Is it wrong to be your kid’s administrative assistant?

by Grace

Many parents believe there are valid reasons for acting as your kid’s administrative assistant in the college application process.  Here is how one mother expressed it in a CollegeConfidential thread:

I feel a like a helicopter mom… but my kid is so busy with 4 AP classes, tons of EC’s, and writing application essays like crazy. I’d rather she focus on getting A’s and writing good essays; I’ll happily do the labels and envelopes and online ordering.

College admissions is a high-stakes game, so I agree with this.

I am a helicopter mom when it comes to the college admissions because of one simple reason – it costs alot of money. I’m not just going to let my child go with it….

Kids tend to take the world as they find it, so unless the parent seeks out and presents opportunities, the kid is likely to miss some good ones. That’s been my primary role in the college search: suggesting colleges, arranging trip logistics, researching FA information and filling out EFC calculators.

In some cases, kids going it alone have needed therapy!

… Our D handled the entire college application process all by herself without asking or accepting any help from me or my husband. I’d like to point out that she was accepted to every single college she applied to. She applied for scholarships by herself and was awarded a full academic scholarship at the college she is currently attending.

The entire process was EXTREMELY STRESSFUL for her and she began to suffer from anxiety and depression for the first time in her life. We ended up getting her counseling. She is doing much, much better now….

D was very adamant about handling the entire admissions process without any assistance. I offered to help out on numerous occasions, but she firmly declined my offers. Even though it was extremely stressful, I believe that she gained a great deal of self-confidence. Believe me, I hated to see her suffer from anxiety. Her therapist agrees that she is a much stronger person now that she realizes that she is capable of handling life’s challenges on her own….

What’s the deal?  Can’t the average kid handle the college application process on his own without ending up on the therapist’s couch?  Why are parents so involved?

  • It’s very expensive.  Parents who want to be sure they’re getting the best deal feel they need to step in because their child is not savvy enough to handle that aspect of the college search.
  • It’s very competitive.  Applications often need to be packaged in a way that will make them stand out in the increasingly sophisticated enrollment management  process.
  • It makes a difference.  Adding or removing a college from the list, not missing an important deadline, and suggesting essay topics can be key in opening up opportunities that otherwise would have been missed if a parent had let their kid go it alone.

Our local school guidance counselor did a terrific job in overseeing the college application process a few years ago, but from what I’ve read this is very unusual.  Many high schools are understaffed or poorly informed, leaving students to fumble through the college choices, applications, recommendation letters and financial aid information on their own.  Lucky is the kid whose parent will step in to help.

9 Responses to “Is it wrong to be your kid’s administrative assistant?”

  1. If you the parent are going to be paying for college, then it does make sense to be involved in the process. Parents certainly should cooperate in order to fill out financial aid forms (although unfortunately, many refuse). Even if the parent is unable to help financially, there’s a role to be played in steering kids away from 3rd-tier schools with aggressive marketing and high tuition as well as good schools where the loans will wind up being crushing at the salary level that it is realistic to expect for that major.

    For comic relief:


  2. I was applying for college in the very early 90s. I only applied to three colleges. Some of the forms I did, some my dad did. It wasn’t hard to deal with the deadlines, but then again, it was only three colleges.

    My dad’s more important contribution to the project was SAT math prep and to make sure that I took the SAT early and often, which was very unusual at the time.


  3. “I ended up applying to 10 schools. This was in 1978.”

    Holy cow! You were an early adapter.

    “My parents, though, did contribute to a huge mistake. I applied to 9 out of state public universities (U of Michigan, for example, U of Washington, and some others) and one private. I was accepted at all 10 schools, but only got enough financial aid from the one private school. It turns out that you should never bother with out of state public schools if you need financial aid, because they don’t have it for out of staters.”

    Yep. It should be either in-state public or good private, if money is an issue.

    I grew up in Washington so we had UW. However, it’s very easy to discount how big a deal the flagship school in your state is when you’re a high school senior and it doesn’t sound at all prestigious because it’s in your backyard. I have two young WA relatives who went to much less prestigious colleges in Colorado (one public, one private), largely (and this is very embarrassing) just because they wanted to enjoy the Colorado skiing.


  4. Then there was my girl cousin who got accepted to one of those prestigious colleges that are famous for 1) excellence in STEM and almost nothing else and 2) having almost no female students. She started with a major in the sciences and then switched to political science. She could have gone to hundreds of (cheaper) colleges in the US and gotten a political science degree that was worth just as much.

    Fortunately, her family is very well off and can absorb this sort of boo-boo, but what a waste! She could have had a much more fun experience at a more normal college if she wasn’t going to do STEM.


  5. “there’s a role to be played in steering kids away from 3rd-tier schools with aggressive marketing and high tuition as well as good schools where the loans will wind up being crushing at the salary level that it is realistic to expect for that major.”

    So true, but unfortunately sometimes the parents are clueless, too. In those cases, maybe it’s better if the parents stay out of it.


  6. Yes, Bonnie – 10 schools! Wow – very unusual for back then.

    I really could have used help from someone in the application process because I did not take advantage of opportunities that existed at the time. Maybe that’s part of why I’ve become so involved in this process today. However, I know there will almost always be missed opportunities and mistakes, only to be realized in hindsight.


  7. I think most of the exceptions to the “little aid for OOS students” rule are probably the less attractive state schools that are trying to recruit for diversity or other reasons. I wrote about Truman State, which is in a very rural location in Missouri.

    And then there’s SUNY Plattsburgh, that offers scholarships to OOS C-students!


  8. When I was looking for a college for myself, one of the options that arrived in my mailbox was from a women’s college named Sweet Briar. At the time and given my experience level, it looked exactly as important as all of the more prominent colleges that sent me advertising. Fast forward twenty years. I have literally never heard anything about Sweet Briar again, which gives you a picture of what sort of mistake it would have been to go to a women’s college that sounds like the name of a My Little Pony.



%d bloggers like this: