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

An Introduction to College Goals

COLLEGE GOALS is a highly qualified university admission consulting practice specializing in counseling families interested in higher education opportunities in the United States. We accept both U.S. and international students from around the globe.

Students benefit from the collective knowledge of a veteran Ivy League Associate Dean; two professionals each of whom has worked for more than a decade as associate directors in admission at major American universities, coordinating the review of international applicants; and an educator trained in test preparation with extensive experience in supporting homeschooled and alternatively-educated students, and who advises on college-aware preparation for younger students.

We share our knowledge about every aspect of college admission. Our focus is on our students’ academic success, and on their personal satisfaction.  Our students not only get in, they thrive.  Our Internet and phone-based counseling offers students and parents maximum flexibility and rapid, responsive, personal guidance through every step of their college search and application process.

COLLEGE GOALS is ready to help exceptional young people, from any part of the world, who are eager to take up the challenge of personal and global responsibility that the privilege of an excellent higher education invokes.

Whether your interest is in neuroscience or playwriting, economic modeling or environmentalism, the choices and decisions you will make, shaped by the learning that you are seeking, will influence society and the globe itself.  That is such an awesome privilege and opportunity!

We are here to help you develop and articulate your dreams, and forge a path to build the skills to match your goals.

www.CollegeGoals.com                           info@collegegoals.com                          401-454-4585

Top 10 Things for Parents to Remember

Excellent tips for parents during the college application process — from Middlebury College Admissions: www.middlebury.edu/admissions/start/parents

It is good, of course, that students and parents approach this process jointly, but we all know that at its best, the process itself can prepare students for the independence that they will experience in college. The following list contains some possible symptoms of parental over-involvement.

10. Remember that this process is not about you. No matter how similar your children may be to you, they need to make their own decisions and observations.

9. Support and encouragement are more appropriate than pressure and unsolicited advice. Allow your children to seek you out and restrain yourself from imposing your viewpoint upon them.

8. Do not use the words “we” or “our” when referring to your children’s application process. Those little pronouns are surefire indicators that you have become too involved.

7. Help them prepare but let them perform. Encourage them to sleep well and put thought into a college visit, but once on campus, step back and let them drive the experience. This is good practice for the next phase of their lives—adulthood.

6. Encourage your children to make their own college appointments, phone calls, and e-mails. When a family arrives at an admissions office, it’s important that the student approach the reception desk, not the parents. We notice! Having control over those details gives them a sense of ownership. Don’t be tempted by the excuse that “I’m just saving them time” or “they are too busy”—students will learn to appreciate all the steps it takes to make big things happen if they do them.

5. Allow your children to ask the questions. They have their own set of issues that are important to them.

4. Prepare your children for disappointment. For many students this is the first time they could face bad news. Remind them there is no perfect school and that admissions decisions do not reflect on their worth as people or your worth as parents.

3. Never complete any portion of the college application—yes, even if it is just busy work. That also goes for friends, siblings, counselors, and secretaries. For many colleges, that overstep would be viewed as a violation of the honor policy at the school.

2. Do not let stereotypes or outdated information steer your children away from schools in which they would otherwise have an interest. Times have changed and so have colleges.

And the Number One thing for parents to remember about the college search process is:

1. Never, ever, during a college visit buy that souvenir sweatshirt or T-shirt from the bookstore in your size—it’s a dead giveaway!

14 Tips for good college visits

With spring break ahead, many families are planning campus visits with their juniors and sophomores.  Demonstrating your interest to a college by visiting the campus is a good thing, but not the most important reason for the visit.  Rather, you are exploring a place where you may choose to spend four years of your life, and as such the visit is far more for your benefit than for the college’s sake!

With a bit of planning and forethought, you can make the most out of the experience:

  1.  Do not fit too many campuses into a single trip or day.  It makes for an exhausting time and after a few of these ‘drive-by visits,’ every campus will begin to look the same!
  2. While it is a lovely idea to jump in the car and make a spontaneous visit to a campus, organizing your trip can help you maximize the moment: downloads maps, locate admission offices and parking garages, confirm tour schedules and register for information sessions, sign up if informational interviews are offered, check out class schedules, and see whether there are student performances you wish to attend. Prior preparation makes for more productive visits!
  3. Prepare for the trip in other ways too. Don’t forget to learn about the college itself – its interesting history, unique programs, and residential arrangements, for example. This will allow you to identify what you don’t know and should learn during your visit.
  4. Take notes.  This will help jog your memory later as you reflect on your visits, and come in handy when you are completing that college’s Supplement to the Common Application where you are asked to explain your interest.
  5. Get the name of the person responsible for applications from your city or country.  Admission offices may not always advertise this information, but they will give it if you ask! Geographic assignments can change over the summer, but having an individual’s name is helpful later when you have questions or minor crises about the application, or you simply wish to send a short note of thanks or of introduction.
  6. Register at the admission office when you arrive.  Some schools do indeed track ‘demonstrated interest,’ but even when they do not, being on a mailing list means that you will be invited to admission events offered in your city.
  7. Make your visit an academic experience.  College is not primarily about fitness facilities and dining halls – trust me, your good time at college will probably not depend on the quality of these! Colleges are about libraries, laboratories and lectures, so check these out by attending a class or even by emailing a faculty member whose work interests you, to meet and learn about it.
  8. Listen to ‘official’ presentations with an enthusiastic but critical ear.  These paint the most appealing picture, but there are other possibilities and you need to listen for them. I always suggested to my own children that they identify those words that are the stock in trade of every admissions person (passion, engagement, research, advising, community, etc.), and then differentiate them from those that are specific to one college (curriculum, residential colleges, cooperative experiences, etc.).  These are what matters most.
  9. Listen to the questions and conversations of fellow visitors. You may learn concepts (retention rates, yield, academic standing) that you did not know to ask about yourself beforehand.
  10. Parents, listen with an open mind to your child’s opinions. Parents are driven wild by children who step foot onto a campus and instantly decide they hate the place. But your students may be responding to something significant even if they are not good about articulating their concerns or fears.
  11. Students, listen with an open mind to your parents’ opinions! I often sympathized with blushing teenagers when parents monopolized conversations, asked inappropriate questions and boasted about their exceptional child to scare off the competition! But consider the wise words of Mark Twain: “When I was 16 my father was the most ignorant man in the world.  By the time I was 21, I was amazed at how much he had learned.”
  12. Resist the temptation to hang onto each other like life rafts during your visit, and spend time apart.   Going on separate tours, for example, will allow each side to develop its own perspective.  There is much to be said for giving teenagers the chance to interact with prospective classmates, and for giving parents a moment of respite in the coffeehouse!
  13. Enjoy yourself.  For many families, college visits will be one of the last times to explore together before separate lives and college obligations make family trips a thing of the past.  Enjoy it while you can and begin to build your future relationship as equal adults.
  14. Bring quarters for parking meters and leave extra time to find a parking space.  Of the many things colleges share, inadequate parking space may be the most common and aggravating!

 

 

Doing school: the gap between high school education and college admissions

Many of you will have heard me complain rather cynically about the distance between colleges’ expressed expectations for high school students and the reality of highly selective college admissions.  That gap leaves students feeling funneled into an intensely functionalist view of their education even as they are also subjected to rhetoric about passion and intellectual engagement by colleges and by teachers.

This subject has gained growing attention recently in debates over the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which Amy Chua described her controversial ideas on parenting for success.  It is also the theme of the film “Race to Nowhere”, in which director Vicki Abeles described “the dark side of America’s achievement culture.”

Many of these questions were expressed even earlier by Denise Clark Pope, a senior lecturer in Education at Stanford, in her 2001 book, Doing School.  She examined “the predicament of doing school,” in which prevailing attitudes and expectations in high schools help create, “a generation of stressed out, materialistic, and miseducated students.”  Pope followed five students at Faircrest High School in California, as they negotiated with classmates, cheated on homework, manipulated teachers, and transgressed rules in their efforts to “be the best,” achieve material success and meet social and parental expectations.

In debates about high school education, the role of college application looms large.  Students are told that colleges are interested in their strength of character, (Harvard); that they are more than their GPAs or test scores (Chicago); and that universities also focus on their potential to contribute to learning (Princeton).  When university admit rates drop and colleges tout soaring levels of academic and social achievement by their applicants, however, it is clear that cookie cutter candidates with impressive credentials are most likely to prevail – those with course loads filled with an exhausting number of APs, a stratospheric GPA, and a slate of activities so impressive they seem unlikely to be the stuff of any normal teenage life.

Colleges have been called on the carpet for what seems like a growing gap between the ideal and the reality of holistic admissions. Marilee Jones, former dean of admissions at MIT, said in a 2004 interview that elite colleges “are complicit in rearing a generation of young people staggering under unbearable pressure to be perfect at everything.” The Education Conservancy argued that, “Students feel it is impossible to be everything colleges would like them to be.” Good teachers remind students that they need to find a balance between an impressive course load and an interesting one; between high academic expectations and joyful learning; and between their ambition for material success and status and their desire for a meaningful life.

But in her study of Faircrest High, Pope also referred to the central role that parents play in creating that contradiction between what students are taught to care about in their education, and the reality of selective college admissions.  She quoted a student whose parents expressed concern about her health in the face of a grueling schedule, as saying, “They are worried about me and say it is okay if I don’t go to an Ivy school, like they’ll still be proud of me, but that’s b.s. because no they won’t.”  Another admitted that his obsequious behavior towards teachers and his constant anxiety about his grades came because his father “wants me to go to Stanford like him.”

Pope’s interviews highlight the role parents play in encouraging students to equate success in learning with success in gaining admission to a brand-name college.  She shows how parents, probably far more than any admission officer, cue children to find the measure of their self-worth in grade reports.  But parents can also liberate their children from a relentlessly pragmatic view of high school by allowing them to pursue the things that fill them with joy rather than fill up resumes with yet another mindless activity.  As parents, we are hopefully more interested in raising critical thinkers and honorable adults than Ivy League graduates!

 

From junior year to college admissions

For the last few months high school juniors stood by as seniors wrestled with college applications, stressed about choices, and finally, exhaled as they picked their colleges.  Now the focus shifts and it is their turn to get ready for the wild ride towards college.  Given how early the application process happens in the academic year and the inevitable strains of that first quarter of senior year, juniors need to use the coming months wisely as they lay down the foundation for their application.

Let’s consider the different elements of that application process and the things that those of you who are juniors ought to be thinking about:

  • Transcripts: admission officers at selective schools point out the unavoidable fact that your transcripts ARE the single most important element in their assessment.  If you are applying early, your junior grades may be the last ones they see before making their decisions. Even if there are no senior grades available, they can see your senior curriculum, and this too is crucial in weighing your academic heft.
  • Scores and letters of recommendation: admission officers also weigh your academic profile by looking at your standardized test results and by the quality of letters of recommendation, and you cannot wait until 12th grade to grapple with these. At some larger schools, for example, some of the most popular teachers begin to turn away requests for letters of recommendation well before the summer. There are also few test dates available early in the senior year for you to complete the required roster of tests, much less leave time for the almost inevitable retake.
  • List of activities: while most of us quite rightly abhor talk of “resume building” when referring to high school students, the activities list is obviously a very significant part of your college application.  Admission officers ask themselves what it is you will contribute to campus life. This summer will be your last chance to answer that question. It is a good idea to draw up a comprehensive list of your high school activities outside of the classroom, in order to assess both the cohesive “story” that your application will tell about yourself as well as the potential holes in your self-presentation.
  • Summer before senior year: the summer college trip has become something of an American tradition, and for good reason.  Not only does the wonderful range of possibilities make such exploration useful and necessary, but for many colleges these visits have also become a significant way to gauge “demonstrated interest.”  As more kids apply to more colleges, those institutions are finding it ever harder to accurately pinpoint their yield (the number of students who will accept their offers of admission). Your knowledge of a school and appreciation for what it has to offer can encourage a college to read your application with a more benevolent eye.   Growing numbers of high school students will also attend summer camps on college campuses, to learn more about the college experience, about life at a particular college, or about the range of academic options that await them.  As Dean Karen Sibley of Summer at Brown, one of the largest such programs for high school students in the country, points out, the liberating summer experience “validates the student’s ability to be far from home, intensely academically challenged and able to function independently in very new surroundings.”
    • Writing the college essay: For many of you SAT testing seems the most exhausting part of applying to college, but writing the personal essay causes the biggest anxiety. There is little reason to wait too long before jumping into the writing process.  It will give you time to consider essay topics, but also leave space for rewriting and editing before the full onslaught of the senior year.  Reflecting on her own experiences this year, one senior, who will be attending an Ivy university in the Fall, encourages juniors to “start doing something concrete regarding college essays and supplements by May!  Summer is actually too short  – it’s only eight weeks.”

    The Common Application will be available for students by August 1 (and its preview is already available online). The Common Application organization has already reported that the essay topics on the application will remain the same, though the length requirements will be adjusted. For high school juniors, this is the equivalent of a long-distance runner coming into the last few hundred meters of the race: a successful end is in sight, but to get there you first you have to throw all your energy and focus into the last lap.

     

     

     

     

    Promises and Pitfalls of a Gap Year

    Most high school seniors pursuing a college education are now filling in roommate forms, sending off final transcripts to chosen institutions, and such.  But many others have chosen a different path that will lead not to college after the summer, but to a year of travel or work or service.  Taking a gap year between high school and university is long a common practice in Europe, but more American students are discovering it as well.

    Students will take a gap year for many reasons.  Some are keen to break away from formal schooling and see more of the “real” world before entering the safe confines of college.  They want to see the world, get a better perspective on things to study in college, learn a new language.  From parents’ perspectives, a gap year may give their child chance to grow in emotional maturity and self-sufficiency, to work and save money for college, or simply gain a bit of seasoning.

    These are all very good reasons for a gap year.  I want to focus on one group in particular, however – students who had an unsuccessful college application season and want to redo it, and those who did not apply at all but hope that an interesting gap year will strengthen their future applications.  A gap year can indeed improve a student’s college application in two ways.  Firstly, by virtue of working or traveling or doing community work, a young person may grow so much in maturity and focus that it will inevitably show to good effect, regardless of how they spend the year.  Secondly, an interesting year may make an application stand out from the norm, suggest the student has something out of the ordinary to offer, or even support a student’s interest in pursuing a particular course of study.

    Whether a gap year will actually deliver on this promise will depend on what a student does and says about it.  Not all gap experiences are equal – it is after all meant to be a year of learning by different means.  Admission officers will ask themselves what the student has learnt from taking the time, and if the answer is ”not much,” they will decide accordingly.  Pursuing in desultory fashion a couple of week long activities that neither engage nor require commitment from you – mall-crawling in Long Island, lounging in LA, or sunning yourself in St. Barts – none will seem very interesting to educators (unless, of course, you have something interesting to say about it!).  On the other had, traveling to places that stretch your sense of the world and doing service work that challenges your sense of self, working to save money for college or to help your family survive, learning a new language, interning with a local scientist or teaching children, all would lead a reader to recognize your social commitment and your intellectual energy.

    A final point involves timing, whether to apply to college before taking a gap year, or during that time.  The answer depends on your circumstances and prospective colleges.  Most, though not all, institutions allow admitted students to defer entrance for a year.  During your senior year, ask colleges whether they are open to such deferments and how their process works.  Applying to college during your senior year means that you still have easy access to teachers and the resources of your college guidance office.  Applying during your gap year allows you to add the weight of your new experiences to the application, though remember that you will be applying only a few short months into that year.

    Many of the great things a gap year can do for students, can also be gained from studying abroad later or from teaching and traveling after graduation.  A growing number of students do not want to wait before embarking on such an adventure though, and they may have very good reasons for it.  But if improving your college application is one of those reasons, then keep in mind that not all adventures are equal in the minds of admission officers!

    The problem with senioritis

    Senioritis is when second semester senior grades sag after college acceptance letters arrive. Talking about the problem “of senioritis” seems to lend this bad habit a legitimacy which I doubt it deserves – as if it is something unfortunate but expected. Rather like getting a cold in winter. Of course, having had my own kids go through that dreary last semester where they just want to have fun and move on with life and school seems so last year, I understand only too well how hard it is for students to stay motivated between admission and matriculation.

    But I still believe it important for students to keep on with the good work that got them accepted in the first place. There are three reasons for it – philosophical, practical and political.

    Firstly, we do not want to encourage students to think that high school is mostly about preparing for college application – as if you work hard, challenge yourself, and do community service all just to impress an admission office. Then you go on to college and start all over again, except this time the point is securing a good job or graduate admission another four years later. Perhaps we want to teach kids instead to extract value in the moment, develop a love of learning for its own intrinsic sake, and do good because the well-being of our communities require it.

    Secondly, college courses assume a level of preparation on the part of incoming first year students. So high school is not simply about preparing to apply to college, but also about preparing to be successful long after the application process is done. Blowing off the remainder of senior year risks missing out on basic skills like good writing that may be crucial to success in college classrooms.

    Finally, admission offices, especially more selective ones, do care about an accepted student’s grades after making an offer of admission, if only in preemptive self-defense. After all, an admitted student who gives up on his or her academics will likely show up a year later in committees that deal with students at risk of failing out of college. So admission offices not only request final grades, they actually look at them over the summer.

    And when they do examine your final grades, they know well that most of them have craftily added a line to your offer of admission stating that they can withdraw that offer if your final performance nosedives! And sometimes, they do just that.

    Along the road to college admission…

    Watch where you’re going!

    The college application process can have many unfortunate effects, and one happens when students run around madly padding their resumes with yet one more activity, one more shot at leadership, one more service moment.  The problem is not only that this kind of scattershot business does little to enhance their applications, but also that they seldom stop to ask the important questions: why am I doing this, what does it all mean, where is it taking me?

    Watching this mad runaround brings to mind one of my most favorite college presentations, done by an esteemed colleague and good friend at Brown University.  She reminded prospective students that the journey matters, not just the arrival; that as a high school student moves towards college and the next phase in his or her life, thinking and engaging and playing around with ideas along the way is as important as ultimately getting accepted.  Being a classicist, she pointed out that even as we cheer for Odysseus to find his way home to Ithaca (not only those dreaming of Cornell!), we should remember the wondrous things he saw along the way. So she handed prospective students a copy of the beautiful poem Ithaca, by the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1911).  It is worth repeating here:

    Ithaca


    When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,

    pray that the road is long,

    full of adventure, full of knowledge.

    The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,

    the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:

    You will never find such as these on your path,

    if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine

    emotion touches your spirit and your body.

    The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,

    the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,

    if you do not carry them within your soul,

    if your soul does not set them up before you.

    Pray that the road is long.

    That the summer mornings are many, when,

    with such pleasure, with such joy

    you will enter ports seen for the first time;

    stop at Phoenician markets,

    and purchase fine merchandise,

    mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

    and sensual perfumes of all kinds,

    as many sensual perfumes as you can;

    visit many Egyptian cities,

    to learn and learn from scholars.

    Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

    To arrive there is your ultimate goal.

    But do not hurry the voyage at all.

    It is better to let it last for many years;

    and to anchor at the island when you are old,

    rich with all you have gained on the way,

    not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

    Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

    Without her you would have never set out on the road.

    She has nothing more to give you.

    And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.

    Wise as you have become, with so much experience,

    you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

    Some Interesting College Application Stats

    The Common Application posted an announcement to all college admissions counselors today with some statistics about this year’s application season.

    Currently, there are 788,241 students who are registered to submit Common Applications – an increase of 15% over last year.

    Together, they submitted 1,736,287 applications – an increase of 19% — and they expect to process about 1.9 million applications before the season ends, July 15th.

    Teachers submitted 1,211,709 recommendations – an increase of 112%!

    From the January edition of College Bound comes this information regarding the application pools at a few of the colleges:

    Harvard’s applications are up 5%

    Dartmouth’s applications are up 4%

    Brown saw an increase from 24,000 to 28,000 this year

    But the amazing statistic is U. Chicago . .  . up 42%!!!!  (Their admissions staff must be going wild)

    The University of California system is up 6%

    Despite the economy, nationwide, 49% of colleges attracted more applicants in 2009 than they did in 2008

    A few really excellent colleges dropped in applicants, however, including Brandeis, Bucknell, Colgate, Dickinson, Elon, Harvey Mudd, Middlebury, St. Lawrence, Valparaiso.

    57% of colleges accepted more students in 2009 than in 2008 (trying to avoid a drop in enrollment based on the economic crisis), and some had a higher enrollment than they were prepared for, meaning crowded dorms and classes .  .  .  don’t expect they will keep the high acceptance rates this year!