A Message for Parents of College-Bound Students

Message to Parents

Dear Parents whose sons and daughters are about to matriculate into college –

Are you having butterflies in your stomach, and maybe second thoughts?? ” S/he isn’t really mature enough for this . . . how will he handle the self-responsibility?  Will she be safe?? Will he get up and get to class, and turn in his work on time??  What about doing the laundry??”  

Seeing your child go off to college is a challenging time for parents, when you can let your heart (even your eyes) overflow with abundance as you wish for your college-bound child to be safe, but not stuck . . . to move forward on a path, but not one that leads to the same old gateways . . . to be willing to take risks, and be able to learn from them and not repeat the process.

You can’t expect them to understand or sympathize . . . or even acknowledge . . . the transition their departure creates for you.  They will never know the level of love and hopes they have inspired in you until they have their own children.  Meanwhile, be patient with them . . . don’t hasten their passages.  Remember the birthing process – there is a time what the right thing to do is just to breathe.

Remember when your baby was new, and you slept with one eye open, listening for her breathing and her every cry?  Remember 16 or so years later sleeping with one eye open listening for a car to come home and the door to open, and light to go on in the bathroom?  After you’ve dropped your dear child off at his dorm room (his new home), or left her at the airport, to fly off to college alone, and you have walked out, as straight and stiff as you can, with that awkward grin pasted on your face . . . then what?

Well let me tell you some of the wonderful things you have to look forward to!  After kids go to college (it may take a few months, or a year), they begin to realize/be aware that parents not only know a few valuable things, but that you actually seem to continue to learn.  Kids also bring home fresh new ideas for you to chew on – some may take some careful or repeated swallowing, but they are bound to refresh your vision and challenge you to re-evaluate your positions . . . always a good but never a comfortable thing.  If they email you about their readings, by all means, you can locate and read some of their new materials too . . . but DON’T write them about your opinions, please!  And definitely, for the first year, keep their room (and most of the house) exactly the way they left it, please – no redecorating, or putting away trophies, mementos, stuffed animals.

But look in the mirror often and begin to see your selfnot your son’s or daughter’s mother or father.  Take time to read and think about why you are here on the planet . . . that’s what you want your child to be thinking about . . . why, and what are you going to do about it?   From now on, the best ways that you will influence your child will come from role modeling . . . pay attention to your SELF – enjoy, appreciate, and yes, grow.

Here are a few suggestions for books we feel confident you will find helpful:

Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years, by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger – it is in its FIFTH edition, which should tell you that many parents have found it very useful!

You’re On Your Own, (But I’m Here if you Need Me): Mentoring Your Child during the College Years, by Marjorie Savage

Doors Open From Both Sides, by Steffany Bane and Margo Bane Woodacre, a mother-daughter duo.  This is a very useful book for both the student and the parents.

Off to College, A Guide for Parents, by Roger H. Martin. This book, by a former college president, was just released and it is thoughtful and very comprehensive. He knows the college experience from the inside, and the parent experience, also.

Written by Joyce Reed

(c) College Goals LLC 2015

Your Recommendations

talk to your teachers about your college recommendations now

talk to your teachers about your college recommendations now

You’re back in school, heading into your final year. Your courses are challenging, your extracurricular leadership roles are demanding, AND you will need to move forward every week on your college applications! Where to start, your first days back in school?

In addition to grades, personal statements, and activities, colleges also want to know what other people have to say about you. Most will require a ‘School Report’, created by your school counselor or administrator, and one or two Letters of Recommendation from teachers. Recommendations matter . . . a lot! Here are some tasks you need to set in motion as soon as possible.

Ask one or two teachers to write the Teacher Recommendations to be sent to your colleges.

Carefully consider which teachers to ask and consult your college counselor and parents for their input. They must be teachers of major subjects (math, science, history, English, languages), and have taught you in your Junior (11th grade/Premiere/Lower 6th) year, or be currently teaching you, as a Senior. (But last year’s teachers will know you best.) Moreover, they need not only to know you as a student in their classes, but they must also have the interest and willingness to support you by writing a great recommendation that will ‘market’ you well to colleges and universities.

Approach those teachers right away! You want thoughtful, substantive letters, and those cannot be done overnight. Moreover, popular teachers may limit the number of students whose recommendations they can write each year.

Schedule a meeting with these teachers in the first week or two of school, and do not go empty-handed! Bring along the following:

1) A resume, or a list of your extra curricular and personal activities during the past three years. Teachers, like admission officers, value humility and appreciate honesty, but they need to know what you have done and achieved outside of their classrooms, beyond their experience of you.

  • Include ways you have contributed to the school, in general, or to your larger community, and significant summer activities.
  • You can mention particular skills or personal strengths, and let the recommenders know what areas of study interest you.
  • Any career goals?

2) A copy of your transcript for the past three years, as well as your standardized test scores.

3) Copies of papers in which the teacher made interesting or positive comments on your work — take these along to help jog his/her memory. Admission officers find specific examples of impressive insights, writings or research, useful.

4) A list of colleges to which you are considering applying (you can change it later!).

5) Note any special reasons and programs for applying to specific schools.

Once a teacher has agreed to support you by writing a Recommendation, you need to get his or her email address. You will then enter that contact information into your Common Application in the first college on your list. Click the ‘assign’ button, and the Common App will email your teacher with the required Recommendation form. Note: each teacher’s recommendation can be used for all your Common App colleges, so each teacher needs to write only one Recommendation.

Discuss with your Counselor how to submit Recommendations to colleges and universities that don’t take the Common Application, and how to assign recommendations from different teachers for different colleges.

The college admission process allows you to gain in self-knowledge and new insight into how people view you. But don’t leave people’s perceptions of who you are and what you are capable of achieving to chance! Instead, help shape that impression with your thoughtfulness, organization, and courtesy.  DO IT NOW!

Tips on Visiting Colleges

college_visitI am currently accompanying my daughter Maia, a rising senior, on a tour of colleges and universities on the East Coast. We are finding that these college visits are essential to helping her get a sense of what she likes, and doesn’t like, in a college environment, and to knowing more clearly about the programs that interest her! Here are some tips on visiting colleges that Maia (in italics) and I would like to share, based on our experience.

✜ Be sure to reserve a spot for the information session and campus tour at each institution you visit. These can fill up! Also, if you register in advance, the college will often mail or email you a parking pass, map, and other pertinent instructions.

Sometimes the times or days won’t line up exactly as you planned. You might have to reschedule some info sessions, move a college to a difference day, etc. Try to be as flexible as you can.

✜ If the college or university conducts interviews of rising seniors, take advantage of this opportunity and schedule an interview, and be sure to prepare for it. By this I mean write down questions you (the student) have for the interviewer about the college. You cannot know what the interviewer will ask you (but relax, they are always friendly!), but you can show interest and knowledge about the college/university by being ready to ask questions of the interviewer. Be sure to do your research: ask questions about specific programs/ features of that particular college (this shows you have done research) and avoid asking questions that could easily be answered by a visit to the school’s website (this shows that you have NOT done research).

Generally the conversation flows pretty freely and it’s easy to make questions from what you and your interviewer are talking about. That being said, I agree that it’s good to have a couple of questions prepared for the inevitable “so, do you have any questions for me?” I tended to check out the Wikipedia page for the college because it listed the special programs and unique qualities of the school in a more obvious fashion than the website did. Also, check out the specific academic programs that you’re interested in and see what special requirements they have or what resources they have. I found that the majority of my interviews were conducted by seniors at the college, rather than by admissions officers. This definitely put my mind at ease because I found that these interviews were less nerve-wracking from the get-go. The few that were with admissions officers were also fine, especially once I had gotten my sea legs with interviewing (in fact, my favorite interview was with an admissions officer). Interviews aren’t as scary as they seem, I promise. Be prepared to get questions that you weren’t expecting that make you think on the spot. Relax; they know that you can’t whip the answer out right away, so it’s okay to take time to think about it. Just be yourself, smile, and be alert!

✜ Collect the business card of the person who conducted your interview. In a couple of days, send that person a thank you postcard and be sure to email them any additional questions you think of after leaving the school.

I sent postcards from Hawaii (where I live) and would try to include a tidbit from our interview in hopes that they would remember who I was. For example, in one of my interviews we talked about going to Mars, so I included a little something about that at the end of my postcard. Make them personal so they remember you!

✜ Be sure to ask who in the Admissions Office will be reviewing applications from your geographic region. Ask to see that person, if possible, and introduce yourself briefly and get his/her business card. Follow up later with a brief thank you email, noting how interested you are in the school. Then, as questions arise when you are writing your application, email that person directly.

They aren’t scary either! I ended up emailing one admissions officer a recipe for a great pasta dish. Also, don’t feel bad about not wanting to email the admissions officer from a school you weren’t fond of. The point of the tour is to narrow down your list and pick out your favorites, not give yourself unnecessary emails to write.

✜ By the end of your college tour, you will have quite a collection of business cards that represent valuable personal connections that you will want to maintain. Be sure you jot notes on each card to help you remember who each person is (i.e., interviewer, Admissions dean, person reviewing your region’s applications, etc.).

My mom thought I was crazy at first, but in the future you will thank yourself for doing it.

✜ Plan to arrive early for your info session/interview. You never know what unexpected circumstances – traffic, getting lost, finding parking – could delay your arrival. Also, don’t forget quarters for parking meters and an umbrella! We have visited several colleges in the pouring rain, and not all colleges provide umbrellas.

Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, too. My poor shoes were wet for days after visiting William and Mary in the pouring rain.

✜ As soon as possible after each visit (and preferably on the same day as the visit!), write down your pros and cons for that institution, noting interesting programs/features. I recommend you write these notes in Word, then cut and paste them into CollegePlannerPro to share them with your College Goals’ counselor. (For information on how to use CPP, see “Instructions for Using CPP,” a document provided to you by your counselor.)

If you’re visiting two colleges in one day, try to write this down between each college. Especially if the two colleges that you’re visiting are similar, they’ll tend to blend together and the programs get all switched up.

✜ I heartily encourage all of you to plan a tour of colleges on your list – whether this summer, during a school holiday, or when colleges are in session – but preferably before the colleges make their admission decisions. It really does make a difference to see the colleges/ universities “in person”, and it will definitely help any student to create a more specifically appealing application!

Do it! It really helps you get a feel of the colleges that are right for you and figure out exactly what you’re looking for in a college. We visited a college that had been one of my favorites on paper and I ended up not liking it. Before we started seeing colleges, I was worried that I wouldn’t know which one felt the best. If you’re like me, don’t worry about it. You really will know when it happens.