The College Search: 4 Tips to Help Your Student

A future GCU student with his parents

When your child heads toward high school graduation and enters the next chapter titled “College,” it can be a hybrid experience of sadness and excitement. You may feel anxious about your child leaving home, while happy for them to embark on the college experience. This emotional dichotomy can create opposing opinions and strong reactions between you and your child throughout the college search. Here are four tips for navigating this transition with the greatest potential for success:

Let Your Child Own the Process

It is important to encourage your child to take the lead during the application process. Support the process by playing a secondary role that guides your child, but does not control, overbear or over-invest. Together, create a timetable of deadlines and preliminary list of what to look for in a college experience. Help your child determine what sets him or her apart, such as accomplishments and activities. What is your child’s differentiator, beyond grades and test scores? Without being a commanding force, you can also offer proactive suggestions, like attending an information session on campus.

Remember, your child will not have your guidance day-to-day during college, which is why they should take ownership of the college application process. This is your child’s opportunity to step up his or her level of independent responsibility and accountability. Your child will eventually learn how to manage their life with less parental involvement, and the college admissions process is a great place to start.

Help Them Cope with Stress and Disappointment

Become a calming influence during this process. Offer advice and guidance when needed. Respond to high-stress moments and frustration with empathy and understanding. Finding the right college can be an emotional experience, from uncertainty on which college is the right choice to disappointment because of a rejection letter.

Be strong for your child with a healthy attitude, which helps manage the process toward a positive outcome. Repurpose stress to become a challenging motivation to reach the goal, rather than distress that leads to withdrawal and defeat.

Communicate with Openness and Honesty

The college application process and search is full of highs – and full of lows. Of course, we welcome the highs. But the lows can drain energy and create feelings of inadequacy, low self-confidence, anger and resentment. Together, discuss options. Set realistic expectations. Accept limitations. And come up with a backup plan. If you are upfront about finances, for example, you can avoid disappointment over ruling out a college with high tuition or an out-of-state university. If you create options, like taking classes at a community college, your family can prepare for the worst case scenario. Open and honest communication helps eliminate surprises that can affect a successful plan for attending college.

Eliminate Comparison and Competition

ACT and SAT scores. Celebration over an acceptance letter to a top-choice school. The option to apply to any university without financial restraints. These all get shared among students in high school hallways, leaving certain students feeling worthless, discouraged and even left behind. You may also get caught up in the horse race and chase elitism for your child.

Remove yourself from a culture of comparison and a competitive nature, especially if this affects your child. Accept your child for who he or she is, while offering inspiration and motivation for them to reach their potential. If your child is not on the course of a “superior pedigree,” that is okay. The value of embracing unique qualities, talents and interests (rather than pressure to compete with peers) can lead to a more promising future.

Even with the best of intentions from your end, your child’s college search can take unexpected turns that lead to setbacks. As a team, keep your eye on the bigger picture. What type of major and career does your child want to pursue? What campus environment fits your child’s needs and personality? Answers to these questions provide guidance toward a future where your child can explore and find their purpose.

Grand Canyon University offers generous scholarship opportunities for qualified students and a vibrant campus life. To learn more about our admissions process, visit our website or contact us using the Request More Information button at the top of the page.


  • Jacobs, L.F., and Hyman, J. (2016, Sept. 13) “6 Ways Parents Can Help Students with the College Application Process.” Retrieved from
  • Jeweler-Bentz, B. (2015, May 6) “Parents: How to Manage the Stress of the College Application Process.” Retrieved from

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.