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Parental Warning: U.S. News & World Report Releases Best Colleges Rankings

09/11/2013 09:01 am ET | Updated Nov 11, 2013

Like every year, as summer wraps and college-bound parental panic begins to surge, U.S. News and World Report shares its rankings of Best Colleges. While one can appreciate the painstaking data collection and the voluminous amount of information packed into one document, the highly publicized lists can add fuel to the fire in those households already exploding with college application drama. What are the secrets to college admission anxiety management? Check out the five tips below.

1. Take the word "best" out of your college search vocabulary.
There are plenty of great colleges, universities and specialty schools. Focusing on one institution as the perfect place is a recipe for disaster whether a candidate fails to earn acceptance or discovers down the road that acceptance was a mistake. Parents and teens can be guilty of this mindset, so catch yourselves when you begin to go down that road and add a few more schools to the wish list.

2. Look beyond the big books and websites to see the full picture.
Compilation books and magazines like U.S. News and World Report's Best Colleges and comprehensive websites are extremely valuable in helping people grasp the college search process. However, relying on only one source can limit your scope and perspective. Check out the colleges' websites and tour some campuses formally and impromptu to get a three-dimensional view.

3. Talk to college graduates who weren't accepted by their first choice school.
You'll be shocked at the high marks these people give their alma maters. During my research for my book College Bound and Gagged: How To Help Your Kid Get Into A Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, Or Your Mind, I was struck by the number of college graduates who said that not getting into their first choice was a blessing in disguise. Either way, their stories support the theory that there are many excellent academic options for students to happily achieve their goals.

4. Find a "safety school" that you love.
True, you can't count on a sure thing when it comes to college acceptance. An applicant must meet a school's needs and it's not always clear what those needs might be from year to year. Still, shooting too high can sometimes backfire. Identify the outstanding qualities in second tier choices and help your teen realize that there is plenty of fun, opportunity and success beyond the Ivy League.

5. Enjoy a college-free dinner.
If you're like my family was, it's hard to have a family meal during your teen's junior and senior years that doesn't include the word "college." It may be countdown time, but every now and then high school students need a break from the coaching (and nagging) of well-meaning parents. Plan one college-free dinner or day a week to refrain from asking your teen about anything college related. Trust me, it's tough, but the application will still get done.