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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - More parents of college-bound teenagers are becoming involved in the admission process and posing new challenges for universities.
So-called "helicopter parents" have stopped short of moving into residence halls, but some are calling college admission officers, filling in application forms for their children and even writing their personal essays in the hopes that their son or daughter will get into a top school.
"It has been growing a little bit each year but the big change was probably three to five years ago when parents began to play a much more active role," said Jessica Eads, vice president enrolment management at Hofstra University in New York.
Jerry Flanagan, the vice president of enrolment and marketing at Saint Michael's College in Vermont, attributes the rise to two factors -- technology, such as cellphones, Facebook and email which enables constant connectivity, and smaller families.
"The advances in technology have made it easier for families to hover, or be connected. The second part is that you don't see the same large numbers in families, so you have a little bit more focus on your child and to live vicariously through them," he said.
"Cutting that umbilical cord psychologically I think is hard for some parents today."
Whatever the reasons, 77 percent of nearly 400 admissions officers at the country's top 500 schools who were questioned in a survey said parental involvement is increasing. And 61 percent reported their school is doing something about it.
"Many schools are trying to remedy the situation in creative ways," said Justin Serrano, of Kaplan Inc, the educational and career services company that conducted the poll.
Colleges are offering separate panels, tours and seminars for parents, or websites and newsletters targeted for moms and dads.
A study at Keene State College in New Hampshire revealed that 10 percent of 300 first year students had helicopter parents -- a term used to describe overly protective parents who hover over their children.
With thousands of colleges and universities in the United States to choose from, applying can be a complicated and expensive process, and one in which parents have a vested interest. Typically a potential student will apply to about six to 10 schools or more.
And with the top institutions accepting less than 10 percent of applicants, the competition is stiff.
Jeannine Lalonde, the senior assistant dean of admissions at the University of Virginia (UVA), believes the media buzz about helicopter parents has had a positive impact.
"I actually think that all the talk about helicopter parents has some parents being more careful about the boundary," she said.
Eads believes most parents are just trying to help their children be educated consumers. But she added that admissions officers have a role to play.
"That's the delicate dance we have to do, to make sure parents don't overshadow their students."
Editing by Steve Addison