Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Starmama

It’s that time of year again!  Juniors and seniors are gearing up for college, and we all know what that means – frayed nerves and nails chewed down to nubs.

But not every parent you meet during the admissions season is anxious. There’s also another type, one you know well – in fact, you probably have a couple of good friends who fit this description to a ‘T’. That outspoken activist who’s always rallying the troops at every PTA meeting; she’s one. The high-flying finance Dad who decided to retire young and spend more time with his family; he’s definitely one. You can sum up their attitude to admissions in one word – overconfident.

Don’t get me wrong -- overconfident parents are still great parents: they work hard, get things done, and really love their kids.  The problem is, especially in the heat of college fever, they can sometimes work a little too hard and get a little too much done.

Whatever happens, your job is not to listen to the siren song of these well-meaning ‘authorities’.  Their overconfidence can lead to costly mistakes in the admissions process.  Here at Forster-Thomas, we’ve seen them damage relationships with their kids, reduce those kids’ odds of getting into their dream schools, and drive pretty much everyone up the wall, all without knowing they’re doing anything wrong.

Here are a few telltale warning signs that your friend is an overconfident parent:

Hey, I just had a great idea of what I can do to give Junior an edge at insert dream school.  Just thinking this kind of thing is a problem, because in the vast majority of cases, there is nothing your friend, as a parent, can do to give Junior an edge. Of course, if you tell them that, they smile and say, “Sure, but you don’t understand. I’m different.”  Trust me when I tell you, they are not. The parent’s role in the admissions process is to be supportive, inquisitive, enthusiastic, and to recruit the right partners, both amateur and professional, to support Junior as he gets the job done his way. If you do a great job at that and nothing else, you’ll be doing better than the vast majority of your peers.

Junior's a little shy / unmotivated. I'll fill the gap by being extra motivated, and talking to everybody at the school about how much he loves it and what a great fit he'd be. If I had a nickel for every hour I have spent listening to a frazzled college admissions officer kvetch about overbearing parents, I could start my own mint.  These parents’ efforts are having the opposite effect they intend. They are making their son look incapable, unwilling and unready to go to college, when the fact is he's probably just making room for them because they’re obviously having such a good time 'helping'. It’s OK to prod and propose, but when you’re carrying the banner for your offspring, there’s a problem.

I have a family friend who went to BZT U.  Maybe I'll ask her to write a letter of support.  Is your friend's friend’s name on a building on campus?  Did she pull the dean of Admissions out of a burning building?  Is your friend’s friend Prince, or at least *a* prince? If the answer to these questions is no, then a letter of support is not going to give your friend’s son a boost.  And even if she did know someone fantastically well connected, a letter of support would only help if her son was absolutely committed to going to the school, and the family friend was absolutely committed to her son, by which I mean not recommending anyone else.

I'll become an amateur college expert and save us some money on counseling. Fun fact. Do you know what professional counselors do when their kids are applying to college?  Send them to a counselor. Do you know why? Because they know better than anyone how incapable they are of having a rational, objective take on their own kid’s application.  It’s like communism – great in theory, terrible in practice.  Distance and objective evaluation are at the heart of college admissions.  Only someone with that distance is going to be to able to get the job done right.

I'm a good writer. If I tweak a few of Junior's phrases, here and there, they'll realize what he meant to say.  As an admissions officer, one of the first things you learn to spot are ghostwritten essays (and resumes, and recommendations, and short answers ...)  They stick out like sore thumbs. Schools want to fall in love with your kid. They want to be dazzled by his ideas, his beliefs, his accomplishments, not yours.  Coach if you must, although that too is best left to experts, but don’t meddle with the language, and unless you're an expert copyeditor, don't go through and 'correct' his sentence structure, either.

So what do you do if you know someone like this?

Simple. Take a deep breath, shut your ears and walk away. Sometimes doing nothing is the perfect thing.  Let go and let God. If you don't know how, we can help with that.  

In the end, I promise, you’ll be surprised, charmed and thrilled to learn just how great of a job you did as a parent.