extracurricular

Whose Fault is it if a Child is Failing in School?

The old expression, “it takes a village” applies with our children’s education. Parents know what it takes to get into a competitive college or university. We know how hard junior year is and how challenging SAT’s and ACT’s can be. We also know from experience how valuable a college education is. So we sacrifice for years, our time, our money to provide for our children hoping they can achieve this goal and graduate from college. That’s our part.

We rely on good teachers and administrators at school to not only educate the children but to keep an eye on their academic progress. We hope they will report to the parents and work with students when they notice slipping grades or bad behavior. But, it is ultimately the child’s responsibility to maintain their grades and academic responsibilities. This is part of the maturing process and the preparation to live away from home. In college, they won’t have so many eyes on them.

In many schools, classrooms are overcrowded and students don’t get the personal attention they need. But hopefully they can find mentors in their community when they need help and guidance.

Wouldn’t it be great if our community could work with our students as well? If our kids could go to their friend’s parents if they needed help in school or with a social problem. Extracurricular teachers also play important roles, coaches and dance teachers, art teachers can be a great ears and watchful eyes on our children’s progress. Employers also have an inside look into our children. Are they arriving at work on time, handling their responsibilities, acting appropriately?

In elementary school, parents would gather for class meetings where issues surrounding the children were discussed and shared. As children got older, parents moved on from these discussions as the children wanted more privacy. The “village” model deteriorated as our children began to drive and stopped asking for help with homework.

So, whose fault is it if a student is failing in school? I’d say everyone’s fault. Children need support and eyes on them and should not fail. But if they do, they should know someone will be there for them. And hopefully they will have more than one person they can count on.

How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?

Bad report cards are warning signs that something in your child’s world is not right. Did they take on too heavy of a course load? Are classes are too advanced for them? Is something socially upsetting them? Whatever the reason, it’s time to take stock. 

I learned early on that what my kids feared most was disappointing me and their dad with bad grades. As soon as I figured this out, I made it very clear to them that their grades good or bad were not important to us, but they should be important to them. I suggested my job is to support them and help them to get the best grades they can and when they are slipping in a subject to let me know early on and I’d try to help them to figure out why. I found when the fear factor was removed, my kids took more responsibility for their grades and did not want to disappoint themselves. 

But what can we do as parents when a bad report card comes home? The first thing is to evaluate whether that class is just too hard. Perhaps meeting with the teacher and figuring out if they might have been placed in the wrong level. It’s okay to do a math level they can succeed in instead of an advanced math course they might fail in. This is also a good time to test if your child is putting in the work they need to for this class. 

A meeting with our child’s Advanced Chemistry teacher after a bad grade made all of us aware of his study poor habits. When he was in Chemistry the previous year, he studied the night before each test and got A’s. This year in Advanced Chemistry the tests are cumulative, so his teacher pointed out he needs to study every night even if he doesn’t have a test the next day to secure the ideas they review in class. She also went over some test-taking skills and found that he panics with short-answer questions. She suggested he start the test in the middle, warm up with the sections he is comfortable with and then go back to the short answers. These helpful hints have really worked and his grade is back up to an A and he feels a lot more confident and less scared of both his parents and his teacher. 

During a meeting with his English teacher she emphasized that going to her for help with essays before turning them in is crucial. Once he did that, his English grade improved. Teachers want their students to do well and if the student shows an interest in their grades and improving them, the teacher is thrilled and might even offer extra credit. 

Evaluating your child’s extracurriculars and how they spend their time after school and on weekends is important. Perhaps being on two sports teams and three clubs is just too much. It’s true that colleges like to see well rounded students, but that GPA can really make or break whether they get into the school of their choice. So when in doubt, get those grades up before anything else. 

It’s always best to look at your child’s grades before their report card comes out. So the more involved you are with their assignments and tests early in the semester the better. But what to do if a child fails a class. Check in with their advisor. Sometimes it might be best to take that class again in summer school, the following year, or at a community college. 

And finally, if your student’s grades are slipping, make sure things are okay socially. Are they being bullied? Hanging out with the wrong crowd? Or depressed? Falling grades can be a warning sign so rule all the outside factors out and seek help if need be.

High school is a tough time academically and socially, so the more your child knows you and their teachers are on their side and want to see them succeed, the happier they will be. These are the last years we have at home with our kids, so please don’t make it all about punishment for a bad grade. Enjoy this time and work through the struggles with them. And they will succeed.

What Looks Good on a College Application?

After attending multiple seminars with admissions directors and meeting with college counselors, it seems to be agreed upon that a well rounded college application is ideal. So what’s that look like for your high school freshman or sophomore?

Colleges expect a schedule full of rigorous classes, but they also expect to see room on the student’s schedule for electives. And consistency is important with electives. For example, a college tends to be more impressed if they see a student take art all four years of high school rather than art one year, drama the next, music the next and then skip an elective the senior year. Colleges look for growth and commitment in electives.

Colleges also want to see that the student has participated in any extracurriculars the school has to offer, whether that be sports, orchestra, musical theater or the school newspaper. These extracurriculars are just as important as the academics and electives. Schools don’t want to see that the student went home at 2pm to play video games on a daily basis.

Student leadership and community service rank high with admissions directors as do participating in clubs. But again, they want to see the student attending these clubs for four years and perhaps growing into leadership positions within the clubs. Starting a club is often an option in high schools, so if you child has a good idea, encourage them to partition the school to begin a club. Make sure they follow through and grow the club over their four years. Usually a club will need a teacher advisor. If the club is successful, perhaps that teacher would write a stellar letter of recommendation for the student. Seeing that a student can balance academics, create something new and navigate through the schools administration will bound to impress a college admissions director.

Obviously grades are an important factor in getting into college, but being well rounded is as well. Just as in life, being well versed in different topics will only help to expand your child’s world.

Is There a Silver Bullet to College Admissions?

When the monster hunter needed to defeat the werewolf, he bought a box of silver bullets for his revolver. You see, silver bullets were the only thing that could kill the werewolf. All the silver bullets in the box looked the same, and the monster hunter was confident that shooting any one of them would save his town from the werewolf menace.

It’s easy to think that there are ‘silver bullets’ for other aspects of our life. “This pill is a silver bullet for weight loss!” “This DVD is a silver bullet for helping your toddler learn!” The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, all this silver bullet advertising can lead you to believe that there is a one-size-fits-all silver bullet that all students can use to get into their dream college.

Silver bullets in college admissions don’t exist…at least for most people. Families with millions of dollars can write a fat check to a college to accept their child. Other colleges clamor to attract children of celebrities and politicians. Colleges around the country seek out the next generation of sports stars. Those are guaranteed-to-work silver bullets.

But if you’re reading this article, I doubt you’re a sports star, or your family has a famous name/piles of spare cash ready to be used as a legal bribe.

So instead of prescribing silver bullets, let’s look at how you can dramatically increase your chances of acceptance to your dream college by reframing your application. And as a bonus, none of the points in this article have anything to do with your grades or extracurricular activities.

Diversity Matters

Since 1973, colleges and universities have been barred from setting racial quotas when they admit a new batch of students. Even without quotas, many universities actively recruit students who are part of minority groups. In recent years, this practice has extended to students of all races who are from more impoverished families. Of course, these students must meet the same academic qualifications as other students to gain acceptance.

So why do colleges and universities spend millions of dollars every year when they don’t have to. Simple: diversity improves a college’s brand. This was the case when I went to Vanderbilt University in the mid-2000s. Though a fantastic school, Vanderbilt was still trying to figure out how to shake off a legacy of segregation and continued racial tension. Besides a top-notch recruiting department, they sponsored summer programs for students from minority backgrounds.

Being part of a minority group or coming from a family without a lot of money can have many drawbacks, but when it comes time to apply to college, it’s an advantage. Again, it’s no silver bullet, especially in the last few years as more and more high school seniors apply to the best schools. However, if you come from one of these groups, make sure the college admissions counselor reading your application knows it.

Preserving Through Hardship

So let’s say you’re like me – white and from an upper-middle class family. What options do you have? Well, I hate to ask such a personal question, but did anything awful happen to you in the last four years? Preserving through extreme hardship (breakup of the family, serious illness, death of a parent/sibling, etc.) can work to your advantage in multiple ways.

The first way is obvious: sympathy points. College admission counselors are human, after all, and they will connect to the story of a teenager going through hard times. The second part of the puzzle is much more important. If you kept up your grades during this difficult time (it’s okay if there was a small downward blip), that fact alone shows you can preserve through anything school or life can throw at you. Universities and colleges WANT students like that. Those are the students that not only excel in the classroom but also become leaders and leave their mark on both the school but the wider world.

So if you have that story to tell, tell it in your personal essay.

Above All, What Makes You Unique?

Again, let’s say you’re like me – white, from an upper-middle-class family, and thankful that nothing horrible has happened to you or a family member in the last few years. Is there anything left that remotely comes close to resembling a silver bullet?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. Imagine your average college admission counselors. It’s February, meaning that she has a HUGE stack of applications to read. They’re all the same: good grades, good extracurriculars, etc. They start to blur together…until she sees something that makes her do a double take.

What can cause such a reaction?

Answer: Coming across an applicant who set herself apart from the pack

Who is this applicant?

Answer: Someone who relentlessly pursues a personal passion in their spare time

Think about it: there are things you love to do that have little to no relation to your academics or extracurriculars. Maybe you’re in a band, like to paint, or write short stories. For most people, these and other activities are just hobbies. Wouldn’t it be nice to take these passions to the next level? Even if you never book a show, sell a painting, or see your name in print, putting your creativity and passion out into the wider world shows a level of commitment, passion, and responsibility that most college applicants, even brilliant ones, sorely lack.

This kind of story, if told just the right way in your personal essay, will make any college admissions counselor do a double take.

Final Thoughts

Silver bullets in the college admissions world do exist, but most of us can’t get our hands on them. Instead of searching for silver bullets, emphasize what makes you unique when writing your personal essay. That way, college admissions counselors will get to know the real you, and just as important, what you can bring to their school.

 

How to Distinguish Yourself to Your Dream College

Okay, high school juniors, listen up: college admissions season begins in just a few short months. Now is the time to start thinking about how to stand out from the other applicants competing with you for a seat at your dream college.

“But,” you protest, “colleges haven’t even made up their minds about this year’s incoming freshman class. Why worry about next year?”

Well, your buddy (INSERT NAME HERE) just got back from a humanitarian trip to (INSERT COUNTY HERE) where (HE/SHE) helped build a (SCHOOL/HOSPITAL/HOUSE). And you know what, (HE/SHE) wants to go to (YOUR DREAM COLLEGE), too. What have you done lately to better humanity?

Fortunately, distinguishing yourself is a lot easier than flying halfway around the world to do a good deed. In this article, we’ll explore a few ways to make your best qualities and accomplishments shine.

First Things First

What are your best qualities and accomplishments? Get out some paper and brainstorm. Here are some possible categories to get you started:

  • Academics
  • Extracurricular
  • Volunteering
  • Other Community Involvement

Be sure to include ongoing and planned events, not just things you’ve completed in the past. For example, if you’ve signed up to take four APs your senior year, write that down. Colleges love students who excel in APs.

After making your list, I bet you feel a bit better about what you’ve accomplished in high school so far. Also, before we go any further, let me emphasize that despite my joke at the beginning of this article, stop comparing yourself to other applicants. After all, many of those so-called ‘humanitarian trips’ cost their volunteers thousands of dollars and might do more harm than good. Check out Habitat for Humanity if you want to build something for the needy.

Examining Your Strengths

So you have your list of best qualities and accomplishments. Here are some questions to consider at this stage:

  • What is my best strength and accomplishment?
  • How do I brag about myself without sounding arrogant?
  • How do I bring up these strengths in my essay?
    • How do I bring up these strengths if my dream college has a specific essay question?

The answer to the first question is completely up to you. Let me help with the others.

How do I brag about myself without sounding arrogant? How do I bring up these strengths in my essay? 

Arrogance is a deal breaker for college admissions counselors. Bragging or even ‘humble bragging’ can’t seem explicit. The solution to this problem is all about framing your accomplishment or strength within a larger story, or in other words, bury the lead.

For example, let’s say you organized a local blood drive. You wouldn’t want to start your essay with ‘I organized a local blood drive.’ You would begin by discussing an event, such as a natural disaster, that caused a blood shortage. You would then transition to feeling compelled to do something. Finally, you would discuss the steps you took to organize the blood drive and the positive results it had, such as a how many pints of blood were donated that day.

How do I bring up these strengths if my dream college has a specific essay question?

At first glance, an assigned essay question or prompt may not seem like a vehicle for your positive qualities to shine. However, just like any piece of personal writing, there are always ways to insert yourself into the story. Let’s look at two examples:

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

At face value, it doesn’t seem like you could talk up your accomplishments. But let’s say that you’re a history nerd, and you’re taking honors or AP U.S. history this year. Use this prompt as a way to bring up a paper/test/presentation/project/etc. where you excelled.

Are we alone?

Again, another ambiguous question that inspires thoughts of slimy extraterrestrials rather than your accomplishments. For the science geeks reading this question, this one is for you. Discuss your best biology/chemistry/physics class experiments and projects that lend towards your discussion of the possibility of life beyond Earth.

In summary, the key to answering these and other odd prompts is to gradually make the answer about you. You won’t be great at this right away; that’s why you need to have an adult, hopefully one of your teachers, critique your essay’s first draft.

Did You Overcome Adversity?

I know that adversity can be a private and sensitive subject. If you went through something traumatic or painful in the last few years, you might not want to discuss it with someone you’ve never met. However, explaining these life experiences in your essay puts your accomplishments (or lack thereof) in a whole new light. They complete a picture that college admissions counselors need to see before they make a final decision about your application.

Another reason that you might include adversity as part of your essay involves a single word: perseverance, a trait that all colleges and universities want to see in their applicants. So if you have that kind of story to tell, make sure that you tell it in your essay.

How myKlovr Can Help

If you need extra assistance listing and categorizing your accomplishments, consider downloading the myKlovr app. The app’s digital portfolio can help you keep track of this and other important information which will make the college admissions process less stressful.

Final Thoughts

In an applicant pool where just about everyone has good standardized test scores and a boatload of honors/AP courses, your college essays are THE WAY the distinguish yourself from the pack. And though you may not yet know your essay prompts, reviewing your accomplishments now will make your essays shine just a bit brighter than those of your competition.

So shine on, college applicants, shine on.

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