“Tell them you are proud of them” and other advice to parents from a college counselor

“Tell them you are proud of them” and other advice to parents from a college counselor
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This content was created in partnership with Charlotte Country Day School.


For parents and teens alike, the college admissions process can be full of anxiety, uncertainty and stress.

It’s something that Catherine Odum, Interim Director of College Counseling at Charlotte Country Day School, is familiar with from her 18 years at CCDS and her first-hand experience with her daughter this year.

Where we’re at: Most early decision deadlines have passed, and most regular decision deadlines fall in early January.

We asked Catherine a few questions about how to thrive (not just survive) the process.


What is your number one piece of advice?

“Keep an open mind. There are so many great colleges and universities, and there are so many places where students can be happy and successful.

I don’t believe there’s one ‘perfect fit’ for students. They may think there is, and their parents may think there is, but really there are so many schools where they could achieve their academic and personal goals.

  • So be willing to explore and think outside the box.

This process is so fraught with anxiety. I get it, I’m actually living it personally. But if you can shift your perspective it really can be a fun process.”

What are the most important factors to consider in a school?

“There’s a catchphrase out there right now: ‘Can I get in, will I fit in and can I afford it?’

We try to help students find their best matches in a few areas, including academics, social life, location, size and finances.

This is a highly individualized process, so every student and family’s concerns are different.”

What resources do you recommend to students?

“The college websites: looking at course offerings and majors.

Meet with college admissions representatives: There’s even a lot of virtual material out there.

Guidebooks: I really like the Fisk Guide to Colleges and the Insider’s Guide to the Colleges. They make these accessible for teenagers, so they’re fun to read.

Free online resources: The College Board, The College Foundation of North Carolina, and Niche. The best resources out there are the ones that are free.”

How many schools should students apply to?

“There’s really not a perfect number. What we advise students is to have at least two schools in each of these categories:

  • Schools that you think are really hard to get into, but you’re going to give them a shot.
  • Schools where you aren’t a sure thing, but you have a reasonable shot at getting in.
  • Schools where you’re pretty sure you can get in.”

What advice would you give to a parent whose child didn’t get into their dream school?

“Give them a big hug and tell them that you are proud of them, that you love them, and that what a college admissions office says to them is not a reflection of their self-worth or a prediction of their future success.

Just be there to support, encourage and make sure they know that you’re disappointed for them, not in them.

Help them realize that they’re going to be happy and successful at a number of different schools, but own the disappointment and grieve with them.”

Do you have any application essay tips?

“A college essay is really a student’s chance to tell their story. We tell students to think of their essay as if they were telling someone a story about themselves.

And of course, get a counselor, teacher, parent, or just somebody to read it and give you feedback. I also think it’s great when peers read each other’s essays.”

Any other advice?

“Financial aid is available, so I encourage everybody, whether they think they’ll qualify or not, to apply for financial aid and see what might happen.

And pay attention to deadlines. Try to get your college applications done early so you aren’t stressed out with schoolwork, extracurriculars, and submitting applications at the last minute and not putting your best work out there.”


Learn more about how Charlotte Country Day School helps kids grades JK-12 get college-ready.

This content was created in partnership with Charlotte Country Day School.

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