How to Handle Unsolicited Advice During the College Admissions Process

Pay attention to who’s offering you their insight and why.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

I admit to often asking too many questions of parents and their high school juniors and seniors about where they are in the college process, sharing my opinions, sometimes without being asked. Though I write about this topic regularly and went through the process with my own two kids, I’ve learned that my advice isn’t always welcome. As you navigate your teen’s path to college, you’ll receive too many points of view from too many “well-meaning” friends and relatives. Here’s how to handle all of us.

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The uninformed adviser Despite never having sent a child to college, this person believes he knows all about it already, maybe because his neighbor’s daughter loved College X and his nephew hated College Y. Too bad he doesn’t realize that your teen is nothing like those kids so his opinion isn’t helpful. How to respond: Feel free to find a reason to change the subject immediately or simply say, “We have things under control, but thanks for the info.”

The inquisitive one You’ll wonder how anyone can ask so many questions you can’t answer. Don’t panic. Try to look beyond the nosiness to understand why your friend is so curious. Maybe she’s simply very excited for your family and doesn’t realize that getting peppered with a bunch of queries freaks you out, not to mention your teen. How to respond: Be honest and admit that this whole process is stressful, so you’re avoiding talking about it right now.

The parent of the overachiever We all love to brag about how well our kids are doing, even though our children are usually less forthcoming about their achievements. If your senior is the solid B student who belongs to one club, you may not want to hear that your cousin’s son is only applying to top tier schools because of his almost perfect SAT/ACT scores and his many leadership positions. How to respond: Don’t get defensive. Kids are all different, so their college choices will be, too. Instead, commiserate about Common App supplements and juggling application deadlines, issues you can both relate to. Most important, be grateful your kids aren’t competing for spots at the same colleges.

The experienced parent I searched for these people when I began the process with my own kids. I tried to find parents whose children were similar to mine to get the best advice. Be aware that one parent might insist you write off a college because his daughter had a bad experience with admissions, but ignore it unless you find other parents who say the same thing about the school. Do make note of what they all agree upon, like the best test prep, when to visit colleges and the keys to filling out the FAFSA. How to respond: Turn the conversation around so that you’re the one asking the questions. Look for parents whose children are at a college on your teen’s list or studying your child’s intended major. Also ask for survival tips for getting through the admissions process and freshman year. 

The “expert” Anyone who works at a college, goes to one, writes about it or advises/coaches kids on college admissions falls into this category. Everyone wants to help during the college admissions process, unfortunately, people who know a lot often share more information than you will ever need. How to respond: Take a step back and try to redirect interest to the specific areas you want to learn about. Acknowledge when your brain has reached maximum capacity and you can’t absorb one more fact. At the same time, ask if you can follow-up later, after your mind refreshes.

You can’t escape receiving advice during the college admissions process, but you can get discerning about whom to take it from. Realize that answering questions about college and career options can bring a teenager closer to understanding what she’s looking for.

Share your survival tips for dealing with all the “advisers” who want to help get your child into college.

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