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Support from dad and mum

How can parents help their children wanting to apply to universities abroad? reports Kavita Singh

education Updated: Apr 14, 2010 09:26 IST
Kavita Singh

Deciding the type and extent of support to provide your child when they are applying to universities abroad can be difficult. First, make sure that you understand the current application process. Various aspects of the process change over time, so do not rely on past information alone. Many universities have parent guidebooks or specific offices catering to parents that you can leverage.

Next, assess what specific help your child needs. Listen carefully to what they are saying and observe their progress to determine what they are struggling with. Some applicants have difficulty staying organised and keeping on top of all the things they need to do. You can help by creating a detailed timeline of all the activities they need to engage in till their applications are due. Keep this ‘task list posted up in a place that you can both see, enabling you to monitor what is happening and address problems quickly. It’s a long process, so celebrate all the ‘wins’ along the way to keep your child motivated.

University selection can be an area in which your child struggles or where you disagree with their choices. You can help your child assess his or her individual abilities, interests, personality and goals, so that they select universities that will best suit them — you can brainstorm with them, get them a career counsellor, or connect them with people pursuing careers that they are considering. If you think they are making the wrong choices, try to connect them to resources that will help them make better decisions — perhaps you can connect them to alumni of universities you think are a better fit or do some initial research to demonstrate why other universities are a better fit.

Since a key source of anxiety comes from not knowing what the outcome will be, you can help your child and yourself by creating a ‘Plan B’ in advance. Think about what universities could be ‘Plan B’ universities? Is taking a year off to work and reapplying an option? Should your child go to the ‘Plan B’ university and then transfer the following year? Then file away the ‘Plan B and focus on success.

You will need to play a key role with finances, which includes filling out any financial aid forms. Create two budgets upfront: an ‘application’ budget and an ‘attending university’ budget. You will then know what is feasible. If campus visits are just too expensive, you can create an alternative plan to get the information needed. If certain universities fees are out of your range, you can create an appropriate financial aid plan.

Some universities, such as Smith College, in the US, allow for parent recommendation letters because they believe that parents can provide useful anecdotal information. Use this opportunity to bring little-known information to the attention of the admissions staff that can add texture to the application and provide more ‘why’s’' behind an applicant’s interests, personality, values and goals.

So what shouldn’t you do? Don’t take over the process – over-involvement sends a clear signal to both children and universities that the applicant cannot make it on their own and neither message is a good one. For example, make sure your child is the one that is asking the majority of the questions during any interactions with the universities. You can decide in advance what type of areas you should focus on observing and asking questions about. The parent can focus on how the university is spending its money — if there are new buildings going up, are they geared toward student needs? How is the campus maintained? How safe is the campus and its surrounding environment?

You will likely need to change the role you play during the process, depending on your child’ needs at each stage. So, don’t be surprised if you go from being a hands-on project manager to a cheerleader on the sidelines.

The author is an MBA graduate of Columbia Business School and holds a BA (Hons) from Oxford University. She has over 13 years of experience working in the U.S. and India and is the CEO of FutureWorks Consulting,, an admissions consulting firm