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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.

What is a Liberal Arts Education? 

A cousin likes to blame my liberal beliefs on my liberal arts education. She’s wrong on two accounts: one, I went to a University and did not receive a liberal arts degree and two, I was a liberal before l even left high school.

So what exactly is a liberal arts education and why is it feared by some and revered by others? Why has a liberal arts education become something of a punching bag on the far right of American politics?

A liberal arts education tries to teach kids how to think, not what to think. This seems pretty straight forward to most, but it can be disturbing to people who believe that values must be taught, and society may be corrupted by “free thinkers” who question authority and disrespect traditional norms.

But that is not really a defining characteristic of liberal arts colleges in the United States, since most higher education institutions would also claim to teach kids to think for themselves. No, the differences are more in the way kids are taught, with liberal arts colleges being smaller and more focused on a general education emphasizing a wide range of subjects and skills, while large universities offer classes more focused on specific subject matter and solid preparation for professional work and specific graduate studies.

One major difference seems to be size. The big research universities have larger lecture classes, often taught by graduate students. Also because of their size, they offer a wider range of subjects and more facilities. For a student willing to research and seek out special teachers and sub-topics, a university can be a cornucopia of opportunity.

A liberal arts college will be more personal, often more able to guide students and nurture their general education through small classes with projects and discussion.

On a recent tour of an east coast liberal arts college this past Spring, our tour guide was proud to tell us she was the president of the Republican club and that she was planning to study tax law. That same college has it’s strong feminist history. So there is a wide range of politics in that one school.

My cousin is of the “Lord of the Flies” way of thinking, expecting that kids left without strict adult supervision are bound to fall into intellectual chaos and moral confusion. For some reason, that sounds “liberal” to her. But the fact is that liberal arts has become little more than a loose term for the humanities generally and for smaller colleges that focus on undergraduate studies, including the hard sciences.

My kids will be happy if they go to a university or a liberal arts college. They might even turn out to love tax law. Okay, that’s unlikely… but possible.

How Do I Help My Child Choose a Major… or Even a Career?

As a teenager, my father told me I had two career choices: dental hygienist or secretary. Both ideas filled me with fear, so much so that I made a point to never learn to type so there’d be no chance of becoming a secretary. My dad was a professional ballet dancer. When I was born, he became a dental technician to make money and never danced again. He wasn’t happy in his new profession, but he felt strongly that you couldn’t support a family as an artist.

I grew up watching a lot of TV and it occurred to me that maybe I could do one of the jobs listed in the end credits that ran after each show. I left Baltimore, went to NYU film school and then headed to Los Angeles. I am proud to say I have managed to make a career in the creative arts. I tried a “straight” job once. After college I briefly worked in a real estate office. I wore tight skirts and itchy sweaters, stockings and high heels. I never felt more uncomfortable. I moved from that job into a position at a scenic shop where I could wear paint covered clothes and work into the wee hours. I was lucky to find a career that suited me; I was not suited for a career in a suit.

My daughter is different than me. She is comfortable wearing a suit during debate tournaments and not interested in a career in the arts. Her brother, however, wants nothing but a career in the arts. He hates to dress up, unless it’s in a costume on a stage.

On the college tours we have gone on, administrators consistently tell students that college is a time to explore what interests them and during that exploration they might just discover something they’d never even thought about. Just yesterday at a luncheon sponsored by one of the schools my daughter is applying to, an alumnus explained how she went into college as a pre-med major, but discovered she was good at and passionate about economics. So she switched majors and went on to enjoy a successful career in economics.

I guess working in the arts has allowed me the freedom to explore many jobs, but not necessarily secure a paycheck during my early years of exploration. But I never feared that I couldn’t find a job. I had a strong education and wasn’t afraid to be unemployed.

I agree with the administrators that college is a time for exploration. Not many eighteen year-olds have a clear idea of what they want to do, nor should they. My attitude and lifestyle isn’t for everyone. But maybe I saw how changed my dad was after he stopped dancing. No matter what my kids wind up doing for their career, I hope they’ll always keep dancing.

Should Students Share What Schools They Are Applying To? 

“Don’t tell what schools you are applying to,” seems to be the word on the street. Instead, when asked the question, “What schools are you applying to?” students might answer, “A lot of schools.” This theory applies if the student doesn’t know the person asking very well. But the students you know well might tell you. I’ve noticed the teens sometimes sound sheepish when announcing their reach schools and apologetic for their safety schools. Generally they don’t want to disclose the schools they are applying to, so if they aren’t accepted, they won’t have to tell anyone.

My daughter chose to only tell her closest friends that she applied Early Decision. But then two other kids in her class announced they were applying ED to the same school. She decided it was best to tell them her plans too. At first they saw each other as competitors but as time to apply grew closer, they relied on each other for support and were the first ones they called when the results came in.

Sydney says it’s a case by case situation. Sometimes it’s helpful to know who is applying where. You might learn about a really cool school that you only heard of when a classmate applies. All the seniors are going through the same thing at the same time, so it’s almost impossible to keep the information to yourself. They tend to share with each other, but when they tell others outside of school, they might hold back.

Sydney’s school has a college banner making station. When a student gets accepted to a school, they make a banner for that school and it’s hung in the college admissions office. Even if they won’t end up going, they still make the banner. By April, the banners will be complete and the younger classes will parade past them with eyes on these schools that their peers will attend.

It’s intense now but it will all be over soon. A year from now these current seniors might be sitting on alumni panels at their high school talking about college to the next set of seniors. Some might even represent their college during a college education night. It’s been a long year of ups and downs. It feels like when they were toddlers and the mood and activity changed every twenty minutes. There are never any right answers. Stay flexible and listen to your child. Take your cues from them. If they don’t want you to tell the neighbors where they are applying, respect that. It’s their journey and we are their support team.

Do Grades in Senior Year Matter?

Eight hours on New Year’s Eve. That’s how much time was spend in our house finishing up college applications. Proofreading final supplements, finalizing payments, sending in SAT’s and art portfolios, asking last minute questions to the very patient and available high school college counselor. But the most time was spent deliberating over the final college list. Going back and forth about whether or not to apply to Early Decision 2. We decided not to.

Exhausted by four o’clock in the afternoon, the applications were all in. I was ready to sleep, my daughter was ready to celebrate. As the fireworks went off above our house at midnight, I realized what a hurdle we’d been through getting this far. It was a time to pause. The next chapter was just about to begin. Decisions will be made. And this time next year, she would have completed her first year of college. And right now, we have no idea where that will be.

I like that the application process coincided with New Year’s Eve. I’m ready to put the hard work behind and start fresh. For my daughter, she’ll move through the rest of the year with the school musical, swim team, and her final semester of high school.

But since all the applications are in and transcripts to colleges sent, do these final grades matter? Yes, they do. The colleges will only accept students who maintain their grades in the spring semester of senior year. I have heard stories from parents whose child let their grades slide and their offer to the college of choice was withdrawn.

UC Irvine rescinded 500 acceptances last year two months before Fall term stating in some cases the reason being fallen grades in senior year.  Although seniors should be allowed to take a breath after all this hard work, they need to be careful and treat the rest of the year as carefully as they have the previous years.

I want my daughter to have a fun summer. A summer job and trips to the beach is what I hope for her. No academic classes. Although we have just learned that if accepted to any of the UC schools, the freshmen are encouraged to start in the summer semester, eight weeks earlier than the fall semester begins. That would mean one month of summer, then moving into the dorms in July. So much to think about and to plan for, if only we could plan. Instead we wait a couple of months until the decisions roll in.

The Final Push for Application Deadlines. How Many Schools Do You Apply To?

So far my daughter has applied to seven in-state schools and one private school. This week she will finish her applications and apply to seven more private schools by January first.

Fifteen applications is way too much in my mind, but seems to be the average. The state schools have a different application than the Common App, but no additional writing supplement required. Some private colleges don’t require any writing supplements, some do. As we enter the last week of December my daughter still has some supplements to write. After final exams and holiday prep, she is exhausted. Senior year is a tough one no doubt. The grades count. The class load is rigorous and the college applications can take over all the free time. Not to mention last minute SAT and ACT tests.

I had hoped she would have completed everything by winter break. But she hasn’t. We aren’t traveling this break so she can focus on the last applications and get some rest. We are all burning out from this process. But it’s an important one so all I can do now is keep the healthy snacks coming, proof read her writing supplements and be there when she is ready to submit.

My tenth grade son is watching all this. He doesn’t say much about college, still focusing on the one school he wants to go to. But his senior year seems like a long time from now. His friends aren’t really talking about college, but they are interested in his sister’s journey. He wants to attend a performing arts school, which require audition tapes and in-person auditions. My daughter’s friends interested in these schools are just beginning the live-audition part. So we will learn from their experiences.

The college application process affects the entire family. It’s time consuming, expensive and emotional. I hadn’t realized how all-consuming it would be. I look forward to when we finally hear and my daughter knows where she’ll be going. But then she won’t be here with us, so there’s that. All this work and effort to watch your child move away from home. Coming to terms with this is the next phase in the application process.

Early Decision Results Are In. What Happens Next?

Last week was a big one. Early Decision and Early Action results were mailed. Sydney applied Early Decision to her reach school and unfortunately was not accepted. Of course, she was disappointed. But she has so many other colleges she’s excited about and now she’s free to apply to them.

The rest of the week was filled with Sydney’s friends being accepted to and rejected from Early Action schools. Sydney didn’t apply to any of those as she was focusing on her ED application. The benefit of Early Action is that you hear about your acceptance earlier. And they are non-binding. The Early Decision applications are binding.

So what’s next? Sydney can still apply to one school Early Decision II with a deadline of January 1 and hear back on February 15. But there are so many other wonderful schools out there, she is hoping that by applying regular decision to all her picks, she might have a choice of schools. It’s really hard for her to narrow down a specific school right now. Once again we’d be faced with the Early Decision offering a high acceptance but if accepted, a binding contract and having to withdraw all the other applications.

Not all schools offer Early Action, but from my current point of view, that’s the way to go. It’s the best of all worlds, you hear early, it’s non-binding and you have the freedom to wait for the other offers. I think with Jasper, who is in tenth grade now, we will encourage Early Action.

Sometimes you take a risk. And sometimes it doesn’t turn out. And sometimes it turns out for the better in unexpected ways. And that’s not just an expression because within just a few days we’ve already had discussions about other options which are maybe even more intriguing.

Is Tutoring the Answer to Help Boost My Kid’s SAT Score?

PSAT scores were released Monday, so now is an ideal time to create a test prep strategy with your tenth grader. The options: test prep classes, private tutor, test prep workbooks or as my twelfth-grade daughter, Sydney advised her tenth-grade brother, online test prep.

The in-class test prep classes are expensive and time consuming and they also require the student keep up with a daily practice. A tutor can be terribly expensive, and even with an hour tutoring session a week, the student is still encouraged to do test prep homework every day. Online test prep should be done everyday as well, but it is free.

Sydney’s point is that in all three cases, the student needs to self motivate in order to get through all the SAT/ACT concepts. So why spend the money when online test prep give you video explanations that can be re-watched if needed? Chances are that after a three-hour class on Saturday afternoon, you’ll need to review that info anyway.

With so many things going on during a school year, your student needs to pick their battles. If they score well on tests, that’s great. If they don’t, there are so many other important factors in a college application. If they are more confident in their writing abilities, they should focus on the essays and make those the pinnacle of their application. I suggest, save your money on test prep and put that money towards application fees later.

Sydney’s Test Prep Tips:

  • Time Management is essential. Start doing online test prep the week after Winter Break of Sophomore year. And keep it up over the summer.
  • Continue to review concepts. If you only do a concept once, it’s useless.
  • Become familiar with the test. Take a Sample Test once a month.
  • Be super comfortable with all the directions so you aren’t surprised on the day of the test. For example, there are a few questions at the end of the math section where you fill in your own answers. Make sure you understand how to fill in those answers correctly.
  • Familiarize yourself with how to fill in the bubbles in the demographic section. This is the first thing you’ll do and it can be super stressful if you are not prepared.
  • Don’t take the test more than three times. But do take it two times so you can use your Superscore. (From prepscholar.com: Superscoring is the process by which colleges consider your highest section scores across all the dates you took the SAT. Rather than confining your scores to one particular date, these schools will take your highest section scores, forming the highest possible composite score.)
  • And most important: don’t stress about it too much! Know that there are a lot of test optional schools out there and the list is growing.

Saving for College – Is That the Best Bet?

How best to spend money you have allocated to education? Private school? Tutors? Test prep? College fund? Do you take family vacations to broaden your child’s worldview? Do they do summer enrichment camps? Seeds of Peace? There is no one answer. It’s a gamble really.

Suppose you put away money in a 529 account and there is a family emergency, can you take out that money without penalty?

What if your child winds up going to an in-state school and you don’t qualify for financial aid? You might wind up paying more than a private school with a good endowment.

I am finding the Net Price calculator helpful in breaking down college prices. There is one on the website of each college and university. After you plug in your basic household income figures, the college will estimate how much they expect you to pay. That figure is broken down into three separate categories: parent contribution, student work-study, and student loan. These estimates don’t include merit money.

The amount of student loan they expected students to take out is roughly between $3,000 – $5,500 freshman year.

I was relieved when I read the figure. I don’t feel it will put students in too much debt after graduation. It might even be a healthy amount to pay off. I paid off my college loan after graduation every month and it was a real motivation for me to stay employed. I also did work/study when I was in college and felt it was a good way to gain job experience, make pocket money and purchase textbooks.

There are many scholarships beyond merit, but they take time to find. Fastweb.com is a website that guides students towards scholarships. The students are asked details about themselves, their interests and academic strengths. Then a list of potential scholarship matches is calculated. The scholarships range from $1,000 to $20,000. These scholarships in most cases can be applied to any college the student attends. The scholarships are very broad from corporate scholarships offered by Coca-Cola to regional and local scholarships. My favorite being The National Rice Month Scholarship, where students who live in states that produce rice can submit a 500-word essay about how rice has affected their lives.

I receive daily emails from fastweb.com with hand-picked scholarships that my daughter might qualify for. If the student has time, they can fill out multiple scholarship applications every day. Most involve writing short essays. At this point with college applications due in January as well as keeping up with senior year academics, there is not much time for these additional applications. So far, Sydney has just applied for one $1000 scholarship. Hopefully, after the new year and all the applications are in, she will apply for more.

I’m betting we’ll find a college that is not only a good fit for our daughter academically and socially, but a good fit for our family financially.

Is One College Counselor Enough or Too Much?

“No C’s senior year!” says Sydney’s high school college counselor as she helps students navigate college options and keeps them on track with applications.

“It’s important to build a strong relationship with your college counselor so that they can write the best recommendation possible,” Sydney told me.

My daughter is extremely lucky to have such a hands-on college counselor at her school, but not all students take advantage of this opportunity. “Some kids just don’t care,” Sydney added. Others at her school feel one counselor is not enough. They find outside counselors to lead them through the process and read essays, etc.

Sydney did not get an extra counselor but she did ask her relatives and teachers for help throughout the process. Sydney noticed that some teachers got the message of her essay more than others and she was able to incorporate their suggestions to make it as polished as possible. “But too many suggestions can be overwhelming and stressful,” said Sydney, “Don’t lose your voice.”

Sydney went on to add more suggestions, “Write your essay early on in the year, preferably during summer. Have your college counselor and one other trusted mentor read it first and get their general opinions on the content and structure of the piece. After you make those comments send it to a new person and see what they think. Ignore a comment if it is totally unrelated to what other people are saying.

“Try to get a college representative to read your essay (this is so helpful!). And lastly, do all the edits but keep your very first original essay untouched. After all the edits are done go back and read your first version and make sure that you feel comfortable that your individual voice is still there.”

It’s an insane amount of work, but with the help of a counselor who keeps you on track and a supportive family your student can do it all and still manage not to get C’s senior year.

How Early Is Too Early To Talk About College?

“Don’t even think about discussing college until their Junior year of high school. They are under too much pressure already. “

“Kindergarten. That’s when you start talking college.”

Two conflicting ideas during a small parent panel discussion at my son’s high school college night.

The second parent explained, since she never went to college, it was important her kids grow up understanding that they will. “College might not be for everyone, but in my house college is for you.”

sfw_risd_richardbarnes_1When my son started reading he claimed he was going to go to Ukla for college. I wasn’t sure what he meant until I saw signs on busses advertising UCLA. This early reader was pronouncing UCLA as the one word: Ukla. I can pinpoint that moment as to when we started explaining what college meant. At the time he was very much into drawing so we told him about Rhode Island School of Design (RISDI). We’d spend hours looking through their online catalogue especially at the Nature Lab where you could check out all sorts of taxidermy, shells minerals, seed pods to take back to your dorm room to draw. This was very exciting to an eight year-old. Now at fifteen, RISDI is not so much on his mind. He’s shifted his interests and thinks RISDI might be too limiting.

art-center-south-campus2In sixth grade, his friend’s dad took a carload of kids to The Art Center of Pasadena, his alma mater. It was the seniors open studio week and happened to be our school’s spring break. I went with them and what I thought would be an hour tour turned into a whole day. The twelve year-olds were fascinated walking through the open studios looking at the work. The dad had been a car design major and walked them through that studio with such care and enthusiasm pointing out renderings and models. By the time we left, all the kids declared Art Center was for them.

These early ideas about college leave good impressions but may not leave standing ones. I can’t help but think when a parent shows interest in college from an enthusiastic personal point of view, it will rub off on the kids. So introducing the idea early gets my vote.

 

A Parent’s Guide to College Planning in 7 Steps

As a parent, your time is limited and the task of planning for college with your child can become daunting. You want the best for your child; however, private college consulting services cost a minimum of $5,000 and public school counselors are often overwhelmed with advisees. At MyKlovr, we offer you a cost-effective, virtual counselor program to help you and your child get into the best colleges.

Here are 7 highly effective tips to help you navigate the college admissions process and improve your child’s chances of getting into the college of their dreams.

1. Choosing the Best Colleges

While the first decision for many is based on a college’s rank and prestige, this is rarely the best approach. Even if your child attends the top-ranked college in the nation, if he or she is miserable at the school their educational experience will be less than ideal.

Instead, start to narrow the field by having a conversation with your child using these questions:

  • Are you attracted to a large student body or do you prefer a smaller academic environment?
  • Where are you happiest? In a bustling city setting or do you prefer a more rural setting?
  • Are you willing to move far away from home or would you prefer to be close? (If saving money on room and board by having your child live at home is ideal, talk about schools within a reasonable traveling distance).
  • Do you have a good idea of what you want to study in college? (If the answer is yes, then focus on schools that offer the best programs in that area. If the answer is no, focus on more well-rounded schools to allow your child to find their chosen path).

In general, you should aim to create a list of 6-8 schools (2-3 difficult colleges, 2-3 target schools, and about 2 safety schools).

2. Visit Your Chosen Schools

If possible, plan a trip to as many schools on your list as possible. There is no better way to see whether a school is a good fit for your child than walking the campus, having dinner in the surrounding area, and getting an overall sense of the vibe of the school.

Insider Tip: Many schools allow prospective students to sit in on a class or two. This can be a great way to get a feel for a school and the experience will motivate your child to take the college admission process seriously.

3. Keep a Written Record

Once you have a list of schools, make a list of all the requirements for each college. This may seem like a lot of tedious work, but it will save you time, aggravation, and frustration down the road. All colleges have a list of required materials on their website, make sure you and your child work together to write a detailed list of what each school requires and don’t forget to write down the deadlines for applications and supporting materials.

This list will save you more than time. It will serve as a great reminder to motivate you and your child to meet the college deadlines together.

4. Request Recommendations Early

Almost all colleges require recommendations and well-written recommendations will increase the chances of getting into the best colleges. But keep this one thing in mind, the people you ask for recommendations are busy and you are asking them for a favor.

In all your communications, be polite, friendly, and helpful. Clearly, list out in an email what is required of the recommender. Do not make teachers and professional references go to the website to find out for themselves. If the recommendation must be mailed, provide each reference with a stamped envelope with the address filled out in advance.

Don’t be too pushy, but after a reasonable amount of time, there is nothing wrong with a gentle and friendly reminder if the recommendation still hasn’t been completed.

5. Request Supporting Material Early

It might sound simple, but having transcripts and SAT and ACT scores sent to colleges takes time. So give yourself some breathing room and make sure the supporting materials get in earlier rather than later. For example, SAT scores typically take about 2 weeks to send.

Insider Tip: The first step of the college admission process is simply collecting all the required material. Meaning regardless of the brilliance of your child’s application, missing components will hold up the whole process or, worse, result in missing an opportunity to apply to your chosen colleges.

 6. Nail the College Admission Essays

College admissions selection committees often read through hundreds of applications. One way to have your child stand out is by writing a top-notch college admission essay to showcase their personality.

But start the process early. Most writers, no matter how talented, write terrible first drafts. For this reason, the revision process is the key to a solid and outstanding college essay. If possible, plan to have your child write a first draft, a revision, and then the final draft.

A Few Insider Tips:

Because college selection committees read hundreds of essays, make sure your child’s unique voice and experiences stand out from the pack. For example, instead of vague statements such as “I’m an adventurous person,” encourage your child to be more specific and use real-life experiences. Such as: “In 2016, I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail to build confidence and push myself beyond my limits.”

A Few Other Tips: 

  • Double and triple check all grammar and spelling.
  • Have your child read the essay out loud (yes, this really does improve writing).
  • Ask friends, family, and peers to read the essay if possible.
  • Watch the word count, all colleges have length limits, make sure to follow them.
  • Provide plenty of encouragement, most of us hate writing about ourselves.

7. Celebrate

After you complete the college admissions process, celebrate with your child. Visit a favorite restaurant, participate in a shared activity, or anything you both enjoy. You earned it!

We hope these 7 steps make the process of applying to college a little easier. If you need more help, be sure to visit MyKlovr, a virtual counselor platform providing high school college-bound students with personalized recommendations of goals, milestones, and resources to increase their chances of getting into the college of their dreams.

We wish you the best of luck!

Thanksgiving for a Supportive Family

“At Thanksgiving do we have to talk about college?” Sydney asked in the car ride to school this morning. “I’m exhausted. I just can’t anymore.” I don’t blame her. It’s been non-stop college talk at our house since last Spring. I’m really hoping that by Thanksgiving, she will have finished her applications so that she can enjoy the rest of the year. But I do know it’s going to be the question on everyone’s mind. Because, let’s face it, college was a great time of life. And adults love to reminisce.

Her dad and I are very interested in her college career. We think college is super important and want to help her navigate through the overwhelming options. My thinking is that if her last year at home is dominated by the college process, then I’ll throw myself into it too. This way there is always something for us to talk about. We can help guide her, without pushing and talk about the future in educated ways. We like hanging out with our kids and knowing what they are interested in, so naturally we’re interested in learning about the college process.

I meet parents all the time who are hands off with the college search. Sometimes they don’t even know where their kids are applying. I know teenagers like some anonymity, but if you find clever ways to engage with them you can learn a lot. If they don’t want to talk about themselves, ask them what schools their friends are interested in. By taking the focus off your child, you might be able to find out what they are thinking and then the conversation might shift naturally back to them. I remember when my kids were little reading an article that suggested when your kids come home from school, don’t ask how school was. They will most likely answer with a one word answer like, “Fine.” But if you ask specific questions like, “Who did you sit next to at lunch?” their answer will most likely lead into something interesting that happened that day. I think the same technique can work with teens. Take the focus off them and and their ideas and feelings might eventually reveal themselves.

As we visit family and friends for Thanksgiving, I know college will be a big subject. College is a great ice breaker when talking to a senior or junior high school student. Everyone loves to tell college stories and it’s a fun conversation starter. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents get a twinkle in their eyes when they reminisce about their youth. Parents might tell a story or two that they have never shared before. My kids love to hear about old girlfriends and boyfriends. Even college heart breaks are up for grabs.

Listening to grownups telling college stories allows the kids grow up a bit too. It puts them at the adult table. They start to feel older. Next Thanksgiving the seniors will be the ones coming in from the airport with stories to tell. Their younger siblings, cousins and friends will listen more carefully and soak in every word.

I can’t promise Sydney that no one will ask her what colleges she is applying to. But I bet she will relish in the support from her family and friends and seek out their advice and take in their stories. It’s hard to imagine that next year she’ll be the one serving advice to the younger ones at the table. But I know she’ll have a bounty of stories and advice to share and maybe even a few leftovers.

Too Many Colleges, Too Little Time

There are currently about 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States. How on earth do you pick the right one for your child? In our house we started with our alma mater, New York University. Sydney’s dad went there for grad school and I went for undergrad. Every trip we made to NYC we’d pass NYU and retell stories of our past. When she and I and her brother did the official tour last Spring, she declared that NYU was the school for her. But as she visited other schools, NYU fell further down the list. In the end, she won’t even be applying there.

She learned universities meant larger classes and a larger student population. Gradually, small liberal arts colleges sounded more appealing. And we looked at some great ones in person and online, most of them in rural areas. There is a helpful book, Colleges That Change Lives, where we read about many we’d never heard of.

The more rural the schools, the more Sydney realized she was a city girl. She decided she wanted a small college in a big city. That didn’t leave a lot of options, but one thing that started to appeal was an all women’s college. I attended an all girl high school and a women’s college was the last thing I would have wanted. But she saw the benefits. She’d be able to go to a selective school, not have to compete with men to get in or during classes and she’d have better shots at leadership positions. She started to focus on women’s colleges as first choices. This all came about as she took the time to realize what was important to her in a school. It never would have been something I suggested.

As her list narrowed we needed to consider the finances. Luckily most of her schools were part of the list of colleges that meet 100% of financial need. The Net Price Calculator helped us to rule out certain ones and focus on some that we might not have considered before.

She didn’t want to go to school in Southern California where she grew up, although when we toured UCLA, she said, “there is nothing wrong with this school.” Except the fact that they had 102,000 applications last year for 6,000 spots! Looking at acceptance rates sometimes puts things into perspective.

If you ask my son what college he wants to attend, he will say NYU. He is pretty certain of it although he’s only in tenth grade. I imagine he will go through a series of discoveries as well and change his mind too. Or maybe not. With over 5,000 colleges to chose from you’d think he could find one that fits. He only needs one.

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