They say hindsight is 20/20 so we asked fathers who’ve been through the college process to share what they learned and their advice to those just starting out. Honest, moving and chock full of wisdom you need to read these heartfelt responses as you embark on your college admissions journey. 

I’ve been thinking about this for some time and have concluded the one thing I would’ve liked to have done differently was to introduce the concept of a gap year into my children’s thinking.  I think both of my kids would of enjoyed and benefited from a gap year…. I mean, hell, we all would! I wish it were “mainstream” thinking to pursue a year of service, interests not studied in high school or some other buried goal.  Our children would be better for it.  We would all be better for it.

— Robert
Having been through this process 3 times the most important piece of advice I can give to parents who are experiencing the college process for the first time is….relax! Your kids are stressed enough— they don’t need the additional angst created by overly involved parents. Your kids are doing the heavy lifting. They are the ones preparing for and taking the SATs or ACTs, the SAT 2s, the APs, doing their school work, involving themselves in extracurricular activities, and writing meaningful college essays. The truth is that the level of success a child will achieve in his or her lifetime is far more determined by their innate abilities, their drive, their emotional IQ and other factors than it is by the college they graduated from. So parents should do their best to make the process a positive experience. Enjoy the road trips with your kids to visit schools, laugh with them about the absurdity of some of the essays they will be required to write, and encourage them to stay positive. At the end of the process, it is highly likely your child will end up at a school where they will spend 4 very happy years.

— Andy
For anyone with a child who is being recruited for a college sport, the temptation is to overwhelmingly focus on the athletic program over the other aspects of the schools your child is considering.  When my son was going through the process, I advised him to think about being at the school and not playing a sport.  Would he still want to be there?  A lot can happen over four years: injuries, the coach who recruited you leaves, you learn that being a college athlete isn’t what you wanted, and so on.  If that happens, you need to be sure your child will be happy with the institution he/she chooses if varsity sports are no longer in the picture.    

— Nick
One of my sons actually gave his parents one of the most interesting pieces of advice about the college process.  Aside from the usual ‘due diligence’ everyone does when applying to schools, he insisted that, when he visited each college, he had to attend a social event at the school so he could evaluate the kids.  Usually this meant going out at night to a party, a fraternity, a dinner with a current student he knew from camp or high school to meet his/her friends.  He said that you can’t really “get a feel” for the culture of the school or tell what the students are like from just taking a tour, attending a class, or walking around the campus.  Interacting with students in a social setting allowed him to sense whether a particular college was a good fit. 
— Sam
The summer is a great time to get your essays done without the added stress of schoolwork and homework. It allows your child time to edit, rewrite—take a few days off— and then edit and rewrite again. I highly recommend after numerous revisions that your child then shows their essay to more than just you, but to a favorite teacher, college counselor—someone who’s opinion they respect. Ultimately it’s their words and it should be their essay, but outside eyes can catch and correct grammar and punctuation errors.
— Bryan
As parents, we get very caught up in where our children “should go” and often wind up looking at the same schools as everyone else. In NYC, where I’m from there, people get too caught up in the whole college process. I wish my wife and I had thought and looked outside the box a little more. College is what you make it.  What you put in is what you get out. I don’t think it really matters where you go. They’re all good and one can have a great experience at any school if you work and study hard and take advantage of all the opportunities outside of the classroom. And if you really don’t like it, you can always switch. If we all read Outliers, we’d know that more PHDs get published from places like University of Maryland than Harvard.  

I’m also all about a gap year. I wish I had taken one! Harvard actually pushes very hard on it, and 33% of incoming freshman do it.
— Paul
I am the father of three daughters and in all honesty I didn’t have as much influence on my kids decisions as my wife did. My true feeling about this modern day process is that it’s become completely insane. Schools that I could have gone to in the 1980s are now incredibly hard to get into; not to mention that the Ivy League and other top tier schools are almost impossible. 

I coached HS football and lacrosse for many years and watched many parents try to live their lives through their kids’ experiences. College choice is no different, many parents try to influence their kids to where they would want to go to school, a place that reflects back well on them. I believe a parent’s role is to guide their kids, offer an opinion, plan visits and then step back and let their kids arrive at their own choices! I truly believe a college is something you fall in love with instantly! If it feels like a good fit, has a curriculum that aligns with your child’s interests and you can afford it, then that’s the school your child should attend for the next four years. Remember you’ve already gone to college, its not about you—this is the time to respect your child’s wishes and let them have their own experiences, make their own choices and sometimes their own mistakes.  

— Lawrence
1.  Make sure you get your essays and applications done early so there is no crunch close to the deadlines.

2. Visit as many schools as economically possible, so you can see all different types—Big vs. Small, Urban vs. Rural, RaRa vs. Academic.

3. Remember you are picking a school for your child to attend not one that you would like to visit.

4. Make sure your child LOVES their second choice.

5. If your child is set on going to a certain school and they offer ED you MUST apply early admission to increase your child’s acceptance chances.

6.  Think about how many times per semester you will visit your child or they will come home, remember it is much easier to get in a car and drive a few hours than to be at the mercy of flights and airports.

7. Remind your child that if he/she is not happy with their choice they can always transfer.  This might help to relive some of the decision making pressure.
— JoJo