What parents fear most during admissions season

They want their children to succeed, but what does that look like?

The stress—and excitement—that comes with applying to colleges is expected for students. 

But what you may not have expected is the toll it takes on applicants' parents.

Writing for the Washington Post, Brennan Barnard, the director of college counseling at the Derryfield School, rounds up the hopes and fears that have been top of mind for applicants' parents this admissions season.


Barnard discovered that parents have a wide range of fears about college—fears about their child's failure to find happiness, loss of hope, or long-term unfulfillment. Parents worry that their children will be burdened with stress, academic difficulty, and social pressure once they've gone off to college.

Fears about their children choosing the wrong school also burden parents, as do fears that their children may have overly high expectations. No parents want their children to wind up disappointed.

Parents also worry about the risks associated with college campuses—drinking, partying, impulsive decisions, and sexual assault.

And of course, there is the fear that once children leave the nest, they won't want to return. 

For first-generation parents, these fears can seem especially real


On the positive end of the spectrum, parents are excited for their children, and optimistic about what college has in store for them.

Parents do want their children to be challenged in school, and hope that their children's ambitions and self-motivation will drive them to take full advantage of the college they choose. Parents want their children to live up to their potential and develop a lifelong love of learning.

One of the most universal hopes is that children will succeed. But Barnard says this is "the most elusive of [parents'] hopes, the most susceptible to interpretation, and the most difficult to quantify."

To that end, Barnard notes that focusing too closely on specific goals can lead a parent to lose sight of whether students are fulfilled and happy by broader measures (Strauss/Barnard, Washington Post, 1/4). 

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