THE BLOG
10/01/2014 12:02 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

College Admissions: Top 5 Mistakes Parents Make

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Fall College Application Season has arrived. And kids are showing up on college campuses nationwide, dressed in their finest duds, scouting out the hallowed halls of the ivory tower.

Admissions officers hand out brochures with a smile permanently plastered to their faces: they are girding their loins for the onslaught of applications; they are ready for the moment when their eyes drop out of their sockets from reading awe-inspiring admissions essays that will assuredly, inevitably end in an epiphany.

And parents? What are you doing? Some of you are digging in, kicking butt -- you started the process of applications years in advance. You've hired the finest consultants money can buy. On top of that, you are sure your kid is a genius, and it is at this moment that you will see your work paying off.

But these parents are the outliers -- and for the most part, hated by all other parents.

Most parents -- ordinary parents -- are beginning the slow melt-down as they come to terms with the fact that their fledgling is about to fly the coop. They are paralyzed with the dawning realization that they too will be entering a new phase in life. Most parents will deal with the anxiety that they haven't raised the next Einstein, and that this may in fact be a stain upon their immortal soul.

Some of you may not have even thought too hard about a strategy for what may be some difficult few months ahead. So here are some suggestions for how to avoid some of the common errors parents make as they attempt to navigate the rocky waters of college admission.

Big Names Are Best

Big Name Schools are famous for being famous -- like Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton. Yes, Big Names provide good, solid educations. But people go crazy for them because of the celebrity, and that's because they haven't done any real research. There are many great schools with solid reputations out there that are still quite well-regarded and deliver great educations. Contrary to popular belief, those Big Name Schools are not going to change your life, your social network or your marriage prospects. Go ahead and apply to them. Maybe you'll win the lucky lottery. But do some research to scope out reasonable alternatives: truly educated people will not fault you for attending something other than Harvard or Stanford; truly educated people will have actually heard of other schools besides the Big Names.

College is the End All & Be All

During the Fall Application Season, everybody gets caught up in the frenzy and College may seem to be the trophy at the end of long, arduous race. But this is the short view. The long view is that College will set you up for Grad School or Professional School. So if your kid doesn't get into the college of her dreams, you shouldn't get upset. Just make sure that they attend an institution that can get them where they need to go. I have known many people who attended Harvard and did nothing with their lives. I have also known many more people who attended a community college, transferred to highly regarded schools, and ended up at the top of their professions. How did they do this? Strategic planning. College is just the first move in a very long game of chess.

Extracurricular Overload

At this point in the Application Season, your grades are in, you might have one more SAT to take. Options get limited in the ways to distinguish yourself. So you decide to load up your applications with Extracurricular Activities. You might even be tempted to lie (who will know?). Actually, all College Admissions Officers can spot this sad little White Lie, because it is the tell-tale mistake of the lackluster candidate. And if they spot this lie, you are not only showing that you have little beyond your academics but that also you are sorely lacking in moral fiber. Take my advice: less is more. Provide an edited list of just a few activities that demonstrate a commitment to a focused set of concerns. Make your extracurriculars do the work of telling a story about your passions and interests -- your humanity. BTW: nobody really reads long lists; everybody does, short ones.

Cheaper is Better

Don't make the mistake of applying to cheaper schools, just because you don't have the big bucks. Expensive schools may give you sticker shock, but they often provide significant financial aid and scholarships. Once you figure this key factor into the equation, you'll find that it's often cheaper to go to Harvard than it is to go to UC Berkeley. Still worried about the cost of an additional set of applications? Write to the Admissions Office and see if you qualify for an application fee waiver!

School Counselor Knows Best
Don't rely on just one opinion. If your child attends a public institution, don't just rely on your school counselor: they serve an enormous student population; they're overworked and underpaid; and as a result, they will give you cookie-cutter advice. Ask around: talk to a clergyman or a family friend who is successful. The more eyes on your child's application, the better your results. Tap into your network and see if there's a friend of a friend who might have attended your child's "dream school." Chances are, this person will give you better, more focused, advice.

Finally, enjoy the moment. This is a major milestone and, whatever the results, consider this time -- a period of plotting and strategizing -- an opportunity to make memories and engage in an exercise that will strengthen, not strain, a bond that will continue, well beyond that moment when your child throws that graduation cap into the air and college becomes but a distant memory!