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10 effective strategies for building relationships with parents

Here are 10 tips on how to build a good relationship with parents

    Myriam Polo de Molina's avatar

    Myriam Polo de Molina

    College placement counsellor at Colegio Colombo Británico
    July 21 2023
    Parent teacher meeting


    The college application process is a significant event in the life of both students and their families, because this is the first crucial decision that students take at school level for their future.  

    Parental involvement is crucial to ensuring a successful college application. However, parental expectations can create additional pressures on students. So how do we deal with this?  

    First, we need to understand that every family’s experience of their child going to college is different. There is no general, one-size-fits-all formula. But bearing these considerations in mind, here are 10 basic strategies to effectively manage critical situations with parents during the college application process.  

    1. Communicate effectively  

    Arrange introductory meetings to keep both parents and students well informed about the process, as well as the application deadlines, admissions requirements, financial information, financial aid and scholarships. Provide resources, handouts or online modules that offer detailed information about standardised tests, essay writing and application strategies.  

    Also, arrange private meetings to let the students and their parents ask questions. Engage them in an open dialogue to avoid misconceptions, and give them space to express their concerns or expectations.  

    By empowering parents with knowledge, you can reduce their anxiety and allow them to better understand their role. That way, they can more effectively support their adolescents.  

    2. Be knowledgeable and well informed  

    If parents request a meeting, ask them to specify what it is about, so that you can research the topic in advance. Demonstrate your expertise and knowledge about the college application process. Share information on admission requirements, financial aid options and the overall college landscape. When parents see you as a knowledgeable resource, they may feel more reassured and confident in your guidance.  

    3. Set realistic expectations 

    Part of college counselling involves managing parents’ expectations, by educating them about the realities of college admissions. Explain the role of parents and students in the application process, emphasising the importance of student autonomy when it comes to decision-making.  

    Establish clear boundaries with parents, in order to maintain a professional relationship. Clearly communicate the counsellor’s role as a guide and facilitator, rather than as a guarantor of admission. Explain admissions criteria, the significance of a rounded application and the unpredictability of acceptance rates. Encourage parents to focus on their children’s personal growth and development throughout the process, rather than solely on admission to prestigious institutions.  

    Inform parents about the unpredictability of college admissions and the variety of suitable college options available to their child. Encourage them to be open-minded and to consider several options in different types of institutions and different countries.  

    4. Encourage student autonomy 

    While parents play an essential role in providing support, it is the student’s responsibility to lead the application process. Remind parents that, while you value their involvement, the student should be the primary decision-maker throughout the process. This is a time for their children to explore their interests, develop independence and to grow and learn from their experiences.  

    5. Address emotional concerns 

    Parents may experience a wide range of emotions during the college application process. These include stress, anxiety and fear for their child’s future, in part because of a lack of understanding about the college application process.  

    Let parents know that their emotions are valid and understandable and offer a supportive environment for parents to express their concerns. Actively listen and validate parents’ emotions. It is crucial for college counsellors to actively listen without interrupting and judging. 

    Consider parents’ feelings, and show empathy by acknowledging their concerns. Provide reassurance while guiding them through the process.  

    6. Foster collaboration  

    Promote a collaborative team relationship between parents, students and college counsellors. Emphasise that everyone has the same goal: finding the best-fit college for the student.  

    Encourage parents to actively listen to their child’s aspirations and goals, allowing them to express their preferences freely. When conflicts arise, mediate discussions and encourage compromise. Building a collaborative atmosphere fosters a positive and supportive environment for all involved.  

    7. Share success stories  

    Share success stories of past students you’ve counselled in order to inspire confidence in the process. Highlight instances where students have thrived in colleges that were a great fit for them, even if they were not their first-choice schools. Highlight how these students were able to find suitable colleges and achieve their academic and personal goals. These stories can serve as a source of inspiration and reassurance.  

    8. Use technology and resources 

    Use email newsletters, online portals, digital counselling bulletins and social-media groups to share updates, important deadlines and relevant articles. Provide access to online tools that assist with college searches, as well as to financial-aid calculators, and scholarship databases. These resources help parents to stay engaged in the college-counselling process, and to make informed decisions.  

    9. Stay positive and encouraging 

    Maintain a positive and optimistic attitude throughout the process. Celebrate students’ achievements and strengths. Emphasise to parents that their child’s abilities are unique, and will be recognised by colleges, even if the outcome may be uncertain.  

    Parents and school counsellors share a desire for the student to be successful. Since parents see the school counsellor as a key to success, and parents want to meet their child’s needs, they are usually motivated to want to work together with the school counsellor.  

    10. Give parents guidance about paying for college  

    Encourage parents to start planning for college expenses as early as possible. Help parents to understand the potential costs associated with tuition fees, room and board, textbooks and other educational expenses.  

    Educate parents about the financial aid process and the different types of aid available, including grants, scholarships, work-study programmes and student loans. Help parents to understand the criteria used to determine financial need, and help them to find scholarships and grants that they may be eligible for at national and international level. Explain to them the difference between a domestic student and an international one.  

    Engage parents in an open discussion about their financial situation and limitations. Help them to understand the importance of considering affordability when selecting colleges. Assist parents in understanding and comparing financial-aid award letters from different colleges, and in navigating the communication process with college financial-aid offices.  

    Remember that each family’s financial situation is unique, and it is important to approach financial discussions with sensitivity, empathy – and, of course, confidentiality. By providing information, resources and support, college counsellors can help parents to make informed decisions about how to finance their child’s college education.  



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