? Processing these factors locally will help when planning visits to out-of-state schools.
  • Run defense for your child: Are they overwhelmed with answering the “where are you going to college” question? Give them the language to use. “Thank you for asking Mrs. Smith I have received a lot of catalogs and am enjoying learning about my options.”
  • Don’t post every college visit on social media: It adds to the pressure your child will feel and the questions and comments that will follow when you post the photo of the Harvard tour. How your child decides to disclose their process on social media is up to them.
  • There is a school for everyone: Maybe your kid will find his/her people at a tiny school in the middle of nowhere.  That’s ok, check your ego at the mailbox along with your tuition check.  The best we can hope for is a happy child who is comfortable and confident in the choice s/he makes.
  • Follow your child’s lead: At this point you know your kid and the support they will need during the application writing process.  Do they need to be left alone?  Do they need you to help with a spreadsheet of deadlines?  Do they need to be reminded to eat? Support your child in the style that works best for them.
  • Celebrate the victories: After 10 rewrites, the Common App essay is done! Break out the candy and dance.
  • Keep in check what s/he is juggling: Remember everything your child has on their plate the fall semester of senior year: classes, typically a few AP’s; social life (yes, it’s important to commune with friends), sports (where your child may be a captain); a job…and then add 18 essays that will supposedly decide their future.  When you feel yourself getting frustrated about their lack of progress in getting those essays written remind yourself of all they are doing and ask how you can help.
  • Witness the growth: Pay attention to how your child is maturing during the process and be proud of the person you have raised.


After the October 31st deadline passes and the candy has been eaten it’s time to start in on the regular decisions applications, due date January 1st.  Your child won’t want to sit home on New Year’s Eve, so chances are they will be motivated to get their applications in early. Then, you too, can ring in the New Year with a big sigh of relief.




Patricia Corrigan is a higher education professional with 25 years of experience (zero in admissions) and has two children, 19 and 17.



PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.