College Applications: “Too Many Cooks” In Your Child’s Kitchen

The college application process is a lot like raising a child: everybody has an opinion on how to do it right.

Too Many Cooks

Everyone from family members to perfect strangers will force advice on your child, whether they like it or not. New moms often hear things like, “You’re holding him too much,” or, “Only buy organic everything.” Similarly, college applicants get barraged with, “Admissions committees prefer SAT over ACT,” “Only apply early if you know you can get in,” or “Don’t write an essay like that—it’s weird.”

Where does application advice come from?

The desire to give application advice comes from a good place, but blindly following all of it would be silly, something most people inherently understand. The real danger occurs when a child is in the midst of the application process and her/his group of trusted advisors—let’s call them Team Acceptance (TA)—is pulling them every which way, lobbing advice bombs as s/he tries to navigate the treacherous admissions battlefield, which is already studded with volatile landmines. Everyone on TA really wants to help the applicant, but they can sometimes do more harm than good, especially if there are just too many cooks in the proverbial application planning kitchen.

Who’s on Team Acceptance?

Before we delve into how to remedy this situation, let’s first break it down in order to understand it. The members of TA can be varied, but usually include your child’s guidance/college counselor, YOU (the parent), an older sibling or two, and close friends. Great advice can (and does) come from all of these sources, but it can be dangerous when someone is hearing it from everyone at once. Plus, your child is already anxious about applying for college.

To complicate matters further, each individual team member believes that he or she should be trusted above all others.

  • Your child’s guidance counselor says, “Hey, this is what I do for a living.”
  • You (the parents) might say: “We’re older and wiser and understand the way the world works, honey.”
  • Elder siblings say, “I’ve already successfully made it through this process.”
  • Your child’s friends say, “The way I’m doing it is right… people on my TA said so.”

So… who should your child listen to? And how can they make sure the advice they’re getting is sound? And how can YOU help them?

All your child needs to do is follow the simple steps of this admissions recipe:

STEP 1: Clear the kitchen.

There needs to be a calm before the application storm, one where your child can compose herself/himself and set the stage for a successful application process. This involves getting everyone from TA out of the kitchen, at least for a moment.

Your child should be researching where they want to apply on their own, to ensure that the opinions of others don’t cloud her/his judgment or influence decisions. Members of TA will have, even you might, but your child might discover that they feel the opposite. Regardless of whether grandpa thinks “Brown is full of hippies!” your child may research the school, visit the campus, and find a vibrant and wonderful place full of students from diverse backgrounds. If they had listened to grandpa, they wouldn’t have made this discovery on their own.

STEP 2: Your child should decide who knows them best.

Which member or members of TA know your child on a deep, personal level? The answer to this will vary for each applicant. If they’re unsure who it would be, they should ask themselves who they’d go to first for advice on a potentially life-changing decision. The reason to seek application help from this person is because he or she is someone who can speak honestly about them, referencing both their strengths and weaknesses. This may be YOU. It may not be.

When they ask for feedback on a draft of their personal statement, for instance, they’ll be able to receive frank and constructive advice. Someone who doesn’t truly know them will be more likely to steer them in the wrong direction based on personal biases: “Oh no, don’t write about that. Write about this. I think it says more about you.” Unfortunately, students often take this bad advice simply because they respect the individual giving it to them. But the application process isn’t about the person giving the advice… it’s about the student who’s getting the advice!

STEP 3: Consistency is key.

When seeking advice and feedback from TA, your child should be sure to utilize the same source over and over. We know this sounds obvious, but it’s an easy rule to break. Sometimes the most trusted source will give notes on an essay that the applicant won’t particularly like, so their instinct is to take it to someone else. The problem is that this can steer their work in a wildly different direction. Also, it could be that the seemingly harsh feedback is on point, but it just hurts to hear it. We’re all sensitive creatures when it comes to our writing, especially when we are the subject, but we must remain open-minded to the most constructive criticism. Often, this comes from the TA member who knows your child best.

STEP 4: Outside advice is okay.

This may seem contradictory to the previous step, but trust us that it’s not. Sometimes it’s helpful for your child to get an outside perspective on their work in order to provide an objective viewpoint. This can come from a member of TA, but more often it comes from someone like a teacher, mentor, or other adult. After all, admissions officers are adults who are trying to get to know your child through their application. Your child can discover if their work is accomplishing this by showing it to someone who is outside of the loop.

It’s important that your child takes this feedback with a grain of salt… unless of course they’re getting it from the seasoned professionals here at Admissionado. Shameless product placement—or best advice ever?

Sure, the application process is daunting, but your child doesn’t have to go it alone. Instead of having too many cooks, make sure to help them build a small but solid TA. The advice they receive should elevate and inspire them, rather than drag them down and confuse them. A small yet mighty Team Acceptance is a great place to start.

Need some help with a college application? That’s what we’re here for!

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