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5 Tips for Helicopter Parents as Your Teen Applies to College
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5 Tips for Helicopter Parents as Your Teen Applies to College

Applying to college is one of the most challenging times for both teens and their parents. In addition to building their résumés, filling out lengthy applications, taking stressful standardized tests, teens and parents should recognize that applying to college is the first of several new responsibilities.

Whether your teen is applying to schools far away or closer to home, college is a time for them to develop more independence and adjust to a greater degree of self-sufficiency. It’s up to you as a parent whether you’ll hover over your teen or serve as ground support throughout the process.

1. How much is too much parental intervention?

What’s the boundary between wanting what’s best for your child and being a helicopter parent, perched too low? According to studies, helicopter parenting-hovering-can actually cause their children a disservice. Teens who aren’t used to solving problems independently or who aren’t even superficially acquainted with failure tend to take fewer risks in their lives, and don’t develop the critical foundation they will need to be resilient further down the road.

Helicopter parenting ensures that college applicants have the resources that they’ll need, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the students will know what to do when they get to college without that comforting presence hovering above them.

2. Use the application to foster independence in your teen.

While there are no rules or guidelines that quantify how much help is too much, it is important to remember that it is the student who is applying for admission-not the parents. As such, students should be encouraged to find their voice in applications and convey to admissions committees what they—not their parents—are passionate about. If they have questions, students, not parents, should contact the admissions offices.

3. Admissions officers will recognize the work of a parent.

As scary and difficult as it sounds, parents must let go and only support their teens as they’re completing college applications instead of doing the work for them. College is the time for parents to step back and send their young adults into the world to figure out how to solve their own problems and learn from their mistakes. But that doesn’t mean parents have to let go entirely, or act as a satellite parent so far away in space that you’re uninvolved entirely.

4. Help your teen develop their résumé with summer travel.

Participating in a culturally-immersive summer travel program for high school students is a great way your teen can improve their college résumé. A program like FIJI SAT and Service Immersion Program that combines 80+ hours of SAT prep with meaningful community service in rural Fiji. Not only will your teen learn important academic skills, but their travel experience will help them develop key non-cognitive skills associated with future success.

Letting your teen travel is also a great way to get more comfortable with them being away from home, even if it’s just for a couple of weeks.

5. Empower your teen to soar without you.

As their teens prepare to attend college, including during the application process, parents should take the opportunity to trade in the license to fly and transition to the role of air traffic controllers, serving as ground support ensuring that their young adults are able to take off. This doesn’t mean your role as a parent is ending. Instead, your role will shift as your teen becomes more independent and self-sufficient. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t need you to offer advice and wisdom as they encounter new challenges throughout their life.

Learn more about Rustic Pathways’ partnership with JCT4Education and how your teen can participate in SAT prep during an immersive travel experience. 

About the Author

Juan Camilo Tamayo

Contributing Writer

Juan Camilo Tamayo is a Higher Education Consultant for JCT4Education. His 20-year career in higher education has given him extensive and successful experience in guiding families through the process of choosing and applying to colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. He is also the Vice President of Government Relations with the International Association for College Admission Counseling.