Dear Miss School Manners: The college application paper chase has only just begun and already, I’m losing my mind. I want to make absolutely sure that my kid gets it all done … but if he can’t get it together to do college apps on his own, how will he survive college? And when does “helping” turn into “helicoptering”? Signed, Panicked in the East Bay
Dear Panicked: We’re relieved to say that very few college students have to navigate IRS-worthy volumes of paperwork, high-stakes exams, and half a dozen different life-altering essays all at once. Not till grad school applications roll around, anyway. So helping him organize those papers and deadlines? Good. Writing his essays and hounding him about your alma mater? Not good.
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“How to Survive Getting Your Kid Into College” (a Hundreds of Heads book ) devotes an entire chapter to overboard parents, with pretty hilarious examples. There’s the Texas mom who realized she’d gone too far when the receptionist at her kid’s first choice college started answering the phone with, “Hi, Gloria, what can I do for you today?” And the Nevada parent who waited until her son was away for the weekend, then sneaked into his room to check on his applications. The essay he’d left on top was titled, “My Mother is Crazy.” “He totally set me up,” she said.
So here’s the rule, the book says, “If you ever find yourself signing your child’s name, writing in his voice, speaking in his stead, contacting every alumnus you can find or contacting the admissions office on a regular basis, you’ve gone overboard.” And you may have jeopardized his chances for admission too.
So what can you do? Act as a sounding board. Help him get organized in whatever manner suits him best, whether that’s an Excel spreadsheet that lists every deadline, or a cardboard box full of folders. Offer to proofread the finished essays or encourage him to take advantage of the college essay writing workshops offered at many schools. Love him. Love him some more. And strongly, passionately, enthusiastically urge him not to wait till the last minute to file his online application. University servers have been known to crash when they’re inundated … 15 minutes before deadline.
– Miss School Manners