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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 Do not let stereotypes or outdated information steer your children away from schools in which they would otherwise have an interest.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!

 

 

Summer Studies . . .

Summer vacation is when we take a deep breath after a long year and relish a sense of wellbeing after the strains of the school year. We vegetate mindlessly in the sun and we laze days away in a hammock. But we also catch up on our reading, argue with friends about ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with homework and linger over a volume of poetry that was never required for school. Rather than putting our minds on hold, the summer gives us time to recover a joy in exploring ideas for no better reason than our interest in them.

This is indeed exactly what high school students need to do with their summers, and one way to do so is by attending a youth program with like-minded peers.

But in deciding to send a student to one of the many such programs offered in the US and across the world, parents often have far more functional intentions – they hope quite bluntly that attending pre-college at College X, or a few weeks helping the poor in a developing country, or traveling to exotic locales will impress admission officers and increase the student’s chance of admission at College X. Having countless students pursuing summer programs for the same set of reasons has, however, helped to dilute the impact of this strategy. Yet there remain excellent reasons for students to seek out a summer program that excites and intrigues them:

  • the opportunity to explore an academic field – economics, archaeology, computer science – with peers that share that interest
  • to travel to a new city or a far-flung country
  • to meet students from all over the country and even the world, enlarging their perspective
  • to develop their English language skills if that is not their native tongue
  • to expand their sense of service to those far outside their own community
  • to get a taste of college life and remind them of the adventure ahead
  • to leave home and begin to develop an empowering sense of independence and self-sufficiency

Will any of this have any impact on their college applications? Definitely. But the impact will in fact be far more intriguing than many parents anticipate. Pre-college programs are offered either by for-profit organizations or as a money-generating venture by a unit within a college that is completely separate from the admission office of that institution. Doing such a program at College X therefore does not in itself improve a student’s chances of admission at that college. But that does not mean that admission officers will not notice that a student attended. Instead they will notice:

  • because it suggests that a student is actually interested enough in the college to spend time there – a form of “demonstrated interest” that colleges have to care about as they fret about their admissions yield
  • that the student has enough intellectual engagement with a subject to spend time on it
  • that the student has the social and emotional maturity to spend time away from home
  • that an international student has sufficient English skills to cope at an American college

Colleges will of course take note of the academic and social growth that attending such a program can generate. But the value of a summer program extends far beyond a college application. Instead, the student will have spent a week or more of their summer having fun, making new friends and talking about new ideas, while expanding the horizons of their world and of themselves.

For an overview of summer programs, please download the Summer Programs PDF on our Resources page.

The “hidden” degree requirements

Some of the most important things you will learn at college will never show on your college transcript. These are aspects of affective (versus cognitive) development. They are what employers are expecting to find in college graduates, quite apart from the subject matter of their degree studies, or professional training. Solid affective skill development is key – without it, the chances of graduating are slim!

There is no “curriculum for developing the affective capabilities you will need, and acquire during your college years. But you can control, to a certain extent, how painful the process of acquisition may be. One useful thing to remember is to “expect the unexpected.” Resilience is the quality of being able to take things in stride and handle the rough patches well. It helps to “be prepared” by knowing in advance that statistically some things will not go smoothly. It helps even more to learn to anticipate obstacles and have a Plan B in place when you aren’t certain of Plan A’s chances of success.

As a new college student, what affective skills will you need?

You will mostly discover the need for certain essential affective skills when the lack of them “jumps up and bites you!” Life experience teaches us much. But perhaps a checklist of some valuable skills may be of value to a student who wants to “be prepared” and is willing to think ahead to help smooth their way.

Here are some affective skills you will need in order to graduate:

  • Ability to prioritize
  • Ability to solve problems without having a parent run interference for you (think room-mate problems)
  • The inner strength to stand up to many demands, pressures and challenges all at once
  • Resilience – being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after a disappointment or crisis
  • Organizational capability – to buy your books on time, keep track of assignments and deadlines, exam dates, times and venues
  • Confidence – to reach out for support from peers or professors
  • Proactiveness – signing up early for limited options; finding out about good opportunities
  • A personal conscience that kicks in when you are missing too many classes or getting too little sleep
  • Being able and willing to defend your opinions, in class and in your social setting
  • The strength of character to be able to change your opinions if circumstances or the arguments of others lead you to a new outlook
  • The ability to brainstorm on your own – you can’t rely on the good students always sharing their bright ideas with a group. Coming up with your own original thoughts is rare, even in graduating college seniors

I just arrived at college – now what?

One of the key affective skills it will pay you to learn is “how to make friends.” Be prepared to go outside your comfort zone, especially in these first important weeks of your first semester at college. Even if you’re shy, commit yourself to striking up a real conversation with at least two strangers each day. Not trivial chit-chat – be prepared to talk about your opinions, what you are missing about home, what you are finding quite surprising about your first experiences on the campus. Ask questions, all the time!! You have no idea how important an affective skill it is to be able to speak up and ask for the information you need or simply to engage another person.

Affective learning in college begins as soon as you arrive. But one more thing – good judgment is possibly the most important affective skill you will need. It may not be perfect yet – but don’t leave home without it.

Gail Lewis,
College Admissions Consultant with College Goals