Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Packing for College

Sending that first child to college can be a pretty daunting task. I found this checklist last summer, and it was a helpful start in getting organized. I printed it and went over the list with Cal to determine any items he knew he would NOT use - no sense wasting my time and money. Then, as the summer progressed, I was able to accumulate the items on the list in an organized and budget-friendly fashion. I hope it helps you, too!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Making That College Match

“College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.” I heard those wise words spoken at Elon University when we attended Parents Weekend, and I thought, “Yes!” This one phrase summarizes my purpose in beginning this blog and my fascination with the college-decision process. When all is said and done, I would like our four children, and every other student I know, to be able to say that they were in the right place.
So many factors go into that match. Does the school make the student feel welcome, challenged, involved, and inspired? This would be a match with the student’s personality. Are the parents able to afford this school, or is unimaginable debt being taken on by either the parents or the student? The importance of an economic match makes an impact for decades. Will the offerings at the school lead to a job for the student after four years? If you’ve matched the skills, interests and enthusiasm of the student with the majors, opportunities and networking capabilities at the school, chances are a job won’t be hard to find. Perfect matches also involve characteristics like climate, distance from home, and student priorities such as sports, school spirit, opportunities in the arts, studying abroad, etc…
As we reach that point in the process when students are making their final decision, this idea of a match becomes so important. Hopefully your student applied to schools that seemed like good matches and has gotten some acceptance letters already. Any day now those “big” schools will be sending their regular-decision letters, and several kinds of choices will have to be made. Do I choose the school with the excellent reputation that will be a stretch to afford? Do I stick with a school that has put me on a wait list or move forward with a school that’s offering me a place in their honors program? I have the distinction of being admitted to one of the top schools in the country, but do I really want to spend the next four years in my own backyard? There’s no right answer to any of these questions, and if you ask around, you’ll find happy college students who prioritized these decisions in opposite directions.
After years of earning great grades and filling schedules with as many activities as possible, it is hard to see college acceptances as anything but the ultimate reward for a job well-done. Did my student win first prize? Second place? Or the consolation prize in their safety school? This notion of college being a prize to be won is a natural consequence of the emphasis put on student success, often beginning as early as elementary school. But your college is not your soul mate, and it’s only four years of your life. So much of your happiness is determined by your outlook and your ability to maintain a positive attitude.
A friend who graduated from high school with Cal posted a beautiful piece on Facebook at the end of her first semester about how she did not expect to be happy at the school that was never her first choice. Her writing resonated with me not only because it described how surprised and lucky she felt to realize she is right where she belongs, but because she remembered the feelings she’d had one year before as a senior in high school. She wanted to use her own experience to reassure current seniors that even when your path does not lead where you expect, you should not regard this as a disappointment or failure. 
When it’s time to choose a college, I hope your student will open his or her eyes to new opportunities, let go of unreasonable expectations, and consider, “Where will I be happy waking up every day for the next four years?” Here are two pieces to read/watch heading toward that final decision. The first is a column from the NY Times this past week with more stories of students who took unexpected paths to college happiness (thanks, Denise Tennery) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-how-to-survive-the-college-admissions-madness.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0. The second is an interesting perspective from Malcolm Gladwell in a talk to Google where he makes the case that you should not attend the best school that accepts you. My friend Jane Kulow pointed this out to me over a year ago. I found it helpful during this part of the decision process, so maybe you or your student will, too.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Send those SATs, Seniors! (Plus considering a timetable for underclassmen)

Perhaps you caught Notes From Peabody recently about how long it takes for SAT scores to be sent to colleges . Even in this day and age when you would think they could be sent electronically in an instant, it appears to take as long as two weeks after you hit the “send” button. That number jumps to FIVE weeks if you’re applying internationally.

If your child is a senior and has not sent his/her SAT scores, stop what you’re doing and get that done now. It takes a few minutes, but it’s not difficult. This is not a gray area – schools do not accept self-reported scores.  And most schools want you to send them all (some require it) – it’s quite common for schools to only take into account your best score on each part of the test or “superscore.” As you select each school on the College Board website, you’ll see a description about that school’s SAT policy. For instance, if you are applying to the College of William & Mary, you’ll see this message when you go to choose your scores:

COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY has indicated that it considers your highest section scores across all SAT test dates that you submit. Only your highest section scores will be considered as part of the final admissions decision. Each time you submit scores, COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY will update your record with any new high scores.

COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY strongly encourages you to submit your scores each time you take the SAT. Sending your scores each time you take the SAT can benefit you by allowing COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY to consider you for all available enrollment-related opportunities.

It takes a while for schools to get each student's credentials all together - the application matched up with the transcript, any recommendations, and test scores. Unless you're desperate for another chance to improve your scores or waiting for better grades to make it onto your transcript, it makes sense to get these things sent along to your schools in plenty of time.

While we are talking about the SAT, all of you who are NOT seniors should consider a game plan for when your student will take these tests. The SAT is offered in October, November, December, January, March, May and June. Discuss with your student the following:

  • How many times do you think you're willing (or can we afford) to take the SAT?
  • Do you want to take an SAT prep class before you try the SAT or wait and see how you perform the first time?
  • If you're not taking a prep class, are you the kind of student with the discipline to prepare on your own with an SAT prep book?
  • Are you interested in any schools that require or suggest taking the SAT Subject tests?
  • Is there a time of year that would be overly difficult to subject yourself to the test (maybe June feels nice because schoolwork is waning or May sounds stressful because of SOL and AP testing -- it will be different for every student/family!)
Seven times a year sounds like a lot, but most testing dates after October of senior year are too late. If you don't start thinking about them until Junior year after you've taken the PSAT for the second time, you may find yourself scrambling. 

College Applications and Mistakes to Avoid: Twitter Chat today at 4

If you're in the middle of getting those applications done, you may find this Twitter conversation today at 4pm helpful. Some people who really know what they are talking about will be on a panel tweeting about application mistakes to avoid -- including UVA's own Dean J.
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2014/10/23/us-news-twitter-chat-top-college-application-mistakes-to-avoid #CollegeAppTips

Friday, October 24, 2014

How Common IS The Common App?

“I Thought This Was Supposed to Be Easy Because of the Common App!”

A friend recently asked me to address this notion – just how many schools use an application other than the Common Application? According to the website, the Common App began in 1975 for 15 private colleges, and over five hundred institutions participate now. That’s a lot of schools, but the Fiske Guide to Colleges reports that there are over 2,200 4-year colleges in the United States.

Hopefully you’ve created that spreadsheet that I suggested. One of the column headings was for whether a school uses the Common App. The reason this matters is because for each school that does NOT use the Common App, your student will need to complete a separate online application. That involves typing names, addresses, honors, activities, essays, etc... over and again. You can’t overlook the time that takes and how some of these systems go into overload when too many students are trying to use them at the last minute.

Take a certain student I know who is considering applying to 10 different schools. Only FOUR of those schools use the Common App – less than half. So while the idea of the Common App is helpful, the reality is that she will be spending a lot of time entering and re-entering her personal statistics. One of these separate applications required her to add each class she took in high school and the grade she received – talk about time-consuming!

Here in Virginia, the Common App will cover many of your in-state choices including UVA, VCU, William & Mary, Mary Washington, Christopher Newport, GWU, Washington & Lee, and the University of Richmond. Some notable Virginia schools that require their own unique online application include JMU, Virginia Tech, George Mason, Longwood and VMI.

Encourage your student to at least get started on each of the online applications. Even getting through the simple steps will save time later. In addition, some applications require you to get through a certain number of steps before sending email notifications to teachers and guidance counselors for their recommendations. Give them the courtesy of NOT getting that notification at the very last minute.  It’s also helpful to cut and paste responses from one application to another document so that some of it can be re-used on other applications (taking care to change relevant school information, of course!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Getting Your High School Senior Organized

For seniors in high school, it's time to move from thinking about potential schools to getting those applications started. Every school has a different application process, and all those dates and requirements can get complicated.

Now is a good time to start some kind of chart or spreadsheet to keep the information you need handy to refer to quickly. Include all the schools where your student is planning to submit applications. Across the top, here are some headings I recommend from our own spreadsheet:

  • Early Action (yes or no)
  • Due Date
  • Recommendations (yes or no, and if yes, how many)
  • Common App (yes or no)
  • Program
  • Supplement (yes or no)
  • Portfolio/Audition/Interview
  • Notes
  • Mid-Year Report (yes or no)
  • SAT II (yes or no)
  • Fee
  • Date of Completed Application
  • Expected Notification
While many parents think that applying to college is the time that their student should step up and take charge of their lives and show some responsibility, I'm not in this camp. Applications take a lot of time, there's a lot of information to organize, and for many seniors who are trying to maintain a high level of rigor, their schoolwork hasn't gotten any easier. Creating this spreadsheet for them is a huge help, and it can really cut down on the potential for misunderstandings and disappointment. You'll find that you can go to each school's website and look up all of this information under their admissions tab. A few hours now could save a lot of last-minute scrambling later.

The due date is a critical piece of information for staying organized. Each college offers choices like Early Action, Early Decision and/or Regular Decision. If your student can swing it, and the school offers it, the Early Action option can be a great way to get the whole process taken care of earlier in the school year with no obligation to the school. You'll get that acceptance news earlier as well - sometimes before Winter Break. If you shoot for the Early Action deadline, even if you miss it, you should be in better shape for the Regular Decision deadline. It can also take the pressure off everyone in the family and your Winter Break. We put our schools in order by due date so that the one with the first deadline is at the top of the spreadsheet.

Not every school requires recommendations, so this is another important piece. Your student needs to request recommendations in plenty of time AND leave time to follow up to make sure the recommendations were submitted. 

Does this school use the Common App? You'll find that you can knock out quite a few schools rather quickly if they are Common App schools, but many schools use their own online application instead.

Cal was interested in broadcasting and production, and it was interesting how every school seemed to call this something different. Knowing the program your student is considering is imperative! Sometimes applications are to the school in general, but other schools expect you to have a program or intended major chosen or even a back-up second choice.

Does this school require a supplement to the Common App? Often there is another essay specific to that particular college or university. If your student is interested in the arts or music, they may be required to submit a portfolio or audition tape or perhaps schedule an interview. Use this box to indicate this and include any deadlines.

Use the notes box to remind your student about anything that comes up as you comb the admissions website. A school may have unique deadlines for merit scholarships, special scholarships you can apply for separately, housing applications that need to go in as soon as you apply, etc...

Does this school require a mid-year report to be sent as soon as it's available? Do they hope to see SAT II scores?

How much is the fee required with this application?

When did you get the application submitted?

Does the school give a date you can expect to hear a response?

Finally, you can add as many boxes to this chart as you find helpful. Some other things you might find handy are student population, distance from home, and cost for tuition and fees.

We store this spreadsheet in Google drive so that Mark, Bailey and I all have access to it. I can't tell you how many times Cal and I used his last year, and it really helped Cal meet all those deadlines. Let me know if I can help you get started!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Some Homework For The Parents

Are you spending these lovely summer days wishing your rising senior would do some of the things on that check list I posted recently? It's time for you to put that energy into some homework of your own! 

Stop by your high school guidance office (the staff there would probably LOVE to see a fresh face in the quiet halls) and pick up copies of all the helpful resources they provide for the college application process. Most of these forms are for your student, and it wouldn't hurt to have an extra copy in case your student hasn't seen them. But one in particular happens to be for the parents. At Monticello, it's labeled the Monticello High School Parent Recommendation, but I'm sure all the high schools have their own version.

This form is an invaluable resource for your guidance counselor as they write a recommendation for your student. While not every college requires teacher recommendations for admission, the vast majority DO want some sort of counselor recommendation or counselor evaluation form. With each counselor having to write MANY this fall (our counselor told us last year that he had 75 seniors!), they can't be expected to know every characteristic of each one. This form gives them a quick reference so that they can create a recommendation that is thorough and detailed.

This is the information requested on the form:

  • List 5 adjectives which best describe your son or daughter. Explain when necessary; give a supportive anecdote when appropriate.
  • Assess your son or daughter in terms of academics.
  • What personal characteristics are significant for your son or daughter?
  • What do you see as your son or daughter's greatest achievement? What makes him or her unique to you?
  • What do you think will be your son or daughter's greatest challenge in college, and what way do you think he or she will meet the challenge?
  • Is there anything else that is important for us to know in order to understand clearly your son or daughter? (Medical background, family history, educational interest...)
  • What special characteristics are you looking for in a college? (Geographic area, public, private, size, single sex, coed, military, religious affiliation...)
  • Feel free to write anything else that you would say in a personal recommendation for your son or daughter. Include anything that you would want a college admissions office to know about your student.

This is not the time to be modest about your student's accomplishments and activities! This form is not very long, but it does require some time and attention. The more detail you give, the better your counselor can capture the essence of your student and convey it to the admissions people.

By the way, Jane Kulow has a blog post over at Dr. StrangeCollege today with some links to great resources for writing college application essays. You should check it out!