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What one parent learned during the college hunt

Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

Last week I spoke with Jacob about lessons he had learned during his college admissions process. This week it’s equal time for his mom, Karen.

Over the last several years I have hosted a “Veterans and Virgins” lunch where I bring together veterans – parents who have recently gone through the process and virgins – parents about to enter the college admissions process. It’s always interesting. I didn’t do it yet this year, but Karen would be a wonderful contributor. Here’s what she had to say:

Q. What did you do right?

A. We started early, looking at schools at the end of sophomore year. At first it was just casual “window shopping” while we were on vacation – mostly to help Jacob get a basic sense of whether he wanted small/medium/large, urban/suburban/rural, etc. We always attended the information session, toured the campus, and ate lunch in the dining hall or student center. We had a really good time on these trips, and it helped focus Jacob’s search.

But… the downside to starting early is that by the time we got to the application process in senior year, Jacob didn’t always remember the details, despite some written notes. The schools start to blur together.

Q. What advice do you have for others just starting the process?

A. Start essays early in the summer, as soon as school ends, before the “lazy days of summer” begin.

Do more Internet research to learn about schools that you cannot visit or that are perhaps under the radar.

The individual personalities and styles of the admissions official (presenting the information session) and student tour guide greatly affected our impression of the school. It’s very unfortunate that a single person has so much influence, but it happens. Find a way to counteract a bad impression due just to the presentation – and good luck changing your teenager’s mind!

Have a game plan for spring break of senior year. You’ll make final decisions in April and cannot possibly visit all the schools in one week, so determine up front what you want to accomplish that week.

Apply to state schools with “rolling admissions” so you immediately have some acceptances and a great sense of relief.

Q. What did you do to keep your parental emotions in check?

A. I kept reminding myself (and Jacob) that it all works out in the end. Everyone goes to a place that’s a great fit overall. Everyone winds up where they belong – it doesn’t matter if you don’t get into your top school, it’s what you make of it while you are there.

Q. What was the hardest part for you?

A. Sitting on the sidelines was very difficult; watching him struggle with a heavy workload, senior exit, testing and college applications and not jumping in to save the day. I viewed this as the first “real-life” college experience with competing priorities – the main skill you need to learn in college. Let them figure it out on their own.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;
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