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Senior Planning

Letters of Recommendation

When applying to private colleges and even some public universities your letter of recommendation plays an important role in presenting yourself in the best light. In requesting a letter from either a teacher or counselor you should be prepared and have a request form filled out to assist them in writing and present them with this request at least 30 days in advance of the application deadline.

Request for Teacher Letter of Recommendation
Request for Counselor Letter of Recommendation
College Course Guide (For the UC Application)

 

Parent's Role in the College Search, Selection, and Application Process

What role should parents play as their students launch into the college search, selection, and application process? Certainly the answer to this question will differ in every family, and will depend on long-established family dynamics and traditions. But ideally, each family will find a happy medium somewhere between the unfortunate extremes of parents procuring and filling out their students' applications and parents ignoring the process altogether. The student should certainly feel that he or she owns the process, from start to finish. Seniors in high school are quite capable of assuming responsibility for this important phase of their lives, and there is no aspect of the process that is not do-able by a competent senior (with the possible exception of writing the checks). Colleges expect students, not parents, to take the lead role. The ideas below are suggestions that work in many families:

Parent help should ideally be offered on the student's terms: if asked, the student will let his/her parents know what kind of assistance will be appreciated and which areas he/she will tackle on their own. Once an agreement has been made, it should be respected (though it could, of course, be revisited at any time during the process).
Certainly, students should be responsible for procuring their own applications and test-registration forms. Those that are not available at school in the Career Center can be sent for easily, either by phone, mail, or the internet.

A parent's pen should never meet paper on the college and scholarship applications. This is absolutely the student's responsibility, from start to finish.

Deadlines as well should-ideally-be the student's responsibility, not the parents'. Since this is frequently an issue in families, it makes sense to set up a system at the very beginning of the senior year: a calendar with deadlines clearly marked, an agreement of what sort of reminders would be welcome, etc. Students who have traditionally relied on parents to remind them of deadlines need to understand that they and only they will suffer the consequences of missed deadlines. Why should a student bother to remember SAT registration deadlines if his parents will pay late fees for him? Make it clear from the start that the student is responsible for all deadlines.

Parents can offer assistance in a variety of areas where it will be welcome and appropriate. Accompanying the student on college visits is a perfect example. This kind of trip can be a great family experience. Once at the college, however, parents must remember to let the student ask most of the questions, to expect the student to spend a night in the dorms while parents stay elsewhere, to listen first to the student's impressions of each campus before offering their own, etc. Another appropriate form of parent assistance is proofreading and offering opinions (IF ASKED!) on college and scholarship applications. But it is the student's voice that must come through on essays and personal statements, not the parents'! Parent assistance will also be welcome in paying college-application fees and other expenses, though certainly many families work out a way for students to share this responsibility as well.

Students and parents will need to collaborate on financial aid applications; often this is the first time that information about family finances is discussed and shared. The FAFSA (universal financial-aid application) requires information about student income and assets as well as parent income and assets. Neither the student nor the parents are capable of completing this application alone, and it must be signed by all. Furthermore, the financial aid offices of many universities prefer to (or insist on) communicating directly with the student, once the student has been admitted. This can be quite a shock in families where parents have concerned themselves with finances and students have been kept in the dark. Clearly at this stage students are becoming adults, and colleges expect them to shoulder financial-aid responsibilities.

Decision making is perhaps the toughest area for parent/student collaboration. Where to apply, what topics to address in application essays, whom to ask for recommendations, what to wear to interviews, and ultimately which college to attend are a few of the potential areas of discussion within families. Again, the decisions must come from the students. Parent input will be accepted and perhaps even welcomed if it is offered in a non-judgmental, open-minded way that acknowledges that the student is the final authority. Often, in cases of family disagreements, a third party respected by both student and parents can be helpful; this might be a family friend, teacher, college advisor, or counselor.

What if a student seems to be avoiding the responsibilities of preparing to go to college? This is a good time for a family to question whether the goals set for the student are the student's own or the those of the parents. Students who habitually resist taking initiative and responsibility for this process may simply not be ready, may need an alternative (a couple of years at community college, for example, rather than immediate attendance at a four-year school), may be resisting plans that have been superimposed by parents with their own agendas. A student who fails to follow through may be trying to convey a message; it would be terrific if this message could be conveyed in thoughtful and patient family conversations rather than horn-locking episodes. Perhaps some assumptions have been made for years that need to be questioned.

The college-application process is not an easy one for families, but it can be a truly exciting and collaborative time, if parents and students discuss their respective roles ahead of time and agree on what will work. It's all part of the letting-go process, and it's all new. But what a perfect time for the student to test those wings that will need to be fly-ready by the college freshman year!