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A Special Message to Parents

Be supportive of your children and do not obsess about institution ranking and prestige.

Parents play a major role in the college selection process. They want the very best for their children. Here are some tips and suggestions for parents as they work with their children on the prospect of studying abroad.

Know Yourself

By Don Martin and Wesley Teter

Studying outside your home country is not an easy decision. For example, applying to study at the undergraduate level in the United States often requires a significant amount of time and planning. To get started, explore these five questions to see if studying abroad is a good fit for you.

1. Who are you? Think broadly about your academic goals as well as your values and personal strengths. List everything that comes to mind.

2. What inspires you? Try to be specific about what motivates and inspires you. Reflect on how you spend your personal time.

3. What skills do you want to improve? You may only have general ideas at this stage—that’s okay. From coding to leadership, studying abroad is a chance to develop new ideas and skills. What do you want to learn about?

4. How might studying abroad make a difference in your life? What about studying abroad specifically attracts you? Try to imagine your life overseas and write down some of your questions and initial ideas.

5. Who is in your support network? Teachers, friends, local business leaders and the EducationUSA network of advisers can be excellent sources of information. Be sure to identify them early and ask for their advice as you explore your plans to study abroad.


First, my congratulations to you. It is quite an adjustment to have a son or daughter travel to another country for undergraduate studies. In some cases, you may not be able to see them for one, two or more years. Yet, you are doing your best to support and encourage your children to pursue their educational and career goals. 

As a dean of admissions and a dean of students, it was my privilege to speak with the parents of many international students, be that via phone, online or in person. What always amazed me was the strong desire parents have to see their loved ones succeed. In many cases, parents make huge sacrifices so that their children can study abroad. 

When asked to provide advice to the parents of international students, the following two major tips come to mind.

Tip No. 1

To the best of your ability, give your son or daughter permission to make some mistakes along the way. Do not expect perfection from them. At times, parents can place quite a bit of pressure on their children to get straight A’s, get overly involved in extracurricular activities and not fail in any way whatsoever. This could actually make things worse. Let your children be human. Do not place unreasonable expectations on them.

In one meeting with an international student, I understood that the parents told their daughter not to come back home unless she finished her degree. Unfortunately, this student was having academic difficulties and was faced with being placed on probation, perhaps worse. This, in and of itself, would be a major challenge for any hardworking student. However, the pressure of not being welcomed home, unless she graduated, hanging over her head served only to lessen her ability to focus on what needed to be done to improve in her course of study. Thankfully, we were able to help her transfer to another institution. 

Be supportive of your children. But remember that sometimes our greatest learning opportunities come from mistakes and errors. If we are afraid of or forbid failure, we actually create a culture where it is more likely that failure will occur. That is because the person who is being pressured to be perfect, focuses on not making a mistake, which only causes more mistakes to be made. Focus on success with your children, not on perfection. There is a huge difference between the two. 

Tip No. 2

Help and encourage your children to find the best institution or program for them. Do not put an obsessive emphasis on rankings and prestige. There is absolutely no reliable evidence that success in life is dependent on where one attended college. 

How many examples do we see, in any country, of very well-connected individuals who attended all the best colleges and universities, yet who have failed miserably? And conversely, how many times do we witness instances of the major success of individuals who attended institutions that were not highly ranked or very prestigious? This is a testament to the fact that it is the individual who determines ultimate success or failure, not the ranking or prestige of the institution he or she attends.

Please do not make the mistake of assuming that the ranking or prestige of the institution your child attends will make a huge difference down the road. It may initially open a few more doors, but that is all. Who they are in terms of honesty, integrity, communication skills and demonstrated work ethic is what determines their success over time.

Don Martin is a former admissions dean at Columbia, University of Chicago and Northwestern; and author of “Road Map for Graduate Study.”