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A Parent's Perspective on the Admission Process

By Beth Anne Spacht

November 2, 2018

Guest Post by Rachel Ristow, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

As a 7-year veteran in the world of higher education, I’ve watched many families tackle the college admission process. Parents help their students in very different ways but the one thing they all have in common –the hope that their child will be happy, healthy, and successful.

So, what is the best way for parents to help their students during this momentous time? I am not a parent and do not pretend to understand the complexity of parenting a high school senior on the precipice of one of the biggest investments of time and money in their lifetime. Luckily, I have two uniquely qualified colleagues to dole out advice: Gil Villanueva, Associate Vice President and Dean of Admission; and Marilyn Hesser, Executive Director of Admission. Together, they have a combined 62 years of admission experience. Gil is parent to one college sophomore and one high school student. Marilyn is the parent of three young adults.

Rachel: How did you help your children navigate through the college search process?

Gil: Parents and guardians should avoid being their child’s counselor. Despite best intentions, we often cast big shadows over our kids. It’s best to leave college counseling to professionals who have years of experience and years of data.

Marilyn: I reminded myself frequently that this was their decision, not mine. When I questioned whether they were really listening to my advice, two weeks later I might overhear them giving a friend the same college advice.

Rachel: As a parent, what was the most challenging part of the admission process?

Gil: All parents want their children to be happy and succeed. With our son, the toughest part of the college admission process was waiting to hear about admission decisions from admission offices.

Marilyn: Perhaps your high school teenagers will be more organized than mine, but I seriously had to stop myself from nagging daily. They may wait to the last minute, but the applications will be submitted. By the way, they turn out to be more organized as young professionals than as high school students.

Rachel: As an admission professional, what do you wish more parents understood about the admission process?

Gil: Admission professionals take application selection very seriously, taking great care to learn as much as we can about each and every applicant.

Marilyn: I often hear friends and acquaintances (parents who are 40, 50, etc.) compare the merits of colleges based on their experience and the experiences of their peers.  We certainly have changed in the 25 plus years since college and so have many colleges and universities. There are truly some rising stars in higher education. Current students and very young alumni are your best resource in a college search.

Rachel: As a parent, what surprised you the most about your children during the admission process?

Marilyn: I tell students that the college admission process is an opportunity to learn more about themselves, to reflect on and celebrate their accomplishments.  As a parent, I was surprised that I continued to learn about myself, my relationship with my teenagers, and how I might like that relationship to change as they transition to college. It was much less stressful when we focused on the process and not just the outcome.   

Rachel: What would you like to share with parents embarking on the college search and selection process for the first time?

Gil: Don’t talk about college every day. Designate one hour or so for college talk per week. This will give you time to prepare thoughtful questions and this will allow your child to have time to find answers and to conduct research. If possible, visit only one or two schools per day and try to make it a family vacation, including time for some sightseeing and eating local cuisine.

Marilyn: There is no one perfect college, but several college choices that could result in a great college experience. After all the goal is not to collect college acceptances, but to live and learn in a college environment that will propel them to their successful future.

Tags: Admission Tips Application Process College Search

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Tom NicholasTom Nicholas
Associate Director of Admission 

A Richmond alumnus (Class of 2007), Tom has been working and blogging for the Office of Admission since he graduated. He loves his alma mater and the city that shares its name.

Learn more about Tom

Beth Anne SpachtBeth Anne Spacht
Senior Assistant Director of Admission

Beth Anne was a double major at Richmond (English and Latin American & Iberian Studies) and now enjoys helping prospective students discover the best of her alma mater.

Learn more about Beth Anne

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