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Being a parent of a high school senior is not for the faint of heart...

…but with some pre-planning, the long-term rewards of helping your child navigate through this pivotal year can outweigh any short-term stress along the way. Here are four tips to help you and your child confidently approach senior year and the college application process together:

1. Set a vision

The enormity of what lies ahead in terms of everything involved in the college application process, coupled with the uncertainty of how it will all turn out, can cause both students and parents to start the year off with an anxious or negative frame of mind.

Without holding tightly to any desired outcome, taking time at the outset of the school year to visualize a positive overall experience can be tremendously useful. Envisioning a smooth application process can give a boost to both motivation and self-confidence as you and your child embark on the senior year journey.

The adage, “where our attention goes, our energy flows,” reminds us that we tend to see and attract what we focus on. So, by developing a positive outlook as the school year begins, versus starting out focused on potential challenges, you’ll likely notice and attract favorable as the year progresses.

2. Select a word or phrase

In addition to having a positive vision, choosing a meaningful word or phrase with your child to capture your vision and intentions for the school year can really help along the way. Words like “growth,” “adventure,” or “resilience,” or phrases such as “forward-focused,” “embrace uncertainty” or “progress, not perfection” can serve as short-hand reminders for your shared aspirations. Repeating your chosen word or phrase throughout the year and posting it in a visible place can help both of you stay motivated. It can also be a useful tool to keep your intentions and outlook on track should challenges arise.

3. Build a support network

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to go it alone. Establish a circle of support for the year ahead at the outset of the school year. Identify key individuals who can offer guidance and encouragement, such as your child’s college advisor, a trusted mentor, a family friend or extended family member with whom your child has a good rapport, favorite teachers who can provide valuable support and recommendations, and/or a college consultant or coach. To the extent possible, understand the roles each person can play in supporting your child throughout the application process and senior year generally.

By assembling a support network, you and your child can access valuable resources, gain insights, and receive emotional reassurance during the college planning process. Having others who are willing to dedicate time to help your child succeed will alleviate stress and provide additional perspectives and expertise. These trusted sounding boards outside of your home can be beneficial to both your child and you.

4. Celebrate progress

During the college application process, be prepared to celebrate not only the major milestones but the small achievements along the way as well. There will be a tremendous amount on your child’s plate and whether it’s deciding on a topic for the common application essay, narrowing their list of target schools to those of most significant interest, or simply deciding on a dedicated time each week to work on applications, it’s worth pausing to acknowledge the effort put in and the progress each step represents. Celebrating these smaller victories can help to boost confidence, reduce stress, and reinforce that with every step taken, there’s movement in the right direction.


As you prepare to support your child through all that this pivotal year may bring, remember you’ll have a unique opportunity to develop long-lasting bonds in the process. When you look back on your child’s senior year and college application journey, you’ll find satisfaction in knowing the vital role you played in helping them prepare for their exciting next chapter.


Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.