Be a Stress-Free Mom Braving the College Admissions Process


Guidance on the college admissions process from Dr. and Mom, Aviva Legatt.

Aviva's kiddo

School. SATs. Extracurriculars. APs. Recommendations. Applications. Early Admission. The school year is around the corner. While the school year can bring hope and excitement, it also can bring dread and worry for moms of college-bound kids. For moms of older kids, perhaps one of the most anxiety-provoking thoughts is—drumroll—getting our kid into their dream school. We want to make sure it’s a good fit for them, but also help set their stage to flourish there.

Fortunately, I was able to catch up with Dr. Aviva Legatt, author of Get Real and Get In and former admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania, to learn if she could help moms preparing for the seemingly treacherous road ahead. We’re lucky because Aviva has the full mom perspective—a mom herself of two young kiddos and only two hands.

Since she had many good pearls of wisdom to share, we’re going to break it up into two parts. 

You’re a mom too! Tell us more about being a mom.

Aviva: Yes, I’m a mom of two kids! I wrote a book when I was having one and then published it when I was having another. One will be going to kindergarten next year. Then I have another younger one, so my hands are full. My older and younger children have different needs. One is more like me and the other one is less like me. They are wired differently. Also, the trajectory for our kids is college too.

Can you share more about the impressive paradox? It reminded me of the coolness factor in high school. You couldn’t convince others at school by simply telling them you were cool. It just didn’t work.

Aviva: The paradox is that almost all the impressiveness goes out the window when you’re trying to be impressive. If we’re working too hard on the reputational aspect, and not focusing on the what and the where, there’s hollowness. For the application, you do need to make an impression. Students will often use grandiose language and share a big vision without evidence that’s actually backing it up.

college admissionsAny advice you’d share with moms as they prepare for this road ahead?

Aviva: One important thing for moms to do is step back. Ask yourself what is your own response to your child going through this journey? Moms may have trepidation about the child going through this journey. There’s a lot of potential roots of anxiety and it’s going to be different for every mom and much of it depends on the child’s trajectory. Moms need to better understand where their child is relative to where they may want the child to be. For example, a mom may want Harvard for their kid, but their kid may not be able to get admitted or thrive at Harvard. Some moms may be concerned with how to prepare the kid for Harvard or will they stand out once there? Another mom may be wondering if her child simply isn’t ready for college.

Overall, it’s important to 1) assess where your child is, and 2) understand the types of people (stakeholders) who can help to make that assessment. If we can bring objective measures and perspectives, we can then make realistic goals with a sanity check, rather than speaking to one person alone. Speaking to a range of different professionals, from college consultants to alumni or even visiting the school will give you a better sense of where your child might thrive. Moms really should aim to have a 360 approach and different ways to assess a child’s potential beyond grades and extracurriculars. You don’t want to help drive your kid towards a target that’s not right for them – it’s like rowing against the wind.

In this day and age where parents start thinking about 529s as soon as a child is born, any advice?

Aviva: It’s important to acknowledge the financial anxiety of college. Even thinking about the college, figuring out the appropriate amount to save up, what is this going to cost? No one knows what the future workforce will look like. With a young child (under 10), focus more on savings, don’t focus on college yet. It’s too early to know at this point. For moms of kids younger than 10, try to focus more on their growth and development. In middle school, help your kids to explore their interests and go deeper. Also, try to get them to a higher math level, since it builds the foundation for more advanced math classes later, like AP Calculus.

For high school students, it’s about helping to leverage their strengths across academic strengths and maximize it. And it’s about working with them to build their college application x-factor. X-factor is the expertise and exponential factor that is uniquely theirs which colleges will value.

When should we encourage our kids to start thinking about this process of going to college?

Aviva: During the Elementary School years, go through and test and pick a few things the child might like to do. In my opinion, it’s important that motivation comes from the child. Some parents will put them in competitive squash (and the child does it out of habit), but if you want to have healthy, confident children, see what they’re interested in and cultivate it. Dive deeply in 2-3 areas that they really like and aim to do that at the best potential level.

Then by 9th grade, your student kid should know the steps, but they don’t necessarily have to do the steps yet. For example, you don’t take the SAT in 9th grade, but you also don’t want your college bound kid to wait until the end of the junior year. Don’t procrastinate but some steps shouldn’t be done too early.

By high school, that’s when your kids should start diving into topics that are of interest. This might be writing a book, doing research, creating an org or nonprofit to benefit the family, community, or school. The ideal focus of the time is for your kid to use their expertise to benefit the community. The [university] communities that value what you’re doing will say yes to you.

What if you have a kid that’s very undecided? And likely will be an undecided major when they head to college.

Aviva: The key will be to have them experience many options to know what they don’t like to get closer on the path. Sometimes crossing options off the list gets them closer to the major they want. Also, research the college majors that are available – there are lots of options at college level, so it’s important to think beyond the high school curriculum.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Q&A with Dr. Aviva Legatt!