MAY 2023
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A Mother’s Bumpy Ride Through Her Son’s College Application Journey 

By Robert A.G. LeVine and Helen He

By Robert LeVine

I always think it’s valuable for parents to hear what other parents say about their experience with the college admissions process. This month, we present Helen He, whose son Jonathan recently finished his admissions effort.

“Before I started accompanying my son through his college application experience, I felt trapped in a dark tunnel, feeling overwhelmed and lost in information and misinformation. Now that Jonathan has landed on his preferred college, I look back and realize there are key puzzle pieces that I needed to figure out along the way.

Selecting a consultant. There is no “need” to hire an independent educational consultant, but then again, it is not necessary to hire a financial planner, lawyer or other professional. In our hometown, consultants are commonplace, so I naturally felt that I should at least interview a few. After meeting several consultants, I realized that their goals are quite self-selective. I did not want to work with any who only target Ivy League schools, as I didn’t raise my son to value name brand and reputation over what is best for him. I did not want to work with anyone who would babysit my son and do his job for him. No, I wanted someone who would guide and push Jonathan to do things the right way, but more importantly coach and mentor him to do the right thing, which to us meant being responsible and independent. Through a friend, I found the right match.

Selecting potential schools. When it became time to select ten colleges (that was our high school’s transcript limit), it felt like seeking golden needles in a gargantuan haystack. The U.S. has thousands of universities! Yes, we could input criteria into search engines – location, size, and rankings were our first – but that didn’t really help. Then I asked myself (and my son) the most important question: what is the purpose of going to college? This led to a family decision: find schools where Jonathan could feel good about his past, enjoy his present, and pursue his future. With this baseline, the input of our consultant became very valuable in discussing which schools might “fit” our son.

Selecting a topic for the personal statement essay. Reflecting on our parenting style, I realized that we had never hyper-focused on academics, but rather invested our efforts in parenting our son to be a well-rounded person. We invested a huge amount of time and money in supporting Jonathan’s competitive sailing, which taught him about commitment, what it means to become successful, and ultimately how to give back to society. That made his essay topic an easy choice. Jonathan’s long-term sailing experience provided more than enough interesting and authentic material, but also formed the backdrop for the true story of his personal growth.

Applying “early.” In contrast to what the whole world told us, our consultant told us that we should not apply early unless we were ready. That seemed logical: the more experience writing admissions essays, the better the results. At the beginning of grade 12, Jonathan wasn’t ready to do his best work, so he did not apply anywhere early.

Then the pressures came from our surroundings, social media and even lifelong friends. Everyone claimed it was a golden ticket to any college! Why hadn’t Jonathan submitted an ED application? Honestly, I felt we were screwed. My fears led me to believe that our chosen colleges had no room left for my son. However, when Jonathan finished his final college essay, we realized that only his best work would help him achieve his best dreams.

Although we skipped filing Early, my son ended up with several great colleges, including a school that is absolutely perfect for Jonathan. We are so excited!

The application process was important for my son, but it was also vital for us as parents. There were many, many times when I was confused and struggled to help, and the calm, confident, logical advice of our consultant helped me make sense of so many loose thoughts that were racing around in my head.

Having lived through the horrors, my best advice is to become informed yourself. When you get lost during the college process, find your way back by keeping an open mind, disregarding the noise yelled by the world, and learning as much as possible. I pushed myself to study everything, which allowed me to converse intelligently with my son and my husband. That way, we were able to make our best decisions, together.”

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit

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