Like it or not, change is the only constant in college admissions. While this ever-shifting landscape makes for exciting work as college counselors, we know that unpredictability can create stress for students, who have to manage so much already as budding adults.

But let’s not forget that the actual adults – namely parents – have a lot to manage, too!

We all aspire to see our children succeed and thrive. Yet, in our eagerness to help them, it’s possible to inadvertently add unnecessary pressure. That’s why Moxie, in alignment with the valuable insights from the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, regularly shares important guidance with parents to help them define and stay true to the kind of love and support they work so hard to provide their children. Among many resources, the Making Caring Common Project raises awareness about easy-to-miss “red flags” for adults whose only aim is to help students through critical phases, such as college admissions.

Identifying Red Flags for Parents

1. Excessive Focus on Perceived Prestige of Colleges: There is nothing wrong with wanting to be proud of where you attend college or even factoring in how others view its reputation. However, believing that only “elite” colleges can ensure success can limit your child’s view of their options and potential. This is not hard to agree with, but it can be hard to live by. Remember, where you go to college is important to the extent it impacts how you go to college.

2. Overemphasis on Comparing Academic Data: We are all more than just students. When the focus on grades and test scores compromises other important elements of your student’s life, it invariably leads to stress and distraction. Obsessing over numerical data, such as GPA and test scores, or worse, comparing that data with others is never a useful approach.

3. Viewing High School Activities as an Audition for Admissions: Encouraging participation in activities for the sake of college applications will frankly backfire. More importantly, this view leads to a regrettable lack of authenticity, engagement, and personal growth.

4. Losing Perspective: How often do adults think about where they went to college? A lot less frequently than high schoolers think about where they will attend. Constant discussions about college admissions at home can make it seem like their entire lives were meant to lead up to this one goal, contributing to a high-stress environment and possibly impacting your child’s mental health. It’s important to realize that college admissions outcomes are decided by an array of factors, most of which have nothing to do with your child or their application’s qualities.

5. Misunderstanding the Real Achievement: Your child’s real success does not depend on the admissions outcomes, over which they have far less control than most realize. It is found in the way they approach this process. At Moxie, we always say that our #1 goal is for students (and parents) to look back on this journey and think to themselves, “I wouldn’t have done anything differently” – whatever the outcomes may be.

Fostering a Healthier Approach

Recognizing these red flags is the first step towards fostering a healthier, more supportive approach to college admissions with your kids. At Moxie, we encourage parents to:

1. Be Curious: We don’t know what we don’t know. Come to this process with an open mind and a focus on what will help your child unfold into the best version of themselves. Exploring a diverse range of colleges that align with your child’s interests and optimize their strengths will make the college search journey a lot more fun.

2. Prioritize What’s Really Important: Your child’s health, development, and fulfillment matter most. Rarely does success come without growing pains. Don’t be afraid of your child’s experiencing at least some disappointment, set-backs, and mistakes – however tempting it is to help them preemptively dodge them.

3. Know the “Secret” to College Admissions: Drum roll…it’s living authentically. Truly. Moxie has amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience, including direct input from college admissions offices, and it’s indisputable. Literally, no admissions officer will place anything higher than genuineness. Help your children to never lose sight of this.

4. Nurture Open Communication: Rather than give unsolicited advice—even really, really good advice—offer it. Ask your kid whether and how you can help. Of course, sometimes you have to make an executive decision as a parent – just be mindful of when and why you may choose to nudge them. And of course, the best communication usually happens when we say nothing so we can listen.

Parents: Your Essential Role

As parents, your understanding and support are irreplaceable. Both an awareness of these “red flags” and your susceptibility to them will help you fulfill the role you want to play in this part of your kid’s life during this time.

Though applying to college is a significant step, the outcomes do not become the sole determinant of your child’s future success and fulfilment. Our team is here to provide guidance and support for your family throughout this journey. Feel free to reach out for personalized advice and assistance.