by Margie Chiang, Education Coach 

As an education coach, I’m often asked by parents how they can support their children during the college application process. I’ve compiled a “To Do” list for parents to make the journey a well-paced marathon instead of a harried sprint.  

1.   Start Early. When it comes to timing, you are giving your child a longer runway to experiment when it comes to activities and practice when it comes to standardized testing if you start the preparation at the onset of high school if not earlier in middle school. 


Most vital is that whatever activity your child adopts, it is authentic to them: they really should love what they are doing and have the skill set to excel in the activity. The combination of both can inspire a student to demonstrate leadership when working with other students and creativity as they deepen their interest. The intersection of their passion and skill is directional of how they can contribute to our world – which colleges want to learn about from applicants.  

For example, I have one student who loved to sing and rallied to lead his a capella club. He leveraged his singing ability and his a capella club members to raise awareness and funds for autism through charity performances, partnering with his hometown’s autistic center. 

Learning and seeing the therapeutic impact of music on children with autism, he delved into music therapy in practice and research, partnering again with the autism center to work with staff on bringing music to the daily lives of children at the center.   

Going from interest to execution was a 2.5-year journey. And given his growth due to the journey, he will be studying at New York University (NYU) this fall as a Psychology major. Thus, starting early gives your child the runway to experiment, lead and flourish.  

2. Prep for Standardized Exams. Aim to reach your ideal scores by Q1 at latest in the year of application so that the remaining months before the ED1 deadline can be focused on activities and application essays. SAT / ACT / TOEFL preparation should start at least one year before the application year. Practice exams are essential. From my experience, strategic support from a testing institution is efficient as they can pinpoint focus areas and create a study plan that helps to diminish the fear of taking standardized exams.  

3. Practice Balance. The college application journey is one of self-discovery, and to encourage self-reflection, it helps to practice balance. 

Focusing all efforts on academics is not a winning formula for college admissions or life as it’s focused only on one facet of a student’s life. To practice balance, a student, with their parents’ support, can explore their interests in academics, community service, and personal passions. 

4.   Encourage Independence. It’s important to encourage Independence for your child’s self-discovery on academic / community / personal interests, which impacts what they will want to study in college. After all, it’s your child that is applying to college; not you. Thus, let them take the lead on research into colleges and majors and be supportive with guidance when it comes to college visits. Keep the dialogue as a discussion vs. a didactic lecture. With you as the parent, kids resonate with mindful advice and kind support.

5.   Be Supportive. Admittedly, the college application season can be a stressful one. Compassion in listening to their concerns and offering encouragement goes a long way. Often my students share that their parents will compare them to other students in the hope of inspiring them to move forward. However, this approach deflates and increases stress while lowering self-confidence, which can prevent them from exerting effort on activities and essays. Thus, to demonstrate authentic support, be present and positive with them.  

6.   Celebrate Milestones. This is a long journey, so celebrating milestones keeps morale high! When certain milestones are reached, such as reaching a standardized testing goal, winning a competition, or earning service accolades, celebrate the successes! They can be as simple as a pat on the back and a celebratory meal. Regardless of what they are, the celebrations keep them motivated throughout the journey.  

Margie, an Education Coach, merges leadership coaching and marketing expertise to steer students through college applications and life. Contact her at


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