For many parents the thought of the college process brings many different emotions. Parents feel a mix of conflicting feelings as their child approaches the age where college is in the near future. Some parents feel a sense of dread that their child will be moving on and out of the house. They feel sad that the roles that they play will be redefined. Some feel excited for their children who are on the verge of starting a new chapter in their lives. They may even be anticipating their own new chapter as their children leave the house and move on. For some of us, we have been waiting since our children were infants to watch them fly and leave the nest, anxious and excited for them at the same time.
As a parent of four teenagers, two in college, and one more about to launch into application chaos, I have felt every emotion known. Feeling different emotions is healthy and a great way to process what is happening in our lives, however, if not managed or controlled, emotions can get the best of us. This is never truer than during the college process with our teens. Not only are we parents experiencing a wide range of emotions during this time, so are our children. Often all of these emotions conflict with each other and parents and children are in two totally different places. This can complicate an already complicated process and make it unmanageable to deal with alone. Parent and child may see deadlines and responsibilities differently and conflict over almost all parts of the process which can quickly get tempers flaring. Sometimes certain family situations can make this even more difficult than others, like separation, divorce, illness, death, and single parenting.
One suggestion I have for helping deal with some of these conflicting emotions and flared tempers is to seek outside professional help. For those split families with young children who have college looming in the near future should talk to a family law expert. Talking about who is responsible for what parts of the college cost, who will be the point person during the process, and what role each parent will play are just a few of the important discussions. I cannot express that no matter what your family situation may be, being on the same side and setting a united front, is of the utmost importance not only for the process but also for your child. If you think that you are in a situation where you may need some agreements in place, prior to the college process, please reach out and get the help you need now. You will be happy that you did this sooner than later. According the family law Attorney Damian Turco, founder of Turco Legal, “The law generally assumes that co-parents will be able to work out issues of where a child will go to college and how it’s going to be paid for. But, these are certainly big issues they can easily result in conflict. The law is not completely black and white. The latest revisions to the child support guidelines established some presumptions, but there is still significant grey area and discretion left to the judge as to how education decisions will be made, how much each parent is to contribute, and what happens to child support once the child is off to school. A good family law attorney can assess the facts of any certain case and give the client a sense of what the judge will likely order. Most of these cases are resolved by mediation and a smaller percentage requires a modification or contempt complaint filed."
Another person a family can seek out is an Independent Educational Consultant. Hiring someone to be the middle man between parent and child is invaluable during this process. When tempers are flaring and each person seems to be on a different planet, a third party who understands both sides can make the situation not only bearable, but can take the pressure off of the parent/child relationship by taking on some of the responsibilities. For some of my clients it has made it so that the family dynamics can go back to the way they used to be before the whole “college” talk began.
If professional help is not what you are looking for, there are other adjustments and changes you can make within your own home that will help with this process. First, make sure that you know exactly what your child wants. Do they even want to go to college or are they doing it because you are insisting? Do they want to gap a year or go to community college or maybe the armed forces? As much as we want to guide them, remember, this is THEIR journey, not yours. I understand all the dreams you have had for your children but adjusting those dreams and bending what you think is right, might be what you need to do to help your child. Second, be patient! They are really stressing about this whole process. They are scared about leaving, about not getting into college, and making the wrong decision. This fear might come out in a lot of different forms so beware that they may cry, scream, or walk out. My suggestion is to take each requirement one by one and have your child work on one thing at a time. This will help prevent them from becoming overwhelmed by the extra work load and keep them feeling in control of the process. Remember, like the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. The third suggestion is to help guide them. This is not a process that many teens can do 100% on their own. You need to be very careful with this guidance because you don’t want to do it all for them while at the same time you don’t want them to take it all on and miss important deadlines or requirements. A healthy balance is needed. I always tell my parents, put in as much effort as your child does. Do not do more then what they are doing. If they aren’t working on the process, have a discussion about your concerns but don’t berate them every day about it. I often tell my parents, pick a day when you talk about college. Once a week, maybe go out to breakfast and lay out the week and what it looks like. I know for some parents, this has saved their relationship with their children.
As I get ready to assist my daughter on her college applications, I feel your pain. She is resistant to my suggestions and often puts off what I have asked her to do. Luckily I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help me out. Whether you are a nuclear family who is struggling with your emotional teenager, or a split family who needs to put agreements into place now; there is help out there for you to get through this.
A parent’s role is pivotal during the college process. As the month’s role on and your child grows and develops towards the adult they will become, it is important to remember they are still children and they need your guidance, support, and love more than ever!
Good luck, I’ll see you on the other side.
So July has arrived and your new senior students are letting out a huge sigh of relief as they complete their junior year. Many of these students prepared and took the dreaded SAT and ACT tests, while at the same time sat for the May AP exams. Meanwhile in the back of their minds they worried all year about GPA, class rank, and how they are competing with their peers. Summer is the first sign since September that these new seniors have seen relief and relaxation. But don’t let that fool them into thinking that the summer before their senior year is a time for slacking and doing nothing. Quite the opposite! After a few weeks of rest and rejuvenation, this summer is time for productivity and creativity! I can hear the groans from my own living room as my own rising senior gets the news that indeed there is work to be done!
The fall of senior year is a common time for burnout and stress. There are several things that can be done to help this. Many students are ill prepared for the rigorous academic load of their senior year classes along with the demands of the college process. Between writing the much dreaded personal statement essay for the Common App, to filling out applications and supplemental materials required, students quickly become aware that they are ill equipped to handle everything in such a short period of time. The result can be burnout, stress and anxiety, disappointing grades, and poorly written essays.
The best thing to do to avoid this senior year burn out is to be prepared and do some work ahead of time. During the summer rising seniors want to put themselves in a good position for the upcoming fall and be ahead of the game with everything they possibly can. There are three areas, where if your student puts some work in during the summer, they will be rewarded with less anxiety and stress come September. This is especially true with the dreaded essays and applications that are required. As a parent of two college students and one rising senior, I understand how difficult it can be to motivate your children to do anything, especially because they aren’t even home, never mind wanting to write a personal essay. That being said, setting aside a few hours each week will make all the difference for you and your student!
One of the most crucial things a rising senior can do is start working on their personal statement essay. This essay will be needed for the Common App and also can be adapted for other colleges that ask for their own essay. This is the most important essay that your students will write and it takes several (can be even up to 5 or 6) drafts to complete. Waiting until the fall to start this essay is unnecessarily stressful for seniors and by making them get ahead of the game, you have helped them tremendously. I hope to hear the words “Mom you were right, it’s a good thing I started this summer” from my own senior! Who knows, miracles do happen.
The more the students can put into this essay during the summer, the less time they will have to do it during their rigorous senior year. The essay itself will also be a stronger piece of writing when students are less stressed and have more time to devote to it. Again, doing a little bit each week will make it feel less overwhelming in the end. The personal essay is so difficult for teenagers because they are not used to writing personal narratives. However, the more personal the essay, the better the admissions officer can learn about that particular candidate. With the personal essay, it is the only part of the admissions process the student now has control over. With SAT’s, ACT’s, GPA’s, transcripts, and recommendations, the student is sending what they have earned or what is a reflection of them. With the personal essay, the students have control over what is said to the admissions officers. It can reflect what really matters to them, what they believe in, their passions, their personal story or triumphs and struggles, and most importantly, what they want the admissions to know about them.
By now your students should have at least a rough idea of what schools they are interested in. This could include as many as 20 or more schools for some. Summer is the time to narrow this list down to the list of schools to which applications are going to be sent. This list should consist of 7 to 12 schools and be a mix of high, medium, and low chance of admissions. During the summer have your student research the schools on their list. Obtaining as much information about the schools via books, visits, contacts, and websites will help students narrow their list. Looking at the Princeton Review is just one example of how students can do this. Not only will this book go over all the details of the school, with facts directly from the school, it also incorporates students’ comments and opinions. A good tip is to find schools where the school and the students are in agreement, not drastically opposite with their comments. In this book (or website) you will also see a list of comparable schools, that Princeton has provided, that are similar to the school being researched; this is another way to find schools to add to your list. This activity should not be rushed and by taking an hour each week, students will take the time needed to completely absorb all the information and make informed decisions. Rushing this process is not advised and waiting until the end of the summer will put students in jeopardy of creating a meaningless college list.
The third item your senior can start early on, is the Common application App. The Common App, used by more than 700 schools Nationwide, can start to be filled out, August 1st. You can bet that will be my target date for not only my one daughter but also for all of my rising senior clients. No better time than the first day to start those applications. Some schools use their own application and may not be ready until after this August date. Have your seniors check the dates and requirements of each school on their completed list so that not only do they know what application they are required to use, but also all the deadlines that they need to meet.
I cannot stress enough that getting your students in the mindset that this summer is crucial to getting a jump start in the college process. It will make a world of difference for them come September. The last bit of advice to go along with this is having a system for students to keep all of their information together. A simple spreadsheet with important dates, deadlines, contacts, passwords, and user names is crucial. If they have not started doing this, then it is another thing to add to their summer list of to do’s….just don’t tell them I said so!
Rebekah Elmore is an Education Consultant and owns PEAK College Consulting where she works with students and parents throughout the entire college process.
As exciting as it is to feel the thrill of a college acceptance, it is equally devastating to receive a denial or deferred decision. A denial into college feels badly, no matter the institution or how excited a student was about attending. When students are told they are not enough, they feel rejected and hurt. However, the decision is final and students move on to navigate through. When a student gets a deferral letter, waitlisting them until a later decision date, there is no finality. Students are often confused about the decision and what it means for them. It also leaves them uncertain about what to do with other school decisions and what they want. They often have to wait months to finally hear the results of the deferral, which leads to anxiety of the unknown and disappointment as peers make their final decisions and commit to their school.
There are a few things that students can do to help if they are in this situation. The first is to immediately email the admissions officer a well written letter. This letter should include why the school is a good fit (be specific – academic program, athletics, etc.) and how the student intends to contribute to their school while they are there. Also, they should let the admissions office know how interested they still are in attending their school. Students should include in this email their current GPA and any other added information, accomplishment, or changes since submitting their application. Students should end the email by thanking the admissions office for a second look at their application and letting them know how much it is appreciated. The next thing they can do is wait until semester grades are completed. They should get a new, updated transcript with a new calculated GPA and have their guidance counselor send it to the school(s) from which they were deferred. Along with this transcript could be a letter from the guidance department stressing the student’s accomplishments and their desire to attend said university. Again, any changes or additions could also be attached as well as another letter of recommendation. Students should not over do it. By sending an initial email and filling out the card or form asking if you are still interested, and then following that up with end of semester grades and any other changes and letters, they have made a statement. Do not send cookies, cute poems or videos. These are a turn off and a no-no.
Many times, parents feel helpless in these situations. However, this is one time there are actually things we can do to help. Is there any legacy at this school that you can explore? Do any of these legacies hold positions in admissions or on the board? Do you know good friends or distant relatives who could give a good testimonial or write on your child’s behalf as an alumni? Do you have connections to professors that students could email or talk to? This is one time when getting your child’s name out there is the right thing to do. Just don’t overdo it. Parents should not call the schools admission office and demand to know why their child was not automatically accepted, nor personally send anything or communicate at all with the school themselves.
However difficult a deferral decision is, it does mean that a student is getting another chance and their application will be getting another look. There is a possibility of still being accepted. I say this lightly knowing that only about 30% of students who opted to remain on waitlists, actually receive admittance. It is important as parents that we explain to our child that they can be hopeful; it is also helpful for them to look at the other schools that they have been accepted to as good options. Go to the accepted student’s day, take another tour, talk to other students who also got admitted. Get excited about these options too because if you don’t get off the waitlist, you will be going somewhere else. I tell my students all the time, do not put all your eggs in one basket. More importantly, do not apply to any schools that you would not be happy to attend because those may be just the ones you will be attending. If you cannot see yourself at each school you applied then you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.
As parents we need to be patient when our child is anxious and upset about the upcoming decision letters. They may lash out or cry quietly to themselves while others will claim they don’t care. However they react, it is a tumultuous time for them. Remind your child that it isn’t the end of the world if they do not get accepted to their first choice school. Things like this will happen to them the rest of their lives. It is OK to feel disappointment and sadness but this decision will not define them for the rest of their lives. For many, it will be the first time they have experienced real rejection that they are not used to. For the most part, my guess is that any school your child has on their list, they will be happy at and they will grow as individuals. The school they attend may end up being the best option, no matter what. For one of my children, who ranked all the colleges he applied to in order of preference in attending, ended choosing school number 3. After being accepted into all the universities he applied to, he learned more and more about the schools and what they had to offer. He attended student acceptance days and really thought about his decision. After all of that, he chose very wisely and for lots of different reasons went with #3. We could not agree more with his decision and believe he is at the best school for him. You just never know what is going to feel right! What might seem like the end of the world may actually be the best thing that ever happened to you.
Some students are surprised when at the end of the application they have completed, that the college they are applying recommends a resume or activity list to be downloaded. This is especially confusing when they apparently have already listed these items earlier in the Common App. I often field a panicked student who at the 11th hour, realize, they do not have an activity list/resume to download into the application.
Creating a resume/activity list is one of the first actions I have my students do. This one page snapshot can be so useful for so many as they start their college journey. First, it gives counselors a great picture of who their student is, what they have been involved in and what their interests are. Second, from the very first time students start visiting colleges, they should be bringing their resume with them. Every admissions officer will be impressed with a well dressed student who hands them a complete resume, showcasing what they have been doing throughout their high school career. Every chance students get to connect with their admissions officer, they should take advantage of. The other reason having an already prepared activities list is to be prepared for those colleges that require or suggest a downloaded one at the end of their application. Believe me, the last thing students want to do is to create a resume after spending hours filling out an application.
The goal of an activities resume is to highlight your strengths and inform colleges about your accomplishments and special talents. This is your opportunity to showcase your talents!
To get started, make a list of all of your activities. This should include work experience, sports achievements, summer activities, academic achievements and/or awards, volunteer experiences and community service. Once you have made your list, arrange the activities into categories. These can include Awards and Achievements, Work Experience, Volunteer Experience, Interest and Passions etc. Once you have everything in categories, now put the list in order of importance or significance. That order will be different for each student. Make sure you clearly state when you did the activities and put them in order within the category. Also, include your role within each organization/activity. Don’t forget to be clear about each activity/organization, especially those unique ones that may need a longer description.
There is no right way to creating these resumes, however, it isn’t the time to be creative and cute. This should be a concise, easy to read document that a college can look at and get a good sense of who you are and what you have accomplished. This document should only be one page to make it easier for the admissions officers.
For those younger students (grades 9, 10 and 11) I suggest you keep a running list of activities you have participated in throughout your high school career, including after school activities, those activities outside of school, volunteer experiences, and work experiences. If you have achieved any accolades or awards, make sure you include those. It is easy to forget things when trying to think back four years. Keep adding to this list as you go, this will make your resume writing so much easier and most likely, more complete.