college preparation

Your Ticket to Academic Success

It’s no secret ladies and gentleman. High school is one of the most imperative milestones in setting up a brighter and happier future. Everyone wants to perform at their best, keep parents off their back with a stellar GPA, and most importantly, land that dreamy college experience and education.

However, in today’s fast pace and chaotic education system, many skills to achieving success are often times overlooked. Everyone’s heard fellow classmates and friends blame their grades on study habits, poor time management skills, IQ, or even raw genetics. Us students seem to be losing sight of the level of control that we have over our future. And it’s easier than you would think.

The answer? Organization. Organization is a tool that everyone is born with, but not everyone unlocks. What separates the most successful students from the underachieving students has less to do with native intelligence indicated by IQ tests, background, or social class than one would guess. It is about the conscious choice of organization. Take a look at KIPP’s cultural organization, for example. KIPP is a free nationwide network of college-prep schools, originally started in New York City.

Examining the KIPP school in Brooklyn, “the children come from circumstances that lead regularly to academic failure and dropping out, but in this school they do very well indeed. By the end of 8th grade, 84 percent of the students perform at or above grade level, compared to a figure for the district schools in the area of 16 percent.” (Malcom Gladwell). It is cultural organization-based institutions like these that disrupt the education process in a positive manner.

How does KIPP help their students produce such successful results, you’re probably wondering. KIPP instills the practice of hard work and organization among their students at a very young age. KIPP educators inspire this regularly practiced skill set among their students by having them get up unusally early in order to make it to morning class on time, manage deadlines and assignments on a strict curriculum, set academic goals on a weekly and monthly basis, plan out ways to achieve them, and are checked in on periodically. 

It is prioritization tools like these that separate a student’s academic achievements in order to create an upward spiral for a healthier and happier life. In fact, don’t forget to check out the tool for helping you achieve those goals, upon myKlovr 2.0’s launching date.

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.

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.

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.

Overcoming College Admissions Terrors

Boo!

Didn’t mean to scare you, but I couldn’t help myself. Halloween is a day of scares, frights, terrors, and most importantly, candy. For high school upperclassmen, Halloween is scary, too, but for different reasons. Instead of ghouls or zombies, this holiday brings another horror: the kickoff of college admissions season.

Boo?

Yes, college admissions can be terrifying, especially in the final weeks leading up to application deadlines. Though you may feel fine now, the pressure will mount as the days count down. Even if you are a high school junior, this time of year includes added stress, as upcoming midterms will have a significant effect on your all-important junior year GPA.

In this article, I want to take a little bit of the terror out of the holiday, giving you the chance to enjoy that sweet, sweet leftover candy.

College Admissions Stressors: A Review

College admissions come with a lot of stressors. Before we get to the solutions, let’s review the problems:

  • Tight Deadlines: There are many of deadlines and important dates related to the college admissions process. To add insult to injury, rarely are two important dates on the same day. This deadline jumble can lead to feeling stress over an extended amount of time, which causes the same mental exhaustion as having many big deadlines on the same day.
  • Family Expectations: Halloween, and the holidays that follow, will put you into contact with members of your extended family. If you are a high school upperclassman, they will barrage you with questions about your plans. These questions, though innocent, can make your stress levels skyrocket.
  • Grades: If you’re a high school junior, you don’t have to worry about applying to college just yet. Even so, midterms are fast approaching, the results of which will significantly influence your junior year GPA. College admissions counselors closely examine applicants’ junior year performance when making their decisions.

Now that we’ve covered the terrors, let’s talk solutions!

Beating the College Admissions Terror

Though your first response may be to calm yourself with copious amounts of candy, I’d recommend against it. Besides causing stomachaches, candy does not help solve your stress’ underlying causes. Let’s look at a few ways that do:

  1. Organize and Track Your Deadlines: Whether on an app or an old-fashioned calendar, write down all of your upcoming deadlines between now and your final application deadline. Not only will seeing the deadlines give you a sense of perspective, but you will also feel great each time you mark one off the list.
  2. Create a Midterm Study Plan: Even if you are a high school senior, it’s still important to study for (and do well on) midterms. Though rare, some colleges do rescind acceptances if a student’s senior year grades falter. Once you know your deadlines, find time in the two weeks leading up to midterms to study for these crucial tests. It may be a tight squeeze, but the sooner you start planning, the more time you will find.
  3. Stay Physically Active: A lot of eating happens this time of year, and though food may bring some temporary comfort, a lot of sugar and fat can make you feel unwell. You need to be at your best, so make sure to exercise at least three times a week. You’ll keep off some of the holiday pounds, sleep better, and feel healthier overall.
  4. Set Aside Some ‘You’ Time: It’s easy to lose yourself in tests, applications, grades, and everything else going on this time of year. That’s why it’s important to take some time just for you. Do something you enjoy!

Final Thoughts

Halloween should be a time of scares rather than worry. By applying my tips and tricks, you should feel better about the weeks ahead, leaving you some breathing room to enjoy the holidays.

Now please pass the bag of individually wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

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.

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.

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