College Prep Stress: Into the Pressure Cooker

I have a few friends whose sons are applying to college. The stress and the pressure students face regarding college is palpable. The question bears asking: How do you help your student navigate the process without adding your own college prep stress and pressure? Trust me; it’s not easy. Parents have their own kind of pressure related to college. Most of it revolves around the question: How will we pay for it?

So here is my best advice related to those two important questions.

How do you help your student navigate the process without adding your own stress and pressure?

You must in every circumstance remain calm. This is only one of many choices your soon-to-be adult will make in his life. This is the time when you transition from being a hands-on parent to being a supportive parent. I know that’s easier said than done. It’s hard after making all their decisions for 18 years to step back and let them chart their own course. But this act, in itself, will help alleviate stress for both you and your student.

Once you take a step back, the logical course for you is to become an encourager and coach. You can offer advice, help in the decision-making process and keep track of filing dates and deadlines, make travel plans for college visits and provide tutoring support if needed. This frees your student up for the important tasks: test prep, choosing the colleges, and filing out the applications. Your student knows what is expected of him and you know how you can help. Less stress for both parent and student.

How do you remove the money worries and stress around paying for college?

I can’t tell you how many emails I have received from parents whose students applied and were accepted to a college the parents can’t afford to pay for. The excitement of acceptance is overshadowed by the reality that the student won’t be able to attend due to lack of funds.

The only way to avoid this inevitable disappointment is to do your homework. Before your student applies, do some research about the college. How much does the college cost? What do students typically pay (this is usually not the sticker price)? Does it have a high acceptance rate? What type of aid does it award to students? Do they typically award a large percentage of their incoming freshman substantial financial aid? Is your student at the top of the applicant pool therefore increasing his chances of receiving merit aid? And finally, estimate your EFC (Expected Family Contribution).

After the research is done, how much can you afford to pay? If the college doesn’t award aid, can you pay the difference between the cost of the college and your EFC? Is your student willing to put in the effort to apply and win scholarships to help with the cost?

Once you have all the information, your student should only apply to colleges that are within your ability to pay with a reasonable expectation of merit aid if needed. It doesn’t make sense for him to apply to a $50,000 a year college if you don’t have the means or the ability to pay. Parents often feel pressured into letting their student attend and take out massive student and parent loans to foot the cost. This is not a wise decision and can cause added stress and pressure that is unnecessary.