A few years ago, a school counselor I worked with received a call from an exasperated admissions officer. The purpose of the call? To inform the counselor that repeated calls from a mother were seriously jeopardizing her son’s application.
College admissions representatives are passionate about helping students, and are patient… except when that patience is tested by parents who seem more invested in the admissions process than their students. This pushing of the communication boundary can put a student at a serious disadvantage.
There are definite “dos and don’ts” for talking to college admissions and financial aid officers. In the majority of instances where contacting a college is necessary, it should almost always be the student communicating in a polite and courteous manner.
Consider this fair warning:
“When a colleague puts down the phone and exclaims, ‘That person was rude!’ I would immediately ask which applicant or prospective student was involved. Once the applicant or prospect is identified, a note gets promptly placed in the student’s file. Duly noted!”— José Román, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Yale University.
What are the boundaries for communicating with colleges? Here are some guidelines for students and parents:
DO BE THIS STUDENT WHEN TALKING WITH COLLEGES
Open your emails from colleges! Some colleges use this as “tracking” of interest or a sign of “demonstrated interest“; if you don’t open their email, or open it weeks later, you look disinterested. Feel free to respond with a brief “thank you for the information.”
Do you have an opportunity to do a college admissions interview? DO IT. Follow up with a thank-you note.
Create a portal account and frequently check the submission/completion status of your materials. Respond in a timely manner (read: immediately) to requests for missing or additional information.
Does your portal show a missing document? Check for errors/omissions on your end first, or check with your school counselor, before making contact with the college.
Be courteous and polite in every interaction -especially with the person answering the phone.
Write thank-you notes to your counselor and recommendation writers.
DON’T BE THAT STUDENT
Don’t call with a question that’s easily answered with diligence on your part. Example: “When can I expect an admissions decision?” They are either going to post a definitive decision date, or not.
If they don’t post one, it’s because they aren’t committing to a decision date for a variety of reasons, and that is their prerogative. Calling them likely won’t clarify it.
Take a deep breath, and be patient. Call an admissions officer only if you cannot locate your answer anywhere on the website, in your portal, or in your emails/letters from the school. This is a waste of everyone’s time. Calling “just because” does not make you look interested, it makes you look incompetent.
DO BE THIS PARENT WHEN TALKING WITH COLLEGES
Let your student take the lead on necessary communications with colleges and school counselors. Talk with your student beforehand, write down insightful questions and talking points, but only your student should be picking up the phone or sending an email.
Check your student’s portal for the financial aid status of your submission, and respond in a timely manner to any requests for additional information. (NOTE: this is very common, so don’t be alarmed.) This is the realm of the parent in most cases.
If a call to a Financial Aid office is needed, be prepared and do some research ahead of time. Colleges are very good at communicating exactly what they need. If you have extenuating circumstances (loss of job, sudden illness affecting income, etc.), absolutely make contact.
Stay positive and encouraging. It’s a very stressful time for students.
DON’T BE THAT PARENT
Don’t call an admissions officer. Ever. This is your student’s responsibility.
Have a conversation with your student, write down your questions/concerns, and have your student call or email. Don’t encourage your student to call unless there is a very good reason, and it’s a question to which you can’t find the answer anywhere.
Colleges are looking for mature, responsible students to join their communities – not students who need their parents to step in and direct. Being a helicopter parent is not going to improve the chances for your student’s admission, and it could very likely hurt it.
Letting your student take responsibility in the admissions process is a win-win situation. You are instilling confidence in your student that you trust their ability to handle their own affairs. In doing so, you allow a college admissions officer the opportunity to communicate with a confident, informed, responsible student.
Incidentally, this is also great practice for what’s about to come: NO staff member of ANY department at ANY college will discuss ANYTHING with you without your student’s express permission. (This is only a slight exaggeration.)
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