How to Manage Anxious Parents?

A couple of years ago, a friend took his son, a talented member of his school’s rowing team, on a tour of elite East Coast colleges and universities.

When he returned home, he was excited to tell me what he heard from MIT’s admissions team about college essays. TheMIT rep said that beyond grades and test scores (which are now optional),the match between the applicant and the school drives their final selection process.

The rep then suggested students put their time and effort into answering the school’s five short essay prompts. Because beyond everything else, they want applicants to share through thoughtful, honest and authentic answers to MIT’s questions.

My friend, who had been “helping” his child way too much with his Common App essay (we got him on track with a new one!), finally got the message after hearing the MIT rep speak. Phew!

But he is not the only parent who comes to this college admissions journey with unrealistic expectations about the essay’s role in college admissions. Let’s face it: Parents who overstep their role and have unrealistic expectations can suck the life out of us and prevent any of us from doing our job effectively, whether you are a high school counselor or an independent educational consultant.

We ask parents to fill out a “fit form” before scheduling an informational meeting; we communicate our process and their expected role in emails before the student starts writing. This is something you may want to consider in helping your students.

What do you do to help set parent expectations? I’d love to hear. You can email me your best tips at

Kim Lifton, of Farmington Hills, MI, is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays, so students can stand out and tell their stories. Kim leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the college admissions industry with our unique approach to communicating messages effectively through application essays, including personal statements, activity and short answer essays and supplements. Kim is also a board member of MACAC. When she is not teaching students or training professionals, Kim likes to write her own stuff, do yoga at her synagogue, drink coffee, and swim laps (slowly but steadily) a few mornings a week at the high school she attended a very, very long time ago. Check them out at