Parent’s Blog

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Are Summer Programs Important for College Admissions?

My son’s college advisor told the sophomore class that what they do this summer will be looked at seriously by college admissions directors. Admissions directors see summer as a continuation of your student’s learning and expect them to take advantage of this time. So no lazy summers!

Colleges want to see that your student is either taking a summer course, doing an internship or has a summer job. I am happy to see three choices because summer courses can be expensive and not available to everyone. Most colleges and universities offer courses to high school students and allow them to stay in the dorms. NYU, for example, has a great selection of very appealing courses for high schoolers but they range from $3,000-$7,000 per student plus airfare and expenses. Sometimes junior colleges offer classes to high school students. The local JC in our area offer these classes for free.

Internships are a wonderful way for students to gain job experience as well as work in a field they are interested in. My daughter did an internship the summer before her senior year and her supervisor wound up writing a letter of recommendation for her college application. My daughter also found that on college interviews discussing her internships was a comfortable way to talk about herself and interests.

One thing I keep hearing from college counselors is that colleges want to see consistency. If your child goes the summer job route, then perhaps going back to that same place of employment each summer and maybe advancing in responsibilities or hours will show rigor and commitment.

If none of these options work for your child, if it’s too late to sign up for a course or maybe you are spending the summer with family out of state, then perhaps your student could write about their summer experience. Maybe they could blog about their experiences and their new environment. Or offer to write an article for the local newspaper. Even create a photography portfolio. Just see that they follow up the following summer, so when it comes time to apply to college, they will have a body of work to show.

Teenagers have lots of energy and when used wisely, they can produce a lot of great content. Sure they need to study for SAT’s but summer doesn’t have to be all about test prep, nor should it be. And a lazy afternoon once in awhile is probably a good idea too.

How Does Your College Freshman Choose and Manage College Roommates?

When I went to college I was assigned to a dorm with three roommates. Two of them became lifelong friends, but one of them I could not stand. I remember complaining to the school about her and they did nothing. So since she and I shared the smallest room of our quad, I found a way to move my bookshelf and wardrobe to surround my bed creating a barricade. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she came home that evening and found me hiding behind the tall walls of generic furniture. Well, at least for the remainder of the semester I had a bit more privacy. The following year I opted not to live in a dorm, but got an apartment with one of my friendlier roommates.

So how do you select a roommate you won’t have to barricade yourself from? Something that is different these days are social media introductions. I have gotten a kick out of reading in the acceptance letters, schools inviting students to join the “Accepted Students Facebook Group.” My daughter did just that and noticed many of the student posts tended to be on the subject of looking for roommates. So she started looking too. She and one of the girls whom she had been messaging with learned they had a mutual friend at another college. From this friend the two girls realized they might be great roommates and made that commitment to each other. Then they jointly posted a Facebook message saying they were looking for a third roommate. In the post, they listed their interests and brief bios and they met a third girl with similar traits. The three of them quickly committed to each other as roommates never having met or spoken over the phone. The three decided that if they lived in a quad room with four girls they would have a bigger room, a balcony and maybe an ocean view. They all thought that was worth living with a fourth and they decided not to look for a fourth roommate, but to let the college pick one for them.

All students fill out a questionnaire about what kind of roommate they would like by answering a series of questions from their favorite music, are they a morning person, favorite TV show, are they gamers, do they snore? My daughter filled out this questionnaire too, as well as adding the names of the specific girls she’d like to room with. She hasn’t gotten a confirmation back from the college whether her roommate choices will reflect her desired roommates, but she hopes it will. If for some reason the college makes different roommate suggestions, at least she would have gotten to know two girls pretty well over social media and will have some friendly faces on orientation day.

As far as managing roommates, most colleges assure the students that if they have roommate problems the RA (residential adviser) on their floor will be the first person to talk to. There are several steps in taking to switch roommates and although I have heard it can take a while, eventually the student will most likely get a different placement. We have a friend whose daughter did not like her roommate and asked her dad if she could get a service dog. Because apparently if you have a service dog, you get your own room. Her dad lovingly pointed out that although that might temporarily solve her problem, it didn’t sound like a great life for the dog being inside while she was at classes all day. Eventually this student waited out the wait-list of students requesting single dorms and was given one.

I’m hoping my daughter won’t have to barricade herself from her roommates or get a service dog and I hope the roommates she met through social media will turn out to be friends for life like two of my three roommates have become.

SPOTLIGHT: What’s It Like To Play On a Division III Team in College

A dad and daughter talk about playing Division III tennis in college. Dad would like to be referred to as Happy Dad (HD) and his daughter, Pleased Daughter (PD).

Before diving into the interview, here’s an explanation of the differences between Division I, II, and III sports: According to prepscholar.com, “Division I offers the highest level of competition and Division I schools’ athletic departments have the biggest budgets. Division III is the lowest level of competition in the NCAA, and Division III schools tend to have the smallest athletic department budgets.” The article here does a great job of explaining the differences in detail.

“Division III offers no athletic scholarships, tends to have the lowest level of competition, but the highest number of participants across all divisions. Division III schools offer an average of 18 sports per school. Also, Division III has the highest average percentage of the student body participating in sports.”

Thank you so much Happy Dad and Pleased Daughter for sharing your story with us.

PD, how much time at college is devoted to playing tennis?

PD: I play about two hours every day and a few days where I spend three hours on court if I decide to do an individual session separately outside of team practice with my coach. Then on weekends, matches can range from three to four hours and if we have back to back matches then I spend roughly six to eight hours over the weekend.

Do you travel with your tennis team? If so, is that challenging during the school year?

PD: Yes, during the season we have at least six away matches which requires us to travel to schools in Massachusetts as well as the greater New England area. It can be challenging if we have weekday matches because I would often miss classes. In the event that I missed class, I would have to catch up with classmates and my professors which was hard because I felt like sometimes I would fall behind. Also, it can be challenging socially because if we have overnight tournaments we miss weekends events on campus.

I can imagine starting college not having a group of friends is challenging for students. It seems like beginning with a group of students who share the same interests, tennis in your case, would help make the transition away from home earlier. What has your experience been?

PD: I think that in the process of transitioning into college, being on a team helped me immensely. I was able to meet new people through my teammates and I also made connections with other athletes on campus. Specifically freshman year we had our main season in the fall so our team arrived at school about a week and a half early to train during pre-season. During pre-season, our team got extremely close and I became a lot more comfortable with my new environment so when school actually started I already felt pretty familiar with campus. Also, I think naturally the athletes tend to gravitate towards each other because we all have a common understanding of what it is like to balance sports and school.

Does being on a sports team at college help to give you an identity, or a group of friends to be with?

PD: Currently, the majority of my friends are other athletes. I find that being on the tennis team does give me an identity as an athlete because people know that I play tennis and they wish me luck if they hear that our team has a match or they ask me how practice went when they see me walking across campus in my practice gear. I think that playing on a team gives me a sense of purpose and accountability because I am representing not just myself but also the team as whole every day.

Happy Dad how do you feel about your daughter playing on a Division II team?

HD: Division III sports can be very appealing because you get to play a sport you love and you get a good education. Many Division I athletes won’t study abroad because they can’t miss the time due to competitions.

What advice might you offer parents whose child plans to play sports in college?

HD: Students and parents can become very anxious and even hysterical during the college selection process; DO NOT FALL VICTIM TO IT. Do your best not to allow parents or other students to influence you. Encourage your student to only apply to schools they believe they would attend. Only visit schools they think they would attend. Parents be realistic about applying to a school that you can pay for and the student has earned.

Have conversations at the dinner table about what your child thinks they are looking for. Help them consider the pros and cons of each possibility. When I took PD to my alma mater she didn’t like it. No specific reason. That was the end of the conversation and it was off the list.

Finally, take the college selection experience as an opportunity to learn more about your kid and watch them make the first big decision of their life.

Thank you, HD and PD, I appreciate your talking to me and best of luck to you both!

Reflecting On My Daughter’s Senior Year

I wish the last two years with my daughter at home hadn’t been so hard. I wish she’d had more fun. In junior year, we were on her to get top grades. We knew it was an important year and didn’t want her to blow it. By senior year, she knew the routine and was hard on herself. Plus she had the added load of SATs, college applications and college essays. Although we spent a lot of time together through this process and touring schools, the majority of the time and talk was about college.

Now that she has been admitted and accepted, was this all worth it? Of course it was in a certain respect, but could it have been handled differently? I wonder how rigorous school work has to be. I just saw an article about Ivy League schools not being the only ticket to success. Does it really matter what school they go to in the end? Shouldn’t we be raising healthy well-balanced kids and not over-achievers? My children went to a Waldorf school for elementary and middle school. The philosophy there was to keep the children in childhood as long as possible. I always believed that philosophy and their motto: One Childhood, Live It Well.

Another thing I learned this year was not to trust the Net Price Calculators. This may be a situation in our family that is not reflective of everyone, however what happened with regarding financial aid was disappointing. Based on the FAFSA and our income, our estimated family contribution (EFC) was a manageable amount. And the same amount was reflected in the Net Price Calculators at most schools we applied to. However after the CSS profile was filtered in, the financial aid offered was not the same as anticipated from the Net Price Calculator.

When I look back on our year with what happened, my daughter working so hard, giving up many things to get into a top college and then us not being able to afford it, all those grownup factors coming into play, I wish I had been able to keep her in childhood just a little bit longer.

She has a younger brother and we are starting to think about some things differently. But even though he witnessed first hand his sister’s journey, he has already signed up for a rigorous course load next year and is taking on an additional special project as well as planning to be in the musical and play and on a sports team. Inherently these kids push themselves, I know that. I am proud that he wants to do so much. He still wants to tour some top colleges knowing we might not be able to afford them. But it’s his journey and all I can do is help guide him and support him.

So at the end of a very hard year I keep reflecting on the saying: One Childhood, Live It Well, and hope I can give my daughter one last summer of childhood before going off to college and hope she lives it well.

Consider Your Safety Schools Carefully – You May End Up At One

My daughter never thought she’d end up accepting at her safety school, but she has. It’s the first school we looked at over two years ago. It’s the one she said she’d never go to. And it’s the same one she applied to at the very last minute before the January first deadline hit.

So how did she wind up there and are other students making similar choices? In her case, she got into her reach school, but was given no merit or financial aid making it impossible to afford. And she has so many friends in similar situations.

The safety schools tend to be the schools the student definitely gets into. The student’s GPA will most likely be higher than the average GPA of accepted students, so there is a good chance student will be offered merit money at their safety schools. Safety schools could also include state schools or junior colleges.

With private schools averaging around $70,000 per year, the reality of affording one is daunting. My daughter and some of her friends had to think long and hard about whether student or family debt was worth it. It was a hard lesson for my daughter, but when she realized the cost to our family and that she had a younger brother who would be going to go to college soon, she chose her school more or less for financial reasons.

I know she never imagined herself at the school she will end up in, but she is getting increasing more excited now that her final decision has been made. She also sees a lot of her friends making similar choices and feels proud that she is making this choice too. The school she has chosen is a great school and I think more suited for her than her reach school. She knows transferring is an option and she will keep that in her mind as she begins her journey. She confided in me the other day that she had been worried if we spent the money on her reach school and it didn’t work out, she would have felt horrible. $70,000 a year is a lot of responsibility to place on an eighteen year-old.

My advice is to be careful when selecting your safety schools. Visit them and fall in love with them as you would your reach school. It’s kind of like dating. You can fall in love a couple of times, but the one you settle down with might never have been the one you thought you’d be with initially. Maybe at eighteen they don’t realize this either. Here’s a list to the Top Safety Schools By State from niche.com to start dreaming about.

What Does It Mean to Transfer and How Soon Should You Think About It?

There are several reasons to transfer colleges: your school is not the right fit; you have completed your general ed requirements and it’s time to dive into your major at a school with a specific program; financially it’s a better choice.

With every college my daughter was considering, I’d remind her she could always transfer. She finally told me to stop suggesting that. For her it was too trantransoon to consider leaving a place she worked so hard to get in to.

I transferred from a state school into my dream school in junior year. During my first two years at state school I took care of most of my general education requirements. It was affordable and gave me time to figure out what I really wanted to study. I could have stayed at the state school, but something in me wanted something different, more rigorous and in NYC. While at state school I lived at home, a ten minute drive to campus. When I tell people what college I went to I always answer with the one I graduated from not the one I transferred from. I don’t think I was ever asked in a job interview if I had transferred or not. It really never mattered. Where I got my diploma from was really all anyone cared about.

According to Inside Higher Ed, more than one third of college students transfer “at least once in six years.” And the New York Times recently reported, “this fall, Princeton will join a growing group of selective colleges that are focusing more on transfer students. The initiative is directed at attracting more low-income students, but middle-class ones are also likely to see benefits.” “To lure students, some two-year colleges are starting to look a lot like their four-year peers, offering study abroad programs, modern dorms and renovated cafeterias.”

I found this list on Transfer Web  with stats on transfer rates of the top fifty colleges and universities. It could be a good gage at which colleges are more open to transfer students.

It’s hard to convince your high school senior that transferring is a good option. They are dazzled by tours and fancy brochures. But if you can live at home for two more years, save money and then apply to your dream school, how great could that be? It was for me.

You have Made Your College Decision. Now How Best to Spend the Summer.

May first is College Admissions Day and now finally parents and students should be able to breathe. What a tremendous year it’s been. I am exhausted. Between travel and financial aid forms and emotions and decisions, it’s taken the best of me. But now that the decision has been made and the deposit paid, I can start to feel myself relax. A bit. But what happens next? It’s finally time for our family to begin planning for the summer. Taking into consideration what date college begins and how much money we can afford to spend.

When I asked my daughter what she wanted to do this summer she spelled her answer, “R-E-L-A-X”. I can’t blame her. But she will also get a summer job, hopefully something she can enjoy and save some money. And a little travel. Her dad spent the year before he went to college reading, all day, every day. He hopes she’ll do the same.

But what other summer options are out there? Several colleges offer incoming students a chance to start school this summer to become acquainted with the campus and to take one or two classes. There are summer programs available in the arts and sciences. And I know some students who are going back to the summer camps they attended as kids as counselors.

One parent of a college freshman told me the other day to take the family on vacation and take lots of pictures, “this will be the last time you are all together.” But does it have to be so dramatic? I hope not. I hope we can still take family vacations together. And perhaps if our students spend a semester abroad we could meet up with them before they head back to the states.

It can be daunting to think that this is the last time our family will be altogether. But at least for the freshman year, I like to think of it as extended summer camp. They’ll go away for three months and come home, then away for another three months and come home. At least I’ll try to keep that analogy going as long as I can. But right now I am relieved that we know where our daughter will be in the fall and can focus on the present as long as it lasts.

SPOTLIGHT: Mary Beth Shares Her Daughter’s Journey Applying to Art School

Mary Beth’s daughter Edie is a neighbor and classmate of my daughter.  I’ve watched Edie win countless awards and show her talents on stage as a performer, costumer, graphic designer and visual artist. 

Hi Marybeth, wondering at what point did Edie decide to apply to art school?

In tenth grade Edie was exposed to a lot of arts education outside of school and had access to admissions officers from various art schools. From there she kind of fell into the art school decision.

How many art schools did she apply to and how many of those did she tour? Did she consider being an art major at a liberal arts college or university?

She applied to four art schools and toured five. She had already done summer classes at CalArts and Otis College of Design. She applied to about a third art schools, a third universities and a third liberal arts colleges.

What’s the portfolio process like for art school?

In freshman year the art teacher at her high school told parents to hold on to all of our student’s art to start building the portfolio. Though colleges want to see recent work (second semester Junior year and more recent) it is informative to have past work to see progress as well as draw on past concepts, techniques and interests. 

Were the portfolio requirements the same for each school or did they vary?

Each college does have different portfolio requirements and seem to be indicative of the type of school they are. We attended a College Day offered through Ryman Arts when she was a sophomore. College reps held sessions about their schools. This program was very informative and helped us start to plan what schools would be a good fit for Edie and where we might want to visit. National Portfolio Day is an essential event to attend in junior year if you are considering art school. It is a big event where many art colleges send representatives to look at student portfolios. It isn’t really possible to see to more than a few school reps so going sophomore and junior year helps to get an understanding and make a plan for Spring of junior year or senior year. Some reps at the event may even be able to offer admission based on the quality of the portfolio. Others will critique the work and offer insights to strengthen work and presentation. For example one school was very structured and wanted more technical work – figure drawings and still lives, another school was less structured and was more interested in self guided projects and personal artistic endeavors.

How involved were you and your husband involved in the portfolio process?

My husband and I have art, photography and design backgrounds so we were able to support Edie. We gave her a little feedback on the work she included in her portfolio but she mostly did what she wanted according the advice that admissions officers gave her. We were able to help her with the photography of the work and creating the digital portfolio.

Did you consult an art school advisor? Or did you wish you had?

We did not consult an advisor, we talked directly with the schools at portfolio days, and shared the portfolio with school art teachers and friends who attended the schools she applied to. She had some friends using art school consultants and absorbed a lot of tips they received. Some of the college reps she met at National Portfolio Day stayed in touch and also offered feedback about her work. One college placed a lot of emphasis on presentation and flow of the portfolio. Her high school art teachers were very helpful in making the final choices for that portfolio.

If a student doesn’t have a lot of exposure to art or have opportunity to practice speaking about their art an advisor would be a good route. Also, portfolios are more than just the work! Students have to write about the work-describe their motivations, inspirations, techniques and more.   

How early did Edie start putting together a portfolio?

Most of the work she did for her final portfolio was done independently in late junior and early senior year. A lot of colleges she talked to wanted to see her most recent work and they asked that she didn’t include anything made before junior year. One college even remarked that they could tell class assignments from independent work and stressed how important work outside of class was for a student to show their thinking and individual style.

Has Edie made her final decision yet?

She ended up committing to a university with an film and arts program because she has so many interests in addition to art.

So it sounds like she didn’t want to be limited to art school in the end. Can you take other classes when at art school?

A lot of the art schools that she applied to had cross enrollment programs, for example students at the Maryland Institute College of Art have the option to take courses at Johns Hopkins, and Rhode Island School of a Design students could take classes at Brown but it can be a challenge to go to two different schools. Art schools have very distinct schedules that make it hard for students to cross enroll; RISD classes are six hours long and once a week whereas Brown classes are two hours long and three times a week. It’s difficult to make it all work so Edie decided that it would be better to go to one school with a good art program and similar course schedule than juggling two school’s schedules.

Any parting words?

Edie submitted work to competitions and art programs beginning freshman year. Attending the weekend classes at Ryman Arts and the summer program at CA State Summer School for the Arts gave her much more uninterrupted time to develop her skills. A few hours a week in the high school art class really aren’t enough time to explore media and develop the skills needed to produce a thoughtful body of work. Through these programs she also met a wide variety of professional artists and took trips to studios, museums and offices. All of this helps to develop the eye and builds an understanding for career options.

Competitions such as Scholastic Arts and Writing and YoungArts were good ways to see what work had traction. She didn’t win YoungArts the first year she applied but she gained a lot of skills and knowledge the next year and applied again and won. Awards from these organizations can provide opportunities for financial support and a future network of support.

I’d encourage people to pay attention to the curriculum and personality of each art school. There is a wide variety of approaches and emphases.

Thanks so much this was very helpful! And good luck to Edie!

What Does It Mean To Be Waitlisted?

“If you are waiting on a waitlist decision, please make sure you accept to at least one school by May first.” These were the wise words given by an admissions director to a group of parents at an admitted students tour I attended last week. “I’d hate to see your student not have a school to go to in the Fall.” He’s worried that students count on getting off the waitlist when the odds are very slim that they will.

Is there a way to rise to the top of the wait list? Some parents say a letter to the admissions director or department head will show fresh demonstrated interest. Some schools might ask students to update their letter of intent. I’ve heard that some students on wait lists have been asked by the college to write additional essays. If your student has not received any of these assignments, don’t panic. Just call the admissions office and they will explain their process.

I called the admissions office to the school my daughter was waitlisted to and waited about six minutes on hold then spoke to an admissions director. He told me the waitlist would open up on May 1 after all the other students had accepted. He said they’d start pulling students off the waitlist based on their major. If the History department had three openings, three history students would get those spots. He also told me we’d find out by May 15. That was a relief to know we wouldn’t have to wait all summer. I understand some schools will hold waitlists as late as July.

Waitlists can give a student hope but the realities of getting off the waitlist are daunting. Sometimes a waitlist reply can be a badge of honor. My husband likes to tell that he was waitlisted at Harvard. Our kids are both impressed and empathetic. How different would his life had been if he’d gone to Harvard? Who knows. But it’s a fun conversation around the dinner table, especially right now. So think of the waitlist as a badge of honor and make sure your student enrolls someplace by May 1.

Admitted Student Tours – Do You Attend These and How Many Can You Squeeze Into One Week?

I just came back from two Admitted Student Tours with my daughter and plan on going to a third next weekend. I have to admit while attending Prospective Student Tours on the East Coast last year, I never imagined we’d be spending this Spring break touring schools on the opposite coast.

Admitted Student Tours differ from Prospective Student Tours in that the admitted students are greeted with congratulations, SWAG, food and balloons. Many students have had multiple offers from colleges and universities and now it’s the time to decide on one. The schools use these tours to sell their school to the student and parents. It’s time to close the deal.

The tours are a good chance for students to meet peers who have been accepted and it’s a good time for parents to ask detailed questions, like a big one for both the schools we just saw: Is housing guaranteed for all four years? No in both cases. Only one year for one school and two for the others. A big reality if the student is far from home.

It’s a chance to ask specific questions about majors and even meet with professors. It’s a time to see the dorms and sample the cafeteria food. And it’s  time to really understand how far away home is.

When I think back to the ten schools in twelve days in four states I visited with my daughter on the East coast last Spring break, I realize of those ten she only wound up applying to two. And of all the schools she was accepted into, she had only visited one of them. The others she had learned about from brochures or meeting with campus reps who visited her high school.

In the end, my daughter may end up in a school in a state we’ve never been to. This is the school who offered her the biggest scholarship and who have the most interesting opportunities for her major. A year ago I never would have predicted she’d end up there. Nor could she. She had her heart set on a big city school in NY. But in the end, she wound up not even applying there. Instead she may be at the opposite side of the country at a small school in the mountains.

There truly is no road map for this journey. But I have enjoyed it none the less. It’s been amazing spending so much time with my daughter. And I am grateful to her for taking me along on this adventure with her.

Negotiating for Financial Aid. Does it Work to Call the FA Office?

I woke up this morning in a cold sweat. I’d just had a nightmare about calling the financial aid office of my daughter’s top school. In reality, I have not made the call yet. But I plan to and I am strategizing just how to do that.

In talking to other parents who have gone through this before me, I’ve learned the following tips: When dealing with financial aid officers, etiquette applies. Always be polite.  Always express your excitement that your student was accepted to their school. Always thank the school for the aid they have already offered.

Introduce comparative offers. Ask if the school could consider matching the offers. If there are no other offers to compare to, then ask if they can offer more aid which might entail explaining your financial situation.

Other advise I have received is to have your child write and call the financial aid office first. If the desire for more aid comes from the student, the school sees the student’s commitment. The parent should also call and email the financial aid office too because most likely the financial aid is based on the parents income and tax return which might need explanation.

Sometimes it’s necessary to have your child’s college counselor email or call on your child’s behalf. You might need as many advocates as possible if a lot of need is required.

The biggest tip I’ve learned is being to leverage offers. In other words, if your child received $5,000 in aid from their first choice school and $25,000 aid from their second choice school, the idea is to call the first choice school and tell them that your child very much wants to attend their college, that it’s the first choice, but they have received a better offer from another school. Then ask if the first school can match that offer. In some cases they may ask you to forward the other offer to them. They may match the offer or up their offer or just leave their offer untouched.

It’s hard enough to get through the application process and the emotion of offers coming in or being denied, but throwing the financial aid into the mix for me is the hardest part.

Spring Has Arrived and So Have SAT Scores

Traditionally the PSAT is taken in the Fall of tenth grade. Some students begin studying for it the summer before. Methods of study can be in the form of a PSAT practice book, online course, private tutor or an in person course.

Merit scholarships are offered for students scoring in the top one percent of the PSAT. The PSAT is a good indicator of how your child will do on the SAT. Some statistics say that SAT scores will rise at average 139 points from PSAT scores.

More and more colleges are putting less weight on SAT scores. SAT’s are not always the best indicator of the student’s ability and more and more colleges are becoming test optional. On the other hand, larger universities might rule out students with lower SAT scores. Each college or university will tell you what the average SAT score is for the students they accept. Lewis and Clark College has a Test Optional component where you send in additional writing samples and letters of recommendation instead of test scores if you are not a good test taker

If your child is leaning towards SATs it’s probably best to have them take the SAT at least twice. The first time they might have been nervous and just getting used to the test taking environment. Do you press them to take the test a third time? There are different approaches to this. One parent I talked to told me their child needed ten more points on his SAT in order to qualify for his dream school in Scotland, so that student has a huge motivation to retake the SAT for a third time.

My son is not a great test taker but he is a great student. He’s planning to take mostly honors classes next year as a junior and we have just had the conversation about SAT prep. As a family we decided that he would be better off not spending lots of time on SAT prep, instead spend that time on getting his GPA as high as he can. He will then focus on applying to test optional colleges.

Studying for the SAT is almost like taking on an additional class that requires daily homework and most importantly self motivation. There is only so much time in the day for eleventh graders. I’d say, pick and choose what is going to show you off the best. Can you add the rigor of SAT prep and not give up the school musical or sports team? If you can, then great, if it’s too much, then something has to give.

Sophomore year is a great time to research colleges and see how much weight they put on SAT’s. And then guide your child in the direction that suits them the best. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in this country and not all require high SAT scores.

How Do You Make Your Decision Once All the Decisions Are In?

This is a pretty exciting week for seniors as the college decisions begin to arrive. If your student is fortunate to have been accepted to several colleges, then decision time is here. My daughter is still waiting on about five colleges to send their decision letters, but the majority have come in.

So what now? How to decide where to go? Several factors fall into play and cost is at the top of the list for most people. You’ll find that the offers and financial aid vary from school to school. Private universities and college acceptance letters usually come with a financial aid offer. We are still waiting on financial aid from the UC schools.

So once you narrow down the schools you can afford, what next? Most colleges offer tours for accepted students. If you have not already toured the campus, or are unsure if this is where your student wants to spend the next four years, then this is a great opportunity to see the school. Many accepted student tours fall within the Spring Break dates. This is great if you have not planned a Spring Break trip with your family. But it’s also tough if you now need to schedule last minute flights to visit schools.

In our case we can schedule a road trip and head up the coast to visit several California schools. Luckily we already did the East coast trip and don’t need to see those schools right now. I have heard from many parents that they did not do previous visits to colleges, but were saving the visits for the schools their student was accepted to. That’s a great way to do it and hopefully those families had kept Spring Break open for just that purpose.

It’s interesting to go from fantasizing about which school your student thinks they want to go through to what school they will end up in. A year ago my daughter found the small New England schools to be appealing and was convinced she did not want to stay in California. Now that she has been accepted to several California schools and several New England schools, she is thinking being closer to home might not be so bad.

At the moment I’m likening this experience to buying a new car. You get excited by the shiny brochures. You walk into the dealer and love the new car look and smell, but then you test drive a couple and discover the car you fell in love with at first isn’t the perfect match for you. Then you see the ticket price and begin to think more practically. You might not drive a shiny red convertible off the lot, but you will end up in the car that’s the right fit for you and your family. In the end it’s the same with college. After a lot of looking and practical thinking, your student will end up in the school that’s the right fit for them.

How to Support Your Child with Senioritis

In the dictionary, Senioritis is described as, “a supposed affliction of students in their final year of high school or college, characterized by a decline in motivation or performance.” It’s the word “supposed” that makes me laugh. Because when I asked my senior daughter to describe Senioritis, she said, “Teachers should acknowledge that second semester of senior year is exhausting and they should give us a break. Teachers think Senioritis is a joke and they get angry at it.”

After doing four performances of her high school musical this weekend, two months of after school and Saturday rehearsals, debates on alternative weekends, college applications, SAT’s, college essays, and keeping up a full load of honors classes there is not much left of her. And the thought of not knowing where she will be attending school next year, where she will be living, knowing she will be away from family and friends is only adding to the stress.

These seniors are mentally and physically exhausted. As juniors they were told by college counselors to keep up the rigor in senior year. That colleges don’t want to see you taking easy classes. So in my daughter’s case, this year has been one of her toughest academically. “I thought senior year was supposed to be fun,” she often says. From my point of view, this year as been anything but. There are fun things ahead; a senior class trip, Prom, yearbook day, graduation, but even those events have deadlines and inherent pressures.

And what about the parents? Aren’t we entitled to a bit of Senioritis too, or how about Parentitis? I don’t know about other parents with seniors, but I am exhausted. The journey to college has been constant, stressful, emotional and unnerving at times. I cannot wait to have this all behind us and hope my daughter winds up in the perfect college for her in the perfect dorm with the perfect roommate. But I know perfection is not possible and only imagine there will be lots of hands on counseling from afar next year.

So maybe Senioritis is a “supposed affliction” and not acknowledged by teachers. But it’s real in my house. And how best to support my daughter when I don’t have many reserves left? As my fiend, Gwen said in last week’s blog, “I tried to keep things calm and light and make sure she was never late, had everything she needed and was fed and watered.” Thanks, Gwen, I will be applying those ideas to help get us through the rest of this year. At least fed and watered I can handle.

SPOTLIGHT: Gwen Shares the Ups and Downs About Helping Her Daughter Audition for Performing Arts Colleges

Gwen and I have been friends forever. Our daughters were born two weeks apart. I’ve watched her daughter, Anne, grow into a talented singer, dancer and actress. Witnessing Gwen navigate through the college application and audition process with Anne is overwhelming. I’ve  asked her to share her story. 

Hi Gwen, I was blown away by your recent trip to Chicago with Anne for her Performing Arts college auditions recently. How many auditions did Anne have and how many days did that span? You then went on to Los Angeles for several more, is that right?

National Unified Auditions take place in NYC, Chicago and LA. It’s a way for colleges to see everyone at the same time rather than students making ten plus separate trips to each college. As we live in the UK, this was the only way we could do it. Anne had ten auditions in Chicago over eight days. Then there were two more auditions in Los Angles over four days. And let’s not forget about the twenty-two hour trip to Pittsburgh for the on-campus Carnegie Mellon audition!

How many students auditioned that week in Chicago?

The hotel where most of the auditions took place was like a zoo. The security guard told me there were about 2,000 kids there. The corridors of the audition rooms were littered with students. It was very overwhelming. Then there were also several other locations that you had to get to in the freezing Chicago weather.

Can you tell us about the cut process. Were the kids expected to extend their stay in Chicago if they were called back, or did the callbacks fall within the same week?

Only a few places had cuts at the time of the auditions. Mainly they were same day cuts, or they didn’t ask you to attend the dance portion of the audition (normally later in the day or the next day).

Anne only had one cut in the second round of four rounds. There were fifty kids at this session (there were many sessions) and of the fifty only two were called for the afternoon session.

What was the competition like for Anne? Were there a handful of uber talented kids or were all 2,000 kids super talented?!

They don’t normally audition them together. They are only together in the dance portion, so you don’t see the other kids sing or do their monologues. They all seemed pretty amazing. Most schools pre-cut before you’re asked to a live audition. For the dance there was a lot of intimidating stretching going on. Anne said in general only a handful really had ‘it’.  There were many technically good dancers, but you need to be good to look at too.

How many girls vs. boys auditioned?

WAY more girls.  If you are a talented boy, you have a much greater chance of getting into your school of choice.

What was the logistical process for Anne? I imagine it was 1.) Send in Common App with audition tape and resume. 2.) Anne was invited to audition in person 3.) Anne was cut or called back 4.) Anne was offered a position during audition or will wait with all the other applicants to hear in March/April. 

Basically yes. As we live in the UK, she has also applied to UK schools. I’m not sure they all took Common App, but she did have to do that. A lot you apply directly to the school via their portal.

The applications were all slightly different. It was complex and time consuming. I was out of town for the process and we would spend hours on Skype over the weekends just going through them together and cross checking. So, she and my husband really had their work cut out for them, not just prepping and applying, but finding somewhere to record the required materials.

As well as the recorded audition (two monologues, two songs and a self-choreographed dance example) you’ll need a headshot and resume to take with you to the auditions. We had a friend take the shot, but the printing was around $150.

So now you’ve done your application then you wait to see if you get offered a live audition and if you do, you have to book one. We had a complex excel sheet going with dates and times. One school didn’t have any dates left and so she couldn’t audition (that was puzzling in so many ways).

Then the live audition. In general, they tell you nothing. We know about a couple of places where she’s short listed, but that’s rare to hear. Some places are super nice, but several didn’t even talk to her during the audition.

Once she got back to London, she started the whole process again in the UK. She will not know until end of March for US and she won’t know about the UK ones until May. It’s really stressful and the feeling that you won’t be offered a place is very great and quite real, considering the acceptance rate is around 2% at most of these schools.

Can you walk us through the audition tape process? How many songs/monologues did she prepare? Did she use the same audition tape for every school or did each of the schools require a different tape? (Is “tape” even the right word anymore? LOL. Please correct me!)

Tape, well you and I are old school! You have to upload a QuickTime and it needs to be in a certain format. Each school asks for something slightly different and some want ‘intros’ spoken by the applicant. So, we made about eight different versions, if not more!

Some ask for different styles of songs/monologues – for example, most want one contemporary monologue and one pre-1800s, but some want two contemporary.  They need to be age appropriate, which is hard finding something good for a seventeen/eighteen year-old girl that’s got some meat.

The songs for most, are also contemporary and pre-1950s and need to contrast (i.e. one serious and one funny, to show your range of emotion). Anne went for one soprano and one alto as she has a large singing range, but that’s not necessary.  Also, you only sing one minute of the song, so you have to edit. I can imagine the non-music and non-tech people struggling as we are a family of musicians and techs and even I had help from my office to get these edited and formatted.

Now here’s the rub: You spend an inordinate amount of time choosing these songs and monologues and recording them — then you get your live auditions (hurrah) where you need a whole NEW set of stuff. That took us by surprise, which was silly on our part because we knew beforehand, but it was a scramble to get those new songs up to snuff. It’s very hard to just choose these things in the first place.

How are Anne’s spirits? This seems very intense for an eighteen year-old. Also very exciting! Wondering how she held up and is holding up. 

Oh, it’s a roller coaster. She’s gone from lows to highs and back again within hours. It’s a brutal process and not to be entered into lightly. It’s tough on the parents too.  One mum told me it completely ruined her relationship with her daughter. As a parent, I tried to keep things calm and light and make sure she was never late, had everything she needed and was fed and watered. I planned on working during the auditions, but it was very hard to find the time.

Do you mind estimating how much you spent on this audition week? Including airfare hotels, transportation and food? Also, did the schools require a fee separate from the Common App fee?

WAY TOO MUCH! My husband went for the first week and I joined and took over mid-way through as we both work. So, it was about $4,000 in flights (we live in London), but only a few hundred in accommodations as we mainly stayed with kind friends. We spent a lot on food and taxis as we were running around constantly.  Each audition costs about $100 to apply on top of the Common App and as you are applying to a higher number of schools than you would normally (because of the very low acceptance rate) you have to pay for more AP, SAT & ACT scores to be sent as well.  Plus the Pittsburgh trip — I’d say we spent around $7,000 for travel and applications (I wish I hadn’t added that up!).

Would you do this again, or say, “To hell with it, you’re applying to school as a History major!” What’s your advice to parents thinking about this path for their child?

History!!!! But, that said, if your child is truly passionate about going into theatre and it’s the only thing they’ve ever wanted to do, they’ll embrace this process and so should you.  Expect a hard and stressful time, just try to be ready and organized early.

Should you have a backup plan? Unless you have a super talented boy, or a girl that’s already won a ton of awards, yes, you should. Maybe it’s a foundation course, or a college you can audition into the acting program once there. We don’t have a backup plan and although Anne’s super talented, there are thousands of talented girls and only a few places.

Any parting words?

  1. Start early – we wanted to, but circumstances prevented… I would choose your songs and monologues at the end of 11th grade. Work on them all summer and record just before going back to school. That way, you’re not trying to juggle school, music lessons, the school play, your applications/essays, etc. You’ll also have time to choose your new set of songs and monologues and get them ready before the auditions.
  2. Apply early. The top schools audition slots fill up and you might find yourself taking more trips or not being able to even audition.
  3. Be prepared with clothes. Girls will need several dresses for US auditions. Plain colors, not black, not too low or high. Think Comfortable!!! You’ll need the dance stuff too and shoes. Remember the weather, it’s COLD in Chicago and NYC and warmer in LA. Keep in mind that planes may be delayed with weather, we allowed time in case of snow.
  4. You can do it cheaper — just one parent, book early, etc. I used the trip to take care of some business in LA, so it worked for me. You can also send your kid solo, but I really would advise against that.

Thanks so much, Gwen, for sharing your story with us today!!

You’re welcome and good luck to the parents and kids about to embark on this journey!

 

 

How to Help Your Kids Plan for College Admissions?

After going through the college application process with my daughter, I don’t know how students can navigate through this world without some kind of guidance. The college application process is so much more complicated now than it was when I went to school. There are too many articles written and books published about the subject, it’s hard to know where to start.

The one thing that comes up a lot with high school college counselors is that colleges want to make sure the students are taking advantage of what the high school offers academically. For example, if your high school offers honors classes, then the colleges want to see that the student is taking them. And they don’t want to see that your child has free periods. If your student only needs three years of a language to graduate, encourage them to take that fourth year of a language. Same with math, don’t stop at the three year minimum. Senior year isn’t the year to take it easy. On the contrary, colleges especially look at what the student has taken on in their final year.

I’ve also learned that consistency is better than variety. It’s better to be on the Student Council for four years than to try a different club each year. Colleges look at follow through and how the student can grow within that experience. What the student does in the summer before junior and senior year is important too. Colleges want to see the student spending part of the summer either taking academic classes, doing an internship or working a summer job.

Some kids are driven by test scores, others want to enjoy high school and come out with a well rounded transcript. It’s important to get to know which kind of student yours is. My daughter realized she wanted to study journalism, so she picked her high school electives and internships around that. My son wants to go into the performing arts so he is gearing his extra circulars in that direction. Both kids already understand from their school that a high GPA and a rigorous course load is important, so that’s a given.

After watching my daughter study and retake the SAT three times and still end up with not the grades she wanted, I am convinced that she might not be the best standardized test taker. I don’t think my son is either, so instead of getting him a tutor and stressing him out about studying for the SAT’s I think he should focus his energies on his GPA and maybe apply to schools that are test optional. It’s not fair to force your student to do something they are not good at when they could spend that time working on what they excel in.

If you have the means, I think a virtual college counselor is a great idea. The virtual counselor will focus on your child and be able to access all the information out there. Sometimes working with an adult who is not the parent is important. An objective point of view can be refreshing to the student. And with crowded high schools, college counselors can’t always devote time to every student. So don’t take on the entire burden yourself. There is help out there and you’ll need it!

There’s a Cowboy College? Rope Me In!

Vanity Fair recently wrote a piece about Deep Springs College, but I had heard about this school years ago. Deep Springs is a small two-year college that takes only thirteen boys a year and guides them through an intellectual and physical journey. It’s tuition free and the students pay for their room and board by working on a cattle ranch. They are taught by professors from Yale and Berkely and most often transfer to an Ivy League university for their junior and senior years. And only the students who score within the top one percent on the SAT’s will get in.

Elite cowboy training. So what’s the point?

Founder, Lucien Lucius Nunn in 1923 said, “The desert has a deep personality; it has a voice. Great leaders in all ages have sought the desert and heard its voice. You can hear it if you listen, but you cannot hear it while in the midst of uproar and strife for material things.”

Deep Springs trains leaders and thinkers. According to Vanity Fair, some include, “ambassador to the United Nations William J. vanden Heuvel; famed CBS newsman Charles Collingwood; Virginia congressman Jim Olin; top internet entrepreneurs and edgy novelists William Vollmann and Peter Rock.”

The combination of nature and academics rings true to some of the values of a Waldorf education. My kids went to Waldorf schools, so Deep Springs resonated with me. With so much technology in these kids’ lives, working with their hands on the land seems more important than ever. Teens being constantly plugged in, the days of day dreaming are over.

To spend two years in the dessert unplugged with blue horizons to read and think and wonder could be the best thing for our kids. So how come there aren’t more schools like Deep Springs out there?

With some digging I found College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. A small college of 350 students with an emphasis on human-ecology which is, “the investigation of the relations between humans and their environments.”

Here’s a list of the Best Outdoor Schools in America. Although none of them except, College of the Atlantic, come close to Deep Creek.

I know Deep Springs will not be on my son’s college list, but it does make me think that perhaps he should look elsewhere besides a city school. I’m wondering if there might be summer programs that can supply him with a similar experience. If nothing else, it has inspired me to take my kids on a long hike in the hills this afternoon. We’ll unplug for awhile and talk about ideas. And maybe I’ll hint at a college not surrounded by skyscrapers.

How to Make the Most Out of the Winter Break

Winter break is the perfect time to visit colleges. Whether your student is a senior who has been accepted to some Early Action schools or if you have a junior or sophomore, now is a great time to visit college campuses. It’s easy to schedule a tour of any college by searching for “campus tours” on their website. They will give you a list of dates and times to sign up. Try not to tour more than two schools in one day as the process can be exhausting.

While at the campus, especially if you are traveling and staying nearby, look into any student performances that you could attend. Perhaps a play, musical or music concert. There might be art galleries on campus you could visit. Visiting a campus while it’s in session is a great way to give you a feel of what it will be like to attend. And a performance that showcases student talent will be a great insight into the school too.

If you and your family can’t travel during winter break, then tour some local colleges that might not have even been on your radar. For example, we plan to go out to Occidental College which is about a forty-five minute drive. We’ll have have lunch out there and go to the Norton Simon Museum which we love, but don’t always have a chance to get to. We’ll make a day of it, a stay-cation.

If your senior is completely exhausted of campus tours and already has seen the one she or he plans on attending, then I’d say it’s time to do something completely fun, almost maybe even child-like. Why not, go to the zoo or a local amusement park one day as a family? Embrace their childhood. They have worked so hard and deserve some fun silly times too. Most likely they’ll be moving away from home in the fall, so have some fun together. You have all worked hard this year! Or maybe your senior is like mine, when I asked what she wanted to do this break, she replied, “Sleep!”

Applying to an Arts College? Start Prepping Your Portfolio and Resume Now


On top of SAT’s, Common App essays, FAFSA reports — get ready for portfolio submissions and auditions if you plan on applying to an arts college or university program.

For performance based colleges you’ll send in a resume and audition recording with your application.  Your recording and resume are scrutinized and then you are either accepted, rejected or invited to attend an in-person audition. The performing arts colleges and universities all work together at this point and, starting early February, will set up auditions in several major cities in the US for scheduled auditions. Just this week, a friend from London is flying to Chicago where she will audition in-person for five of the top musical theater schools. She could have auditioned in Los Angeles or NYC, but Chicago worked out better for her schedule. So on top of the application fee, she needs to factor in costs for travel, hotels and taking time off school.

So how do you prepare for something like this? My tenth grade son is interested in applying to acting programs so he’s paying attention. He already understands that he’ll need to take Drama all four years of high school, perform in the fall play and spring musical each year and start applying for summer acting programs. So we have been researching those. Most of the summer programs require that you send in a monologue audition. Even if he doesn’t wind up going to one of these summer programs, practicing and recording the monologue seems important so that by the time he applies to college, he will have had experience .

My daughter’s friends who are applying to visual arts programs don’t have it any easier. Since ninth grade they have applied to summer arts programs and visual arts competitions. There are so many competitions out there, these kids seem to be collecting awards like crazy. I’ve also seen them apply for arts based internships which are highly selective and competitive. They work hard on their portfolios, often doing special projects outside of school. Some have even hired portfolio consultants to guide them through the portfolio process. The arts schools are just as competitive as the Ivy Leagues and sometimes professional consultants are useful.

One organization has come to my attention recently, YoungArts, which has a highly selective audition process finding the most talented high school students ages 15-18 in visual and performing arts. Starting in ninth grade your student can apply and if selected has a chance to work with remarkable mentors like, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Plácido Domingo. YoungArts offers college scholarship money as well as awarding Presidential Scholars each year. I was fortunate to meet one of these scholars who, at 18, sang, At Last, at the Kennedy Center in front of President Obama.

If your student is interested in this path, even slightly interested, take it seriously and prepare for the work. My son is already rehearsing his monologue for several summer programs. And the deadlines for those programs are at the end of this month.

How to be Supportive of your Child’s College Decisions

Okay, so she has her heart set on some impossibly selective college in the middle of nowhere in the woods of Maine. And it’s very expensive.

Should we even be supportive? Or should we be the responsible adults in the room and steer her elsewhere?

Location, ranking and finances are near the top of factors that will help us decide on the right college for our daughter. But what she wants remains at the top. So we don’t say no, but she sees us wince.

Sydney has applied to a couple of schools in Maine. We live in Los Angeles. The Maine schools aren’t near large airports so traveling to and from will be tough. But she really wanted to apply to these schools, so we supported that.

She is not keen on going to school in California, but she applied to several UC and CalState schools. Those schools will be significantly more affordable and obviously closer. Once she sees where she is accepted, the reality of travel will set in. Does she like the idea of coming home for a long weekend, or does being snowed in during a Maine winter sound more appealing?

Ranking is something she thinks about too. A lower ranked school may give her a lot of Merit money. Is it best to have your college paid for because you are in demand academically? Or is it better to go to a higher ranked college and pay more?

We certainly don’t want to make money a priority for her education, but it is a reality. My worry is that she’d fall in love with a school, apply, get in and then we couldn’t afford to send her.

When Sydney started looking at schools, we were careful to run our finances through the Net Price Calculator of each school to get an idea of what aid she might receive. One liberal arts college that she liked was rumored to be stingy with money and the Net Price Calculator confirmed that. In the end, Sydney took that one off her list and didn’t apply.

These hard questions will be answered soon when she receives her acceptance letters. We have tried to guide her this far and help her narrow her choices. She knows the financial aid will be a factor. But as a family, we feel all the schools will be manageable in one way or another. This morning my husband said it’s just hitting him that she actually might be going to college far away. Up until now, it’s been about selecting schools that seemed like good fits and hustling to get the applications in.

Part of me wants her to college nearby. But I know I didn’t want that when I was her age. We’ll support her decisions and hope she’ll be lucky and have a lot of choices.

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