Parent involvement: a fowl affair

I was up late last night dressing a turkey. Unfortunately consumption of said turkey will not be an option, as the fowl in question is on poster-board, a second grade assignment for my son, which we’ve left to the last minute. The task sheet that came home with poster-board specifically asked this to a “family” project, and so there I was debating with a seven-year-old the most appropriate material to accurately approximate a turkey’s wattle. I, by the way, lost.

This intensive involvement in such a trivial school task may help explain the volume of calls admissions offices receive this time of year from parents. We’ve been trained by the schools to BE INVOLVED. Not surpsingly, this leads to repeated questions wondering just how involved parents should be in the admissions process.


My colleagues in admissions are probably already rolling their eyes, since the conventional wisdom is that parents are already “over-involved” in the admissions process. I hear routinely the complaints about so-called “helicopter” parents – those who hover around their students. Most of you have probably heard the whack-a-doo stories, like the college graduate who brought his mom on job interviews. Along those lines, I’ll admit that my concern gets raised when parents feel the need to speak for their students. One of the more uncomfortable situations are applicant interviews where the parent won’t let the student get a word in edgewise.

Those extreme cases, however, do a real disservice to the vast majority of families trying to work their way through a complex, stressful process with tremendous financial implications. I welcome the shift, still completely bizarre to me, that has prospective students WANTING their parents involved in the process. My colleagues that whine and moan when parents call them asking questions, queries that these admissions officers feel should be left to the applicants, may be (and I say this with a great deal of affection and respect for my peers) ding dongs. Every survey of prospective students I’ve seen finds that the parents have more influence over this process than any other source. No amount of media attention, athletic success, or guidance counselor relations will have the weight in an enrollment decision as mom or dad.

There are, of course, limits. I encourage parents to join students during college visits, edit application essays, and nag about deadlines. [NOTE/shameless plug: Mason’s fall prospective student event is this Saturday, November 14!). I discourage parents from conducting their own tour of campuses without bringing a student along, writing application essays, or submitting applications for the student. This is a vital issue, as the vast majority of complaints I receive each year about problems with the application process are from parents. It appears, for reasons that science so far is at a loss to explain, that being a parent makes the application submission process entirely bewildering. I work with thousands of adult students who have no problems with the process, so I don’t think this is age issue. Instead I’m increasingly convinced that being a parent of a student at a particular time in their educational career (applying to college, for instance) causes a chemical to be released in the body that has a particularly negative impact on the brains neuro-receptors causing the parent to lose the ability to follow basic instructions.

Unfortunately, I suspect that this chemical reaction is not limited to the college application process time period, and may appear first in early elementary school, but that’s just a suspicion. You’ll have to excuse me now – I apparently need to go glue some kind of feathers on a poster-board turkey. Be seeing you.


3 Responses

  1. Dear Dean Flagel,
    Here is my Helpful Tip of the Day for all parents of current High School Seniors applying to college: expect to have THREE melt-downs during the process.
    Melt-down number one usually occurs just after the first application goes in. Parents second-guess the kids, want a do-over, and generally fret that they missed something. They seldom have, but they worry anyways. Fortunately, they can jump right in and do a better job putting together the remaining applications.
    Parent melt-down number two comes after the last application is filed, usually in late January. There is nothing else to do at this point but wait. Parents aren’t usually good at waiting, so I suggest a distractor (hey, it works with 7-year olds). Kids, this is a good time to bring up your graduation party. Give your parents lots of ideas about how you want the party, the more the merrier. Then they can go plan something completely different. It will keep them busy.
    The third parent melt-down usually happens in Mid-March. Neighbor-boy gets his acceptance to your child’s first-choice school, but you don’t hear anything. Parents are mortified about this. Put on a cheery face for the kids and keep checking the mail.
    Sometimes just knowing what to expect helps people navigate better. Good luck to all.

    Lynn Lyon

  2. There is no way of leaving the parent out of the college application program. It is like a wedding. Usually they get in the way and cause all sorts of problems, but when it comes right down to it, the perspective bride, or in this case, student , would be lost without them.

  3. Ok Dean Flagel, this is completely off topic, but I think if I were to email one of the admissions counselors at George Mason, I fear I won’t get an answer until the Dec. 1st deadline to apply is past. (Not criticizing of course! I’m surprised the emails get answered at all – and they do, with very helpful answers. Thank-you Mr. Steppe :] )

    There are definitely a few things/grades on my transcript that need a little explaining. Is it all right to sumbit a small paper (a medium-sized paragraph, at most) with my transcript? I fear that if I don’t offer an explanation, the admission counselors can only assume the worst.

    And a related question, I spent most of the first half of 9th grade in a different school. This school was on a 7 period schedule; I moved to a school with block scheduling. (Thus had to start fresh with all my classes) Is the incomplete transcript from my old school still required for me to send? My guidance counselor told me no, since I’ve taken all the classes I need at my current school, but I’m a bit paranoid.. (The grades are pretty terrible to be honest- and no credit was earned since it was mid-year)

    Anyway, thanks in advance.

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