choosing a college

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does It Mean To Be Waitlisted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Important Are My SAT/ACT Scores?

You sit in an auditorium packed to the gills with thousands of high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors from all around the nation. On the vast stage is a single podium, behind it a massive projector screen displaying the myKlovr logo and a single sentence in ten-foot high letters – the title of this article.

I walk on the stage wearing a myKlovr t-shirt and jeans, causing the audience to erupt in rapturous applause. I am, after all, myKlovr’s academic guru. I stand behind the podium and begin to speak:

“SAT and ACT scores are very important. That is all. Now please leave – Apple has reserved this space for their next product launch announcement.”

Without another word, I walk offstage, leaving the audience in stunned, frustrated silence.

I wake up from my dream and sigh. Becoming the Steve Jobs of the education world will have to wait for another day. However, my answer was pretty much on the money: SAT/ACT scores are a crucial component of college admissions success.

In this article, we’ll examine some reasons why your SAT/ACT scores are important no matter where you hope to attend college.

So How Important Are We Talking About?

You’re not just a number in the eyes of college admissions counselors. You’re a collection of numbers and letters. 😉

Yep, for a large percentage of applicants, ten seconds is all it takes for a college admissions counselor to make up her mind, even if she continues reading your application for a few additional minutes. This usually happens to applicants whose grades are in the C-F range, and their standardized tests are lower than the college’s Middle 50% scores for accepted students. This way, many applications go into the ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ pile as fast as if they were rolling off an assembly line.

In other words, good SAT/ACT scores prevent you from receiving an automatic rejection. This situation is stark a contrast to past decades when a good score was all that it took to gain acceptance to a top college or university. Not any more – at America’s top colleges, most applicants have respectable scores and top grades. Today, a high score keeps your foot in the door, making sure that the admissions counselor takes the time to read your essays and recommendation letters.

Not every college admissions counselor has the ‘automatic rejection’ mindset. If a college can afford a large admissions staff, for example, they may read everything in your application before making a decision. But admissions counselors are only human. When no one’s looking, and an admissions counselor has a large stack next to her (not to mention that it’s 6:00 PM and she promised her little girl she’d try to be home early once this week), what do you think might happen?

What if They’re Optional?

Submit them anyway. Everything helps. 🙂

What if My Dream College Doesn’t Require Them?

Yes, many colleges (and not just community colleges) no longer require standardized test scores to apply. Personally, I think that’s a step in the right direction. However, good scores are still important for two facets of the college experience:

  • Course placement
  • Scholarships

Good scores may let you skip introductory-level courses (saving you money) and help you earn scholarships (saving you even more money). You don’t even have to apply for some of these scholarships; you gain some automatically if you live in a state with a lottery scholarship or attend a college with a guaranteed merit scholarship.

So if you like saving money, aim for a high SAT/ACT score.

Final Thoughts

There’s no way around it: good SAT/ACT scores may not earn you an automatic acceptance to your dream college, but they are still rank just under your grades in order of importance. And no matter what, make sure that every part of your application is as polished as it can be.

And since summer break is fast approaching, start researching college tours. The more the merrier!

Spring Has Arrived and So Have SAT Scores

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

 

 

What Is a Virtual College Counselor?

Every year, applying to college becomes a more frustrating and challenging process. Also, cut-throat competition to attend the nation’s best colleges and universities have made acceptance rates plummet, even at colleges that were considered safety schools just a few short years ago.

All college applicants should have a trusted advisor to guide them through the process. For some students, that person is the college counselor at their school. For others, it is a private college counselor paid for by parents.

But what if your school’s college counselor is always busy? What if your family can’t afford the fees charged by private college counselors?

To help students like you, myKlovr created the world’s first virtual college counselor.

Virtual College Counseling: The Basics

A virtual counselor performs many of the same functions as a high school college counselor:

  • Goal setting
  • Advising
  • Progress tracking
  • College research and recommendations

What myKlovr has done is taken these functions and put them into a platform. Using the answers you provide to our academic and personal questions, the platform creates a series of goals for you to accomplish throughout high school. All of these goals are designed to help you increase your college admissions chances, even if you don’t yet know where you want to go to college.

Once you receive your goals, you have the option to further custom tailor them. You can choose to replace specific goals with others that better fit your needs. After that, it’s time to start working towards your short and long-term goals. 

How myKlovr Helps You

MyKlovr is so much more than a computer algorithm in a shiny package. It’s a network of trusted advisors that help set academic and personal goals and see them through to completion. That way, you are not just interacting with a computer; you’re communicating with your parents, teachers, high school counselors, and other adults whose advice you need to navigate the college application process successfully. As you accomplish your academic and personal goals, they confirm your progress and receive relevant updates.

Advantages Over Solely Using Your School’s College Counselors

The primary benefit of myKlovr is that you can access the services of a virtual college counselor anytime, anywhere. When you have a question, we’ll answer it. When you need personalized advice, we can help. When you can’t wait to see your school’s college counselor, we’ll be there. Gone are the days of making appointments or waiting in line.

Advantages Over Other Private College Counseling Services

One word: money. The best private college counselors’ hourly fee compares to that charged by top lawyers. Over two years, those fees can add up to the price of a good used car.

myKlovr’s base price of $19.99/month provides the same benefits of private college counseling at a fraction of the cost. Also, you gain a digital college application portfolio that will help you tremendously when it comes time to apply to college. Think about it: if you use myKlovr throughout high school, you’ll have curated and organized all the materials you need to write stellar personal essays.

Future you will thank present you.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior, I encourage you to sign up for myKlovr and give it a try. The basic features are free, which means you can see if it’s a good fit before you or your parents invest a single penny.

I am sure that once you get to know myKlovr, it will become an invaluable tool for your college application 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!”

I Was Wait-Listed! Now What?

Throughout the fall semester of senior year, college-bound students and their families are caught up in the stresses of the college admission season. Then, once the last application goes in the mail around January 1st, comes the waiting game: four months of nervous anticipation.

April 1st represents the light at the end of the tunnel. On that day, you will receive ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ envelopes from the colleges to which you applied. Then, like Christmas morning, the envelopes arrive! And………

You were wait-listed.

Getting wait-listed, especially from your dream college, can feel like a punch to the gut, even worse than outright rejection.

If this should happen to you, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. I’m not gonna lie: your situation isn’t an ideal one. Take a moment (or a day) to feel frustrated. Know that many people besides you don’t have kind words when speaking about college waitlists.  After that, continue reading to see how you can make the most of the next few weeks.

Cover Your Bases

Feel better now? Get some sleep? Good. Let’s talk about the next four weeks when college admissions counselors make their final decisions about which wait-listed applicants will make the final cut.

As you might already know, their final decision depends on how many accepted students will decide to attend. If a college receives enough new students from the group of accepted students, no one on the waitlist gets in. This happens more often than you think. If fewer than expected students agree to attend, then the college selects applicants off the waitlist. So how do they choose which wait-listed students to accept? That brings us to my first point:

Call the Admissions Office 

Every college is different when it comes to their waitlists. When some colleges decide to accept another wait-listed student, they choose one at random. Other colleges rank their wait-listed students and take them in order of preference. If the latter is the case, they will likely tell you your ranking. If you’re near the bottom, you need to make some difficult decisions (see the next section).

If you’re near the top, or your dream college doesn’t rank its wait-listed applicants, you have some work to do.

Show the College that You’re Still a Competitive Applicant

Some colleges ask their wait-listed students to send up-to-date transcripts. After all, your original application likely didn’t have any grades from your senior year. Solid academic performance can help your application rise to the top of the pile.

Moral of the story: it always pays to stay on top of your senior year grades.

Along with transcripts, you can also include other items, such as a short letter, that updates admissions counselors on your academic and personal accomplishments that happened since you applied. Every little bit helps, so you might as well brag about yourself.

Prepare for Some Difficult Decisions

Up until now, we’ve haven’t touched on your OTHER college admission letters you received on or around April 1st. I’m sure there were a few rejections, along with (hopefully) a few acceptances. Let’s focus on the latter. Take a moment to feel proud that you did, in fact, receive a few fat envelopes.

Now comes the hard part. Do you continue waiting for a possible yes from your dream college, or choose to attend one of the colleges that accepted you? How do you make such an important decision in such a short amount of time?

A Bird in the Hand…

I’m going to strongly recommend that unless your name is at or near the top of your dream college’s waitlist, you should attend one of the colleges that accepted you, especially if that college’s tuition is less or you have a scholarship.

Why make such a blunt recommendation? Here are my reasons:

  • You’ll finally have closure.
  • You can start planning for the transition to college sooner rather than later.
  • If the college you select costs less than your dream school, you’ll be saving you and your family from a possible financial burden that could last years if not decades after you graduate.

It can be incredibly difficult to give up on your dream school, but trust me when I say the potential benefits outweigh any risks.

Final Thoughts

Being wait-listed may be a bummer and stressor, but it’s also an opportunity. Use April to decide what you REALLY want out of college. Step back from the importance you put on your dream college, and reevaluate the best option for your future. Then, and only then, make your decision.

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 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.

 

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.

Charting Your Educational Path

Today is Columbus Day, and if you have the day off from school, good for you. A lot of high school students don’t, so enjoy your free day. But since you have some time on your hands, let’s talk Columbus, or more specifically, his first journey 525 years ago. Columbus, despite all his promises to the Spanish monarchy, had little to no idea what was he was doing when he set sail. In fact, if the winds hadn’t been favorable, he and the crews of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria would never have made it back home.

Columbus was unsure about a lot of things.

I bet you’re unsure about what this year of high school will bring. Thoughts of college convey the same sense of trepidation, only magnified. Like Columbus, will you make it there? And even when you ‘arrive,’ will your destination be the one you intended? So on this Columbus Day, let’s examine your educational path. Our goal will be to help you create the outline of a map charting your journey to college.

After all, I bet Columbus sure wished he had a map in 1492.

Step One: Determine Where You Are

You can’t figure out where you’re going unless you know where you are. That means sitting down to evaluate everything that makes you, well, you. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What are my interests and passions?
  • What is one thing that makes me unique?
  • If I could change one thing about myself, what would it be?
  • If I could not take one subject in school, what would it be?
  • How have I performed academically in high school so far?
  • Am I enjoying my extracurricular activities?
  • Am I taking an active role in my community?

The answers to these questions will help you create a small, personalized student profile. You’ll have to face a few hard truths, but there will undoubtedly be reasons to pat yourself on the back, as well. No matter what you discover about yourself, you will have taken the first step of your educational path.

Step Two: Decide Where You Want to Go

Deciding to go to college is a big step, but after that, you have to find your dream school. With literally thousands of options, the choices can feel overwhelming. If you’re going to ‘set sail’ for college, you must pick a direction.

By completing step one, you already have a powerful tool at your disposal. For example, by identifying your likes and dislikes, you can write off many colleges due to their course offerings or campus culture. Your academic performance plays another significant role. If you’re a junior who has struggled academically, it’s doubtful that an Ivy League or ultra-competitive school will accept you.

The point is that you’re looking for a college that works not for your parents, not for your peers, but for you. And since applying to college is competitive just about everywhere, you need to choose 4-6 possible colleges where you would be perfectly happy. Make sure your list has the following:

  • One reach school (<20% chance of admittance)
  • Two to three maybe schools (40-70% chance of admittance)
  • One safety school (>90% chance of admittance)

In short, cover your bases. To get you started, here are some key self-reflection questions:

  • Which colleges offer majors in the subjects in which I’m interested?
    • Are these programs well-respected? What are current and former students saying? Where do graduates end up working or go on to graduate school?
  • Do I want to stay close to home or explore a new part of the country?
    • This may seem like a trivial question, but your future school’s location will have a large impact on your life outside the classroom.
  • Why do I like ‘College A’ over all the others?
    • Self-reflection can help you identify other colleges similar to the one you prefer the most.

Step Three: Chart a Course

So you know where you’re going. That’s great! Don’t know how to get there? That’s okay! We’ll figure it out together.

Get out your list of potential colleges and universities. For the moment, ignore the ‘maybe’ and ‘safety’ schools. To chart your educational path, we’re aiming for the top of the list. Everything you do from here on out will make you attractive candidate to that one school.

Why shoot for the moon? Easy. Even if you don’t make it into your top-choice school, you will make yourself the best applicant you can be to all the schools to which you will apply.

Let’s dive into our final set of questions to help you chart your course:

  • Are my standardized test scores comparable to what this college expects of its applicants?
    • If not, how can I improve my scores?
  • Are my classes challenging me?
    • Colleges love applicants who take rigorous courses. (I cannot overstate this enough.)
  • How can I set myself apart from thousands of other applicants?
    • For example, if your dream college promotes community service, you can set yourself apart in your application by promoting the community service you performed in high school. (e.g., Make it the topic of your personal essay. Write about how you went above and beyond!)

Final Thoughts

Well, loyal readers, I hope I’ve given you some tools to help you start your academic journey to college. There’s a lot to do, so don’t be shy about going to your parents, teachers, and college counselors for advice or help. Yes, adults are very busy, but the one’s who offer their help will have the best advice.

Finally, may calm seas and good winds bless your journey.

Back to Top