Parent’s Blog

74 POSTS

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.

The Early Decision Decision

My daughter Sydney decided to apply Early Decision to her top college. It turned into more of a family decision and a family effort to get out the early application. The deadline being November first.

About four o’clock on Sunday, my tenth-grade son who had burrowed himself in his room all weekend carefully tiptoed between his angst-ridden sister and frustrated father as they proofread her essay for a final time.

“Should I get my hopes up about tonight?” he whispered to me. We had promised a family dinner at his favorite restaurant once his sister submitted, partly to celebrate her submission and partly to thank him for his patience at being ignored during this college frenzy. We’d thought the application would have been done by Saturday morning but Sydney still wanted one more pass at the written supplements, needed to format the essay for the Common App, write Additional Comments, and create a resume for her Slideroom. She had prepped most everything but there were so many more details. Her dad and I took turns reading over things but between the application, play rehearsal and her full load of twelfth-grade homework, she was exhausted. We all were.

Sydney

I can’t help feeling that some of the household stress was based on the realization that if she gets into this college, it’s binding. She will be going. No turning back. How do you make that choice so early in your senior year? Why make that choice? Well, because the odds are much better to get in with Early Decision. In her case, 48% of applicants are admitted during Early Decision, whereas 15% are admitted during regular decision. It seemed like the best bet.

“If you got into all the colleges you loved and money was no object, would this still be your first pick?” I asked. “I can always change my mind, right?” she laughed, “Let’s do this.” So I retrieved my credit card, we paid the fee and she signed her final signature. It was seven-thirty and we were really hungry. We gathered around as she hit the submit button. And it was decided.

The evening ended in celebration at our favorite Mexican restaurant. The staff who have known Sydney since she was a baby brought over a dessert with a candle. We celebrated her hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Wherever she winds up will be the right place. This weekend’s Early Decision was the only first step. There will be many more decisions and celebrations to follow.

Gardening With the Net Price Calculator

With our FAFSA report and CSS profile complete, I started to dig into the Net Price Calculator. Each college and university is required by law to have a Net Price Calculator on their website. About 200 are sponsored by the College Board. The College Board saves your information and makes it easy to estimate your “Calculated Family Contribution.” The other colleges require you to put in basic income and family information.

Once I unearthed our Calculated Family Contribution for our top ten schools, I looked up, bug-eyed, from the computer.

“Give me the rose and the thorn,” my daughter said, using an expression from her counseling class at school.

“Okay, your top school wants to give you a really decent amount of aid. Your second choice, zero aid. Ouch. And your third choice something in between.” The rose, the thorn, and the stem.

But now I wanted to dig deeper. I started checking out lots of schools. Schools we’d never even considered. At the end of the day I think I had looked at about 40 schools, spent over six hours and too much caffeine. It was addicting.

“That’s nothing,” a dad of one of my daughter’s friends told me the next morning. “I ran the numbers for eighty-five schools and I’m still searching.”

The majority of colleges were around the same amount, but there were extremes. I called the top three choice schools asking how accurate those calculations were. The first school told me if my amounts entered were accurate then their calculation would be accurate. The second school, offering us no aid, suggested my daughter might be eligible for merit scholarships, which are not a part of the Net Price Calculations. And the third school said their final package could vary from their calculations based on other factors. I asked if they could tell me what other factors those might be. They said no.

My daughter is planning on applying Early Decision to her top school. This is very tricky since it’s a binding contract financially and I will have to gamble that those estimates are correct. I wonder if it’s better to hold off and have her apply regular decision so that we can weigh the options? Or have her apply Early Decision to her third choice which indicated the best financial aid package, but with unknown factors attached?

We have a week to make up our minds. The Early Decision deadline is November 1. It’s a gamble, that’s for sure. So with a week to go, maybe I’ll rustle around in those rose bushes some more.

Sunday Morning Coffee, the FAFSA Report and a Box of Kleenex

Yesterday was the second Sunday morning I woke up early to fill out financial aid applications for college. A friend had emailed me the night before asking, “I filled in the FAFSA report and CSS report, besides making sure the girls turn in their applications on time, is that all we have to do?”

Technically, the financial aid applications are designed for the students to fill out. But they require so much detail of household finances, it definitely seems like a parent’s job.

The most important thing to know ahead of time is that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CSS (College Scholarship Service Profile) require your tax return two years back. In other words, if the student enters college in the 2018-2019 school year, you will use your 2016 tax return. For my son, who will be entering college in the 2020-2021 year, we will use the 2018 tax return. This information is crucial. You may want to think ahead as you enter that tax year and consider that those spendings and earnings will be reviewed for financial aid.

So allow yourself some uninterrupted hours. The FAFSA report goes quickly, but the CSS takes more time. Then the day after you submit the CSS, some colleges ask for several documents to be uploaded, many of these requiring your child’s signature. Be prepared to pay a $9 processing fee and $16 per school for CSS. The FAFSA report is free.

As I confirmed the list of colleges we were sending the report to, ten for us, I started to tear up. All the college prep so far has been super fun. College tours with the family, looking through colorful brochures, imagining how my California daughter might endure a winter in Maine. But sending off our taxes so that we might get money to actually send our daughter to one of these places was too much for me. I looked at her hand-picked college list and pictured her 3,000 miles away. She only had one close-to-home college on her list, and that was a safety school. I listened to her read her college essay out loud as her brother played basketball nearby. I imagined the house without her. I couldn’t.

So it wasn’t the act of digging up our finances that was hard, it was hitting the submit button and realizing the actual road to her moving on was in play. Technically my friend was right, my only responsibilities are filling out the forms and helping her meet the application deadlines. But it’s not the only thing I need to do. Emotionally prepping for her to leave home… that will be the hardest job of all.

 

 

PSAT: To Panic Or Not

My son Jasper has PSAT’s on Wednesday and my daughter is suffering from SAT-PTSD. At dinner last night I asked Jasper how he was feeling about the upcoming test. Before he could answer, his sister Sydney, a senior, cried out, “Do we have to talk about SAT’s?!”

Over the past three years, Sydney has taken the PSAT twice, the SAT three times and the ACT once. Each time she does better. Incrementally better. But with all her prepping, her score is still not where she wants it to be. She can technically take it two more times before turning in her scores to college admissions this winter.

Jasper has watched his sister’s stress elevate. He has sympathized, endured her outbursts and even made her a special breakfast early one Saturday test-taking morning.

Jasper’s strategy is to go in unprepared. He thinks the results of the first PSAT will alert him to his weaknesses. He’ll deal with those then.

Sydney was not letting him get away with the nonchalant attitude. She wrestled him to the couch after dinner and went over each section of his College Board practice guide, giving expert guidance. She looked at me, worried. “I won’t be here when he applies to college.” She tried to give him a hug. He pushed her away. “It’s fine, since I won’t be panicking during the tests.”

An increasing number of colleges are now test optional.  They realize some kids are not good test takers. Graduation rates at colleges are growing as a measure of excellence, and high SAT scores are not the best predictor of a student’s ability to follow through for four long years.

“You gotta stress out a bit,” said Sydney.

I’m curious if keeping his cool will be beneficial to Jasper. Is it worth it to study for the PSAT? Experts differ on the value of test prep, especially if takes away from school work. Grades are still the most important thing.   

I have to think his will be healthier than Sydney’s approach, worrying and being nervous on the way to the test. It’s hard to know what to do as a parent. It always is. I can only look to my kids for guidance. And I think on Wednesday, we’ll just treat it as another day. No special breakfast, not talk about it. We’ll just hope he gets a good night’s sleep and does the best he can.

Enjoying College Tours With The Entire Family

My kids, Sydney and Jasper, have always loved road trips. From our base in Los Angeles, we’d take weekend trips and along the way, we’d always veer off to stop at any nearby college. Just to walk around, grab a meal in the cafe, or take in an art gallery. Were we pushing the idea of college too soon, too young? We thought we were just getting them used to the idea that one day they would be going to college. Or maybe we were being pushy.

When Sydney was a tenth grader, she and I took our first mother-daughter road trip. The explicit goal was to look at colleges in Northern California. We didn’t sign up for formal tours, just walked around as we always had, this time with her interest peaked. Could she see herself living in Santa Cruz or Berkeley?

This past spring, Sydney was a junior and Jasper a freshman. Sydney wanted to visit East coast schools. Since I grew up in Baltimore and my husband was from New York, we decided to make it a family vacation. To keep things affordable, we stayed with friends and family, some of whom we’d never met. This time we booked formal tours. Which meant we followed along with the student guides, wincing as they stumbled backward while explaining all the pros and a few of the cons of their schools.

I was thrilled how willingly friends and family opened their homes to us and fed us and drove us to the tours. We never needed to rent a car. We traveled on trains, buses, and subways. Getting to know relatives we had never even met was a wonderful bonus. There seems to be something about the college quest that opens an easily shared bond, especially with the parents who had been through it with kids of their own. We dined in college cafes and had a great time. But it was exhausting; the tours lasted two to three hours so we couldn’t do more than two in one day.

Jasper didn’t want to think about college yet, but he was a good sport. He toured every college with us except for one woman’s college, where my daughter did the tour with her aunt. That day Jasper and I hung out at a cafe, threw rocks in the stream and kicked a ball around the soccer field. When I asked him which college had impressed him the most so far, he said Columbia University. It was the only one where the tour guide didn’t walk backward, so he didn’t have to worry about them tripping.

Then, on a formal tour of a nearby college last weekend, our tour guide fell backward over a low wall. Jasper shook his head and whispered, “I’m not applying here.”

It’s so hard to pick a college. But it’s never too early to establish criteria. Walking forward is a good start.

Back to Top