College Counseling “Pro Tips” For Parents of Juniors

A mom just asked me what she should be doing to help her son. “He seems so stressed out all the time,” she said. I reassured her that that’s the definition of junior year:

Junior Year: noun — a unique form of stress occurring from September through June of the third year of high school.

From my talks with high school guidance and college counselors as well as teachers and sports coaches, juniors begin the year knowing the pressure is on: to take a rigorous course load, to up their grades, to shore up possible leadership positions in their extracurricular activities, to prep for standardized tests, to apply for summer internships, to tour colleges and to know what they want to be when they grow up. Or at least what they’d like to major in when they finally get on a campus.

Here are my three college counseling tips or ‘actions’ for parents of these overworked teenagers:

Talk to Them

But not about college. I’m only half-joking. Take their pulse. Some juniors alleviate stress by talking about the college application process nonstop. They’ll share with me what their parents advise, what their friends think and what their relatives feel. Other juniors clam up. They don’t want to share any of their thoughts about the whole ordeal nor do they want to hear anyone’s opinion on the topic. If your student is a talker, talk and listen. If your student is a clam, talk to them, but not about college. In other words, stay connected to them and try to keep your own nerves about the process — which may exhibit themselves as probing questions — at bay.

Feed Them

A student just told me that his dad makes these pancakes every Sunday with Reese’s Pieces in them. To be honest, the concoction sounded gross and I LOVE Reese’s Pieces, but the student promised me, they’re “amazing.” She described the ritual of watching her dad create these flapjacks and then the two of them seeing who could eat the most; it was often a tie with both feeling a tad sick. Another student said his mom made lasagna every Friday because, as it was the end of the week, she knew he’d have time to sit with her and talk while they ate together. Breaking bread together can be a low-stress, high-love way to support a student.

Play with Them

One student told me that he missed being little because his parents chased him around and tickled him until he wanted to throw up. “Was that a nice experience?” I asked about the throwing up part. He smiled and said, “Sort of.” What he enjoyed was laughing with his parents, sharing joy. That element of the family dynamic can get lost junior year. Not only the applicant and parents, but siblings too are often impacted by the college search. A brother or sister can experience second-hand stress simply by watching — and hearing — their older sibling discuss schools, test dates, summer jobs, etc. with their parents. I encouraged one family to reinstate Family Movie Night, a tradition from when the student was younger. Game nights, pick-up sports, make-your-own tacos or sundaes — activities that are reminiscent of childhood can be a wonderfully bonding antidote to the anxiety of growing up and leaving home.

This past year a parent said to me, “You did the heavy-lifting of the college application process so I could have fun with my daughter.” This broke my heart. It’s exactly why I love my job.


For more information about College Counseling and Essay Coaching, please drop me a line at or give me a holler at 917-863-2424. Also, for college counseling tips and “news you can use,” please check out my blog, videos, Facebook, and Instagram.