Blog 🍎 School 18th February 2020

How to Include Parents in the University Application Journey [In 3 Easy Steps] 

Profile image of Zahra Onsori
Zahra Onsori University Content Writer

When it comes to their future, you probably know that your students have specific ambitions, concerns and pre-conceptions about the university application process – especially if they’re thinking of applying to university abroad. 

But, as you’ve probably already discovered, the university application journey is one that is shared with parents.

For many parents, the journey towards university is one of mixed emotions. Many parents are undoubtedly hopeful for their son/daughter’s future, concerned that their student is making the right life decision and experiencing some trepidation as their child begins the transition into adult life. 

Some of the concerns parents have about their son/daughter applying internationally may include: 

  • The chances of their son/daughter getting accepted into university (and possibly a prestigious/high ranking university). 
  • Their child’s safety when studying in a foreign country. 
  • The affordability of university/college and the chances of their son/daughter being able to apply for financial aid. 
  • Feeling involved in their son or daughter’s overall university application progress. 

Counsellors vary in how and when they like to include parents in the university application process. But however you do it, it’s vital to ensure that parents do feel bought into the university application process, and that they feel they are getting all of the information they need

So this week, we’re going to explore some tips for ensuring that parents become your allies when managing international university applications. We’ll look at some strategies and exercises you can do to ensure that parents always feel like part of the process.

Understanding parents’ needs & concerns

Let’s start by stating the obvious – no one parent is the same. They will have very different concerns and needs and these will depend on a number of geographical and cultural factors. Let’s look at some of the potential obstacles/challenges that counsellors face when working with parents.

Sending their child to university overseas feels out of reach

For some parents, the idea of their son or daughter going abroad for university seems very out of reach. There could be a number of reasons for this. Some families may expect their child to stay close to home. Others may feel that studying abroad is not financially or logistically viable.

Parents with high expectations

Some parents have a very fixed idea of where their students will be applying to university. They may (understandably) have high aspirations for their son/daughter and expect them to gain entrance to a top ranked global university (e.g. the Ivy League in the US or the Russell Group in the UK). 

The challenge with this group of parents can be to move them away from factors such as league tables and perceptions of university prestige, and to champion the importance of students getting accepted to their best-fit university.

Parents feeling left out of the loop

Some parents will feel they just generally lack oversight of their child’s university application journey. They might feel uninvolved in your school’s guidance programme, or concerned about how to best motivate their son/daughter to engage with applying to university or college.

The logistics of their child living abroad

We’ve already touched on the parents who may feel that studying abroad is out of reach. But even parents who want their child to benefit from an international education will have worries about them moving abroad. Some of the most common worries could include: 

  • Will their child be safe in the town, city or country where they’ll be studying? 
  • What financial aid/student finance will they have access to when studying in their host country?
  • What kind of accommodation will be available for them? 
  • Will their child need any kind of student visa to apply to university in their host country? 

These questions are all very valid. And in the run up to application season, school counselors and advisers will come under enormous pressure to answer the queries of parents (and balance these with the competing demands of students). 

In the next section, we’ll share some advice on how to guide parents through the international university application process. 

And we’re going to do it in three simple steps. 

Step 1: Create a culture of transparency

In order to gain parents’ trust in your guidance strategy, it’s important to be as open and transparent as possible. This covers all aspects of your university and careers guidance strategy, but there are a few notable examples of where total transparency will really help you out! 

Admitting that you don’t know everything

Every counsellor or adviser, from a complete newbie to a seasoned pro, will come up against a question or query that they don’t know the answer to. 

In these instances, it’s always best to be honest. If a parent comes to you asking about financial aid in the US, or admissions criteria for a specific university in Australia, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell them you’ll get back to them with the right info.

Top tip: If you’re new to a counselling role, it’s especially helpful to be open and transparent about what you don’t know, and where you’re still catching up. This is more likely to engender trust with parents in the first instance.

Being honest with parents about a student’s university prospects

This is arguably when honesty is most crucial. Parents may have unrealistic or inflated opinions about their son or daughter’s university prospects. They may think your student is destined for Oxford or Cambridge, or they may have a very particular idea about their child studying a particular course. 

But does this fit with what you know about this student? Maybe they don’t have the requisite grades to make it into their parents’ dream university destination. You may feel they haven’t got enough extracurricular activities to make their application really excel. 

It’s also possible that a parent or family member’s lack of knowledge about international universities may mean that there are some destinations they haven’t considered, or a type of university they never knew existed. It’s important to have this conversation with them too! 

Keeping parents informed about a student’s progress

As we mentioned earlier, some parents will feel that they don’t have a lot of visibility about their son or daughter’s overall progress with their university application. After all, students aren’t always the most proactive bunch when it comes to talking about their homework! 

A key part of the international university application process is just keeping parents in the loop at every stage of the journey, from initial university research to final shortlisting. 

It’s also a great idea to just make sure students and parents are in the same room as much as possible – inviting parents to your meetings with a student is a great way to ensure parents feel in the loop.

Which brings us to Step 2.

Step 2: Hold regular information/Q&A sessions

These can take any shape or form – you could organise parent’s evenings or themed coffee mornings. But regular meetings with groups of parents can help you to gauge what their biggest concerns are and provide them with a forum to get their voices heard

Whatever format you decide to use, information/drop-in sessions can cover a range of useful topics. Some examples of topics that BridgeU counsellors have covered include: 

How to get students involved in relevant work experience/internships

Internships and work experience placements can be invaluable for students. They can help students broaden their skillset and also help them gain a better understanding of their career goals. Parents can be a useful ally in ensuring that students are actively searching for these opportunities – especially in the summer months.

Explainer sessions on the different university countries

The different university systems place very different demands on students. Parents will want to know the key deadlines, milestones and challenges that students will be facing. Sessions dedicated to each country can help parents to gain a better understanding of which country or region is best for their son/daughter. 

Meetings with your school alumni

Can you put parents in touch with previous alumni of your school, whether its former students, or even the parents of former students? Some parents (and their children) may really benefit from anecdotes and advice about studying abroad from people who have actually experienced it. 

Step 3: Invite parents to meetings with your students? 

If you’re holding university research application sessions with parents, why not get parents involved too? 

Inviting parents to one-on-one meetings with the students can ensure that everyone is on the same page. There are a couple of key milestones where it can be useful to involve parents. 

University research

It can be helpful to include parents in early conversations with students about studying abroad. It’s important that both students and parents have a good understanding of what studying abroad actually means, and what the application process will involve. 

Keeping students engaged during the holidays

Students can easily become disengaged from the university application process during the summer holidays. Whether it’s planning and honing their Common App essay or doing an internship to boost their CV, parents can be your ally in ensuring that students don’t fall victim to ‘summer melt’.

Building a university shortlist

Students need to build a viable shortlist of international destinations. It’s important to include parents in conversations about this. Some talking points that may arise include: 

  • Having an honest conversation about a student’s chance of acceptance to their shortlisted university. 
  • Discussing application progress with students and parents. 
  • Outlining final deadlines and milestones for both students and parents as university application season gets underway. 

Parents who feel engaged and involved in their student’s progress will be much more likely to support you as you master an extremely complex process! 

What are your experiences of involving parents in the university guidance process? Do you follow these steps? Or do you take a different approach? Leave a comment below if you’d like to get involved in the discussion. 

To learn more about how to manage international applications in your school, download your free ebook ‘How to Master & Manage International Applications‘.

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