How your parents can ruin your college application

Posted 3 years ago

Understandably, parents want the best for their children. But wanting the best and achieving it are two very different things.

Often the pressure of parents wanting the best can get in the way of you reaching your potential.

Achieving the best requires two things: hard work and the right support around you.

While some students may perform well under academic parental pressure, there are some very strong cases against, including the effect on students' mental health.

What's more:

Colleges are looking for people who love learning and are ethical contributors to their community. They are no longer solely focused on academics.

So, it doesn't make sense to be pressured to just perform academically. In fact...

The Inconvenient Truth About High-Pressure Academics

When you couple parental pressure with the already high-pressure education system, you have a recipe for disaster.

Most education systems in Asiatic countries emphasise importance on exams and tests, teaching students to fear failure, not to love learning.

Take for example the strict, exam-focused Chinese education system.

In 2014-15, statistics from The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s counselling team show they handled 725 cases of students who were mostly troubled by personal growth and study issues.

Sadly, most parents seem to endorse this high-pressure, fear-of-failure approach when judging their child's academic performance. Students are not embraced and praised for showing a keen interest in learning, yet they are scorned for dropping marks in an assignment.

Looking for applicants who love learning, not fear it.

If you begin to fear failure, then you will cease to love learning. It's as simple as that.

Failure should be embraced as a vital aspect of development, all throughout your academic journey from primary and secondary school through to university and beyond.

You should pursue natural curiosities and passions. That's what works on an application, not submitting a 1600 SAT score.

You and your parents are a team and strong support becomes particularly important when you consider that most top US and UK universities are looking for a candidate with an emotional centre.

More importantly, they want to see you making an ethical contribution to the world - really making positive change.

Strive high, but don't restrict yourself

How Your Parents can Ruin Your college application - Aim for the Stars

By all means, parents should help their child strive for a top university. The Ivy League and Oxbridge schools are great, but they're not the only schools where you can get a strong education.

If your parents, or academic advisors are pidgeonholing you to only the top schools, it can be detrimental to your college candidacy.

Whilst parents should help to advise on the college admissions process, they should also know that there isn't a single answer to getting into a particular college nor is there only one right university for their child of the 3,000 colleges in the US.

Additionally,__ there is no such thing as the perfect applicant!__

What does it take to gain admission?

How your parents can ruin your college application - What makes a strong applicant?

Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter way to build a solid college applicant.

Colleges rarely look for a one-size-fits-all applicant, rather they want to make up a class of unique individuals.

They are looking for an asset to their campus and for this reason, a strong applicant possess any number of traits.

A strong applicant should be:

  • Passionate.
  • Inspired and inspiring.
  • Ethical.
  • Always honest.

US colleges are looking for an eclectic mix of students to ignite their campus culture.

And just like there is no singular plan to gain admission into your dream college, there is no singular college perfect for you.

"Sorry, but I'm only considering the best universities" ... bad move, but good luck to you.

When you say "the best", what exactly do you mean?

There are multiple universities in the US and the UK which provide excellent educations in a wide stream of subjects.

Students shouldn't be restricted to the "best" universities defined by arbitrary rankings. You need to consider colleges that are best for you. What do you value? What subject do you want to study? Where do you want to locate? Who do you respect?

Don't just apply because of the name or perception of the institution.

There are hundreds of top ranked universities that you should consider, such as:


Key facts:

  • Internationally recognised research university in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Offers undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education and human development, as well as a full range of graduate and professional degrees.
  • Ranked number 203 in the world.


Key facts:

  • Specialises in business courses.
  • In 2015, Wharton's MBA program was ranked number one in the world by Business Insider.
  • Located in Philadelphia, USA.

UC Berkeley:

Key facts:

  • Located in sunny California.
  • Ranked number 28 in the world according to QS World University Rankings.
  • Ranked number nine in the world for graduate employability.

King's College London:

Key facts:

  • Ranked number 21 in the world.
  • Considered in the top 60 universities world wide for graduate employability.
  • Located in one of the most globally connected cities in the world, London.


Key facts:

  • Located in one of the most inspiring cities in the world, Manhattan.
  • Ranked 46 in the world.
  • Ranked 38 in the world for graduate employability.

These colleges and universities are only a few of the hundreds of top universities in the world that are more than just realistic options, but are high quality options beyond the Ivy Leagues and Oxbridge schools.

How do I find the college that's best for me?

How Parents Can Ruin Your college application - perfect fit?

When applying to US and UK colleges, it's important to consider a number of options and influences, such as campus lifestyle, academic ranking, student housing, former and current alumni, cost of living and tuition and what you can bring to campus.

And, If the chance presents itself, visiting a campus can make a world of difference.

For parents to be supportive, they must first realise that elite schools may not be the right fit for their child, therefore parents should trust that their child is applying to colleges which will benefit them, their education, interests and their lifestyle.

More importantly, it's vital you don't exclusively apply to your dream school! This is a fool's errand.

We advise applying to a number of schools which you split up into three categories.

Dream schools:

These are the schools at the top of your pile. The schools you've been thinking about since you were a tween. The creme de la creme. The cherries on top. The Ivy Leagues and the Oxbridges. If you get accepted that's a dream come true, but should not be disappointed if you're not.

Apply to three to seven dream schools.

Realistic schools:

These are the schools that have a history of admitting applicants of a similar standard to you. These are the schools you spend the most time researching and aligning to your values. They'll give you the best education, most suited to you.

Apply to three to five realistic schools.

Back up schools:

Generally, these are the schools you're likely to get accepted to if you put your best foot forward. However, this is not to say they need to be schools of lesser quality than your dream and realistic schools. It just means if something goes wrong when applying for your realistic schools, you'll still get the education you're after.

Apply to one to three back-up schools.

What country you apply to will influence how you learn.

Different countries offer different types of education, so you must also consider the type of learning you enjoy that will suit you more.

This kind of thing is up to you, and you alone. You should not let your parents pressure or influence these important decisions based on college prestige. The right university for you is more about cultural fit than excellence.

The US provides liberal arts degrees that offer you more flexibility, not forcing you to choose a major until second or sometimes even third year at university. This allows you to explore your interests and passions.

Where the US has breadth, UK offers depth. You are offered deep insights into your specific major.

Both approaches have their respective benefits , and it's up to you to decide which you prefer.

I've heard US colleges can be costly!

How your parents can ruin your college application - Cost

As I'm sure you know, the world's best colleges can come with a hefty price tag attached.

However, there are options to help make your time at college more affordable and to help you avoid the crippling student debts you may have heard about.

In the US and the UK, there are plenty of student scholarships you can apply for, which you can check out in our blog post 9 Of The Easiest Scholarship Applications You Can Make Today.

In the US, you also have financial aid options which can vary between institutions and reduce, if not eliminate, your total tuition fees.

Financial aid is provided by US universities in order to make it easier for some families to afford the expensive cost of attending a US university.

It gets a little tricky, but can really help you attend some cool universities.

Financial aid is an equal opportunity initiative to help create diverse classes and campus life.

Final Thoughts

School can be stressful and the last thing you need is your parents, who are supposed to be your support network, placing more unnecessary pressure on you.

The remedy for pushy parents: Communication.

Before the school year even begins, you should have a frank and open discussion with your parents about the expectations placed on you and your university goals.

Discuss all dream schools, realistic schools and back-up schools. Know the costs of each and what you're family can afford, because, after all, you don't want to be placing unnecessary pressure on them too.

Having an open discussion will help avoid many issues before they even arise. Your parents will know not to pidgeon-hole you to top schools, will have some sympathy for the pressure you're receiving at school and will hopefully put in effort at home to help quell any anxieties or fears instead of adding to them.

If you're parents are not talkative parents or you don't feel comfortable having this kind of discussion with them, find someone you can talk to. Your school might employ someone to help you in these situations.

The earlier you share your concerns, the sooner you can start to resolve them and put methods in place to work around them.

Handling your final few years at school with a cool head, will help you develop you extracurricular and leadership activities outside of the standard curriculum and increase your chances of admission into your dream schools.

If you want some more proof for your parents, take a look at our free eBook which discusses the new application assessment process.

Transform your life, get a dream college offer