Remember, It’s Their College Years, Not Yours

Sue Shellenbarger:

But there are plenty of other, less damaging ways the college-admissions frenzy causes even conscientious parents to mess up by getting too involved in their child’s application process.

One mother became so immersed in her daughter’s college decision that she wrote her own name on an application, says Alyssa McCloud, vice president for enrollment management at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. Dr. McCloud detected the error after the mother called the admissions office repeatedly last year, asking why her daughter hadn’t gotten a response to her application. In fact, her daughter’s file was incomplete, because her transcripts and other documents didn’t match the name on the application.

“She said, ‘Oh, I must have written in my own name,’ ” Dr. McCloud says. While the student was well-qualified and eventually was admitted, she would have been a stronger applicant if her mother had kept her distance, she says.

Moms and dads sometimes place more importance than students on colleges’ status and prestige. Some recycle their own dreams through their children, pushing them to get into the Ivy League because they couldn’t, college admissions counselors say. This pattern, called projection, is common among parents whose identities are closely entwined with those of their children, according to a 2013 study in the journal PLOS One.

They often do this without realizing it, in hopes of feeling more successful themselves, the study reported. It analyzed 73 parents of 8- to 15-year-old children.