10 Ways Parents Can Leave a Negative Impression With the Admissions Office

As someone who has worked in or directly with admissions offices for nearly 20 years, I’ve learned there are guaranteed ways you can leave a negative impression with Admissions.  I have observed these situations, consistently, every single admissions cycle.

Application reviewers know that parents are terrific allies for their children, but there are some things they do that reflect negatively. I hasten to add that I have never met an admissions officer who would hold a parent’s action against any qualified applicant, but over-stepping parents who do these things are doing their kids no favors.

10 Things to NOT DO

1. Say, “I’m calling for my son/daughter because he/she is too busy.”

Application review often includes determining whether a student can juggle a busy schedule while still succeeding academically. Having Mom do the legwork does not look promising to a reviewer. Neither does calling and pretending to be the applicant — which absolutely happens every year, and is painfully easy to spot.

2. Ask questions easily found on the web site.

Admissions offices aren’t usually ever over-staffed, and they are using their time to field complicated questions such as transfer credit for prerequisite courses into one program over another, or dual enrollment credit versus AP or IB. Calling to ask how much for the application fee or directions to campus is not a good use of their time or expertise.

3. Try to bypass requirements.

“Well, that doesn’t apply to my child because of ___.” Yes, it does, unless there is a truly out-of-the-ordinary situation.

4. Miss deadlines and try to get an exception.

In most cases, the deadlines are hard cutoffs, not guidelines. Do ask for help if something extraordinary occurred — actually extraordinary — such as a death in the family, loss of a job, or a natural disaster. Most admissions officers will do everything in their power to give you a break when there is a real emergency, but “three basketball games and the SAT” will not qualify.

Yes, every applicant really is that busy. Also realize that sometimes their hands are tied and you’ll have to explore other options.

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5. Blame the high school counselor.

So often the first line of defense for missing information is anger at the counselor. Be aware that admissions personnel work with high school counselors — fellow professionals — on a daily basis and generally have great working relationships. Admissions folks know that counselors often have hundreds of seniors assigned to them, and that they usually send items on time (within the realm of possibility).

They are also aware that, despite students’ assurances to the contrary, often requests are not made in a timely fashion. Should your child receive notice that their admissions file is incomplete, don’t waste time pointing fingers. Just help your child get the file complete. Chances are good that the paperwork was sent but could have been misfiled or misdirected by the admissions office.

(Keep in mind when mid-year grades come out in the January/February time frame, large colleges get literally tens of thousands of mid-year grades. Sometimes the entry into the applicant system doesn’t go smoothly — for example, the records don’t match, as in: Billy fails to note the record is under William.) Take a look at “Before you scream at your counselor” for some perspective.

6. Express anger at the admissions office for not sharing information they emailed directly to the applicant.

Communicate with your own child. This is not the college’s responsibility. The college is communicating with the applicant.

7. Call the university president’s office to complain.

I guarantee you this happens so often that the president’s assistant has a protocol in place. It’s added noise and will not further your child’s case.

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8. Get angry and make threats.

Unfortunately for most colleges, this has happened before, and you are likely to wind up with a very unimpressed director or dean at the end of your rant. Some colleges routinely have plainclothes law enforcement officers in their lobbies during decision season.

As you might imagine, these threats do not result in a denied student suddenly getting offered admission. If you truly feel that a mistake was made, calmly ask for details on the appeal process and follow the procedure. But see the next entry first:

9. Refuse to accept that your child did not hit the mark.

Admissions is competitive, and not everyone can get in. Presenting an argument of “classmate Sally was admitted with a lower GPA and terrible test scores” is not valid evidence — and the vast majority of such accusations turn out to be dead wrong when the entire situation is reviewed. In one memorable case, a mother insisted her child had a perfect GPA, but it turned out her child had failed chemistry. When confronted, she said, “Oh, I’m not counting that.” True story.

10. Take the whole process personally.

Admissions professionals are not looking for reasons to deny students. They evaluate from a perspective of how the student could be admissible. A denial of admission is not a judgment against your child. It is an indication of the competitiveness of the applicant pool.

Help your child be authentic and provide details of what makes them a great candidate for the school, and step back. The school cannot give extra consideration to someone just because his parent loves him. Focus instead on handling a “no” with positive actions, finding a place where your child can be both happy and successful.

Setting your heart on only one college causes a lot of the pain of the admissions process. Rest easy knowing that there are many colleges that admit the vast majority of their applicant pools. There is somewhere — somewhere that is equally as good as your current first choice — that is going to be an excellent college choice, even if you don’t know it yet.

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