parents

How to Help Your Parents Help You with College Admissions

By Thomas Broderick

The early 1990s were an exciting time. America had won the Cold War. Trappers Keepers were the bane of elementary school teachers around the country. (Teachers hated them because of the noisy velcro.) And on the news, reporters were talking about a newfangled technology called the Internet.

Why am I waxing on about part of a decade that I was too young to remember? It’s to get across the fact that a lot has changed since the days when airports and hotels were full of payphones. And your parents, who probably went to college in the early 90s, aren’t up to speed on how the college application process has evolved since then.

In this article, we’ll examine how you can help your parents help you. That phrase may seem a bit contradictory (or just confusing), but let me convince that if you invest a little time educating your parents about how applying to college works in 2018, they will become fully prepared to help you gain admission to your dream college.

Why Bother?

You ever know someone who had good intentions but made things worse because they didn’t know what they were doing? If you don’t educate your parents about modern college admissions, you and they may fall into the same trap. Also, since they’re family, your relationships might become strained as a result.

There’s a lot of risks involved keeping your parents in the dark. Let’s change that. The sooner you get started, the sooner your parents will be able to bring their skills to the table knowledgeably and productively.

What to Bring Up

The path to college has changed a lot in the last 25 years. Going over everything with your parents would take forever, so at a minimum, hit the following high notes when you talk to them.

Acceptance Rates Have Plummeted

When your parents applied to college, there were plenty of colleges and universities that were difficult to get into. Back then the Ivy League was closed off to all but the super smart or well connected.

In 2018, getting into any one of the top 75 colleges/universities is just as tricky as it was to get into the Ivy League 25 years ago. And with more high school seniors reaching for those top colleges every year, the odds of getting in are ever dwindling. When I graduated Vanderbilt in 2008, it was a running joke that no one in the class of 2008 would have been accepted for the class of 2012.

How do you get this point across to your parents? Show them the admissions data from their colleges since they graduated. Even if they attended a public college or university, you would still discover the trend I described in the previous paragraph.

Tuition Has Skyrocketed

If your parents went to a private college, they should know from experience that college can be pricey. Even so, tuition just about everywhere has gone through the roof. Like with acceptance rates, convey this information to your parents through a few relevant examples. If you haven’t already, now would be a great time to discuss just how much financial support your parents are willing to give you when you go to college.

(Just About) Everything’s Done Online

When I applied to college in the fall of 2003, about 50% of everything I submitted was done online. Today it’s approaching 100%. Don’t be surprised if some colleges ask for digital copies of your transcripts.

Once you have finished your college list, tell your parents how the application process works for each school. This way they will better understand and be able to help you throughout the process. Making them members of your myKlovr support team doesn’t hurt either. 😉

Standardized Test Scores Ain’t What They Used to Be

Your parents took the SAT/ACT when they were high school students. Yes, the tests have changed in the last 25 years, but not so much that your parents couldn’t recognize the modern versions. Also, your parents may even be able to help you prepare for the Reading or English sections. I wouldn’t count on Math, though. Everybody forgets high school Math.

The biggest change your parents should recognize is that the way college admissions counselors view these tests has changed significantly over the past 25 years. Back then, an impressive SAT/ACT score was a golden ticket to admissions success. Since then, the growing number of applicants along with the ballooning test-prep industry has made the value of a perfect or near-perfect score fall faster than a meteor falling to Earth.

What does this mean for you and your parents? The main point you need to get across to them is that yes, SAT/ACT scores still matter, but their importance has shrunk A LOT in the past quarter-century. Stress that college admissions counselors, especially those at the most competitive schools, want to see well-rounded candidates who excel in the academic, extracurricular, and community realms.

Benefits

So you’ve caught your parents up to speed, and they’re still willing to help out. That’s great! Here are a few crucial ways they can assist you throughout the process:

  • Buying organizational materials such as folders or organizational apps for your phone/computer.
  • Proofreading college essays or investing in Grammarly (or a similar app).
  • Hiring a standardized test or subject-specific tutor.
  • Researching scholarship opportunities.
  • Teaching you financial planning tips to budget for college expenses.

Final Thoughts

A little knowledge goes a long way. For you, imparting a little knowledge to your parents about the modern college admissions experience can go a long way to help you get into your dream college. Along with your parents, be sure to invite other trusted adults to your myKlovr support team. Over the following months (or years if you’re still a high school underclassman), use these adults as valuable resources.

Last, but certainly not least, happy beginning of summer break! 🙂

SPOTLIGHT: What’s It Like To Play On a Division III Team in College

By Kendell Shaffer

A dad and daughter talk about playing Division III tennis in college. Dad would like to be referred to as Happy Dad (HD) and his daughter, Pleased Daughter (PD).

Before diving into the interview, here’s an explanation of the differences between Division I, II, and III sports: According to prepscholar.com, “Division I offers the highest level of competition and Division I schools’ athletic departments have the biggest budgets. Division III is the lowest level of competition in the NCAA, and Division III schools tend to have the smallest athletic department budgets.” The article here does a great job of explaining the differences in detail.

“Division III offers no athletic scholarships, tends to have the lowest level of competition, but the highest number of participants across all divisions. Division III schools offer an average of 18 sports per school. Also, Division III has the highest average percentage of the student body participating in sports.”

Thank you so much Happy Dad and Pleased Daughter for sharing your story with us.

PD, how much time at college is devoted to playing tennis?

PD: I play about two hours every day and a few days where I spend three hours on court if I decide to do an individual session separately outside of team practice with my coach. Then on weekends, matches can range from three to four hours and if we have back to back matches then I spend roughly six to eight hours over the weekend.

Do you travel with your tennis team? If so, is that challenging during the school year?

PD: Yes, during the season we have at least six away matches which requires us to travel to schools in Massachusetts as well as the greater New England area. It can be challenging if we have weekday matches because I would often miss classes. In the event that I missed class, I would have to catch up with classmates and my professors which was hard because I felt like sometimes I would fall behind. Also, it can be challenging socially because if we have overnight tournaments we miss weekends events on campus.

I can imagine starting college not having a group of friends is challenging for students. It seems like beginning with a group of students who share the same interests, tennis in your case, would help make the transition away from home earlier. What has your experience been?

PD: I think that in the process of transitioning into college, being on a team helped me immensely. I was able to meet new people through my teammates and I also made connections with other athletes on campus. Specifically freshman year we had our main season in the fall so our team arrived at school about a week and a half early to train during pre-season. During pre-season, our team got extremely close and I became a lot more comfortable with my new environment so when school actually started I already felt pretty familiar with campus. Also, I think naturally the athletes tend to gravitate towards each other because we all have a common understanding of what it is like to balance sports and school.

Does being on a sports team at college help to give you an identity, or a group of friends to be with?

PD: Currently, the majority of my friends are other athletes. I find that being on the tennis team does give me an identity as an athlete because people know that I play tennis and they wish me luck if they hear that our team has a match or they ask me how practice went when they see me walking across campus in my practice gear. I think that playing on a team gives me a sense of purpose and accountability because I am representing not just myself but also the team as whole every day.

Happy Dad how do you feel about your daughter playing on a Division II team?

HD: Division III sports can be very appealing because you get to play a sport you love and you get a good education. Many Division I athletes won’t study abroad because they can’t miss the time due to competitions.

What advice might you offer parents whose child plans to play sports in college?

HD: Students and parents can become very anxious and even hysterical during the college selection process; DO NOT FALL VICTIM TO IT. Do your best not to allow parents or other students to influence you. Encourage your student to only apply to schools they believe they would attend. Only visit schools they think they would attend. Parents be realistic about applying to a school that you can pay for and the student has earned.

Have conversations at the dinner table about what your child thinks they are looking for. Help them consider the pros and cons of each possibility. When I took PD to my alma mater she didn’t like it. No specific reason. That was the end of the conversation and it was off the list.

Finally, take the college selection experience as an opportunity to learn more about your kid and watch them make the first big decision of their life.

Thank you, HD and PD, I appreciate your talking to me and best of luck to you both!

Q&A: How Students Benefit from Their Parents’ Involvement

By myKlovr

We spoke with Kristin Sherlock, a dedicated teacher at the Academy of American Studies who teaches algebra and geometry to 9th and 10th graders, to discuss parents’ role in their children’s learning and development, as well as their relationship with school.

Q: Experts agree that parents’ involvement positively impacts their children’s learning and development. From your experience, how can a high school student benefit from their parents’ engagement?

A: There are so many different ways that a parent’s involvement can help their student. First of all, it’s just been my experience that whenever a parent shows a genuine interest in the student’s involvement—whether it’s academics, sports or you would hope both—the kids just drive to do better. When I was a student athlete, my parents cared about my grades. I didn’t want to get a phone call home for anything bad. I always wanted to get the awards on the sports team. So it wasn’t even a show off for myself at that age but it was really a show off for my parents.

When a student is also held accountable to their parents, I think scores are just that much higher. For instance, we have an online grade book at my school, and I know Mike (Kristin’s husband who’s an Assistant Principal at an elementary school) has the same experience. Parents and students both have different portals of access. The second a grade is updated, whether it’s good or bad or even indifferent if a child’s score isn’t changed, I’d hear from the parents via email or phone, “oh I was wondering why he didn’t do his homework”,  “can he make the homework up”, or “are you going to offer extra credit since his test score wasn’t as high”. It also gives parents the ability on the grade book to interact with teachers because they can email us straight from the grade book.

Again, I think it goes back to the accountable piece. I think if students are accountable not just to themselves but to somebody else like their parents—especially in high school—their achievement is going to be so much higher. Teachers have very high expectations. But if a student is surrounded by chaos in their life and they don’t have an adult figure in their life, I think it’s too much actually of us to ask him to just focus on school, when they can’t even sort out XY and Z at home.

Q: How should parents support their children on their education path while still allowing their child to remain fully accountable?

A: I think it’s really important that kids never get the “get out of jail free” card from their parents, like an excuse note that says “please excuse them from the test because they are not feeling good.” I mean that’s not life. Anytime that they’re given a “get out of jail free” card, and they don’t have to face a life situation of being held accountable, you’re not setting them up for being successful. Being a parent, I realize that. Being a teacher, I see that unfortunately happen. Sometimes there are ways that you can go back and explain to the parents. And most of the time, parents are pretty understanding. As soon as they see a zero for their child’s grade, they want to know why it’s there. Well, you wrote the note and said that they weren’t going to take the test today. They didn’t get what they needed to get done. And all of the sudden, their grade is failing now. So they ask what can we do to make this grade go higher. You always have to, even as the parent, the teacher, put it back on the kids. You can give them options and opportunities, but if they don’t follow through, they don’t get that extra reward and they don’t get the grade they wanted. Mike, would you agree with that? Anything you can think of to add to that?

[Mike:] The school that I’m working at has the gifted and talented, or the better students for the lack of a better word. The parent’s—if their kids are not getting the grade they want to see—first instinct is to question the school, the grading policy, the teachers themselves and so on. If a kid is maybe not doing as well as you would like, instead of just going immediately blame the school or the teacher, which is very very common now, ask what did you do. Did you speak to the teacher? Did you seek out some extra assistance? Or basically—it’s how the real world works—try to equip the student with the ability to overcome the challenges and have the success that they want.

[Kristin] Another thing to add on to what you just said is the fact that it’s a very weird position to be put in. As a teacher, when a parent asks you a question in front of the student about why something is, our first instinct as teachers is to look back at the student and say, “do you want to answer that or would you like me to?” We need to put it back on the kids because we know why that grade is the way it is. I guess we try to make sure it’s the student’s job to be accountable and to have their own voice.

Q: Should parents allow their children to make mistakes for instance when choosing a college or a career?

A: Should the parents be able to tell somebody where to go to college? I don’t know if I believe in that. I always get excited when my students say that they’re taking a weekend to go away with their family because they’re going to go visit a college. That’s always exciting to me because that student has a voice and option. If a student is making the decision to apply to and go to college and following through, then it’s OK if the student makes a mistake in a sense of maybe choosing the wrong environment, as long as college is not taken off the table.

We have had students in the past whose parents have said to them, “if you don’t go here, I’m not paying for this school”. Sometimes because of that threat the students would go to that school that’s not their first choice. The parents might not see it on their end, but as the teachers, you see these kids get so nervous when their acceptance letters and sometimes the denial letters start coming in mail. If they don’t get into the school they wanted to, and they’re forced to go to the one that mom or dad wanted them to go to, that’s not always the best situation. Yes, it’s great that they’re going to go to school and it’s great that college opportunities exist and it’s there for them. But ultimately, I think they need to be given the right tools to make those decisions themselves. We still have a lot of parents who have never been to college. In their head, sometimes it seems more glamorous. I think sometimes they’re afraid of the kids making the same mistakes they made. So mistakes are fine if they are learned from. But I don’t know if I think a mistake would be going to the wrong school, if it was the child figuring that out for themselves.

Q: What do schools expect from parents? How does this change when children go to college?

A: I think you’d get a different answer from what schools expect from parents if you asked a teacher versus if you asked an administrator. I think they’d kind of blend and go together. I think schools expect parents to be involved and there’s nothing more uncomfortable then when you make a phone call home and the parents say, “well, what do you want me to do about that” or “yes, you know so-and-so is out of control, I can’t really reign them back in.” That’s very unfortunate call to make because the parent doesn’t give you insight. It would be possible to loop their child back into being interested in your class. But you as a teacher know that the parent isn’t supportive and have to find a different way in to get to the kids.

So I think ultimately, as a teacher, you want parents to be engaged, and you want them to ask questions. My classroom door is always open for instance. So if parents ever want to come in and interact with their kids during the school day, they are more than welcome to. I want them to go see their kids play sports. I want them to ask their kids questions. I want them to check up and make sure they’re doing their homework. I want them to look at the grade book and ask their children questions.  If they don’t get the answers they want, I want them to feel comfortable to come to me as their teacher and say: “I asked my child this question, this is the answer they gave me. I need more details about it.” I want to have an ongoing dialogue. I want them to be open and affirming to who their kids are and accepting of what they’re doing, even when it’s difficult. I don’t want them to ever lower their expectations because I as their teacher will never do that. So if they’re at home and their expectations are continually lowered, it’s going to be a battle that I’m going to continuously fight. I want them to always be engaged in every aspect of their child’s life. And I’d want them to ask questions when the questions are most difficult to ask.

Q: What is your advice as regards parents interacting with school? When should parents get involved and when should they not? What are the best ways of their involvement?

A: I think if a parent is truly going to be in support of their child, they’re paying attention to every aspect of their academic life. I don’t think you just get involved when it’s a bad situation. I think you have to applaud the successes as well. Involvement doesn’t mean you’re hands-free until it’s a do or die time and your child is sinking.

I don’t know if there’s a time I would ever say a parent shouldn’t be involved. Schools should have an open door policy to parents. I think parents need to ask their children questions. I think they need to ask the school questions. I think PTAs or PTOs, are great places for parents to be involved. Unfortunately, those have also become very political at many schools. So it’s not always as easy to be involved in those. I’m having a very difficult time being involved in my daughters PTA or PTO because of when they hold meetings and the things that they’re doing. But it doesn’t mean it’s impossible and that I’ll stop trying. If there’s an invitation to an open school night, every parent should make themselves available to go. If you can’t, send them an email so that you’re corresponding with your child’s teachers.

Make sure you know the principal and the assistant principal by name because you’re modeling that for your child as well. So the more comfortable as a parent you are at your child’s school, you’re just setting your child up for more success. Definitely don’t get involved if you’re going to have a combative relationship. You don’t want your child to be in an environment where they’re always fighting against their teachers, their peers or the administration. But I think if you can foster healthy relationships, that’s just another relationship, another model to set for your kids that will pay off in spades.

When they get to college, they’ll see the way that they have been able to interact with their teachers in high school and they can take that responsibility and set appointments with office hours with their college instructors. That was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do in my English lit class from my freshman year of college. But I knew what was expected of me because I knew that failure wasn’t an option for me. But I knew that because those were the expectations communicated to me all the way through school. So if I was going to get a not-good grade, I needed to make sure I could explain why in high school and in college. So I made those office hour appointments and I guess I still felt accountable to my parents as well when I was in college. I was doing that for myself but also for my family.

Q: What are the most common pitfalls of parent involvement? What are the watch-outs?

A: As a teacher, I would say one of the most common pitfalls is a parent who’s not actively involved in their student’s life. One of the saddest and most difficult things is to try to work with kids in high school, whose parents are not involved in their life. They are either too busy or they have things going on and they’re not willing to come in for a meeting with you.

We as teachers, my husband and I, when we worked with a team of people, have sat in meetings with the children whose parents don’t show up. That’s a very hard situation and that’s when you become not so much a teacher anymore, but more like a parent figure to that child because you’re consoling them and you’re helping them understand. Often times they get angry or they get sad and you become that person they come to.

Another pitfall? Probably when parents are too involved. It goes back to the part of parents not holding their children accountable. Parents holding the teachers first accountable as opposed to asking their kids “what should you have done?”. By all means ask the teacher too if they don’t get an acceptable answer. If you are even the least bit organized of an educator, when a parent asks a question about their child, you’re going to be able to give them an answer. Maybe it’s not what they want to hear, but often times they could’ve already gotten an answer from their child. So I think those are that the unfortunate ways I could say that parents can be involved or not involved in the right ways.

Q: What is your advice for parents who don’t have college education with regard to supporting their children on their way to college?

A: Like I mentioned earlier, we’re still teaching a large group of children whose parents have never been to college, and some have never even graduated high school. As the kids matriculated credits and passed regents exams and got closer to graduation of high school, college became more of a reality for their parents. And the genuine excitement that they had, the involvement and the weekend trips visit schools paid off because we had so many of the kids go to college.

We had a student whose parents immigrated to the United States. His brother before him had gone to college and he was going to be the second person in this family to graduate high school and then go to college. His parents worked so hard so that he’d be able to go to a private school in Massachusetts. One of the things that I remember, that really got Frankie so excited about the whole process was it wasn’t just a school thing for him. His parents asked questions and his parents filled out the paperwork. His parents met the deadlines that needed to be met. His parents were interested in all of the FAFSA information. They came to all the college meetings with the students at the school. And that’s another thing that schools can do. Schools can hold college meetings. The more information that you can put in a child and a parent’s fingertips, the more exciting the process is.

You know, prior to myKlovr, you really only had collegeboard.org to go on and research colleges. It would kind of tell you from PSAT scores, and what colleges they think you might do well at. It’s not that it wasn’t personalized, but it wasn’t personalized enough. Anytime that you can personalize something for children, even when they’re still in high school and make it feel like a genuine, true, new, exciting experience, it’s just an amazing. All of the kids at my school are going to have all of their college applications in around December 1st of this year. That’s a week from Friday. And some of them are applying for rolling admissions and they might find out around Christmas or New Year if they get into some of the schools. And then some of them won’t get the letters they’ve been waiting for until maybe March.

But what an exciting time and I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through that process alone without your parents by your side. There are kids that go through that regularly, without their parents support. I just remember watching the kid in the Bronx whose parents would get more excited on every little level. When they get their financial letters, or their SAT scores, even for the third time in the mail, they celebrated it. Celebrations go far, college is something to be celebrated.

You can’t do much in life without a college degree anymore. You can’t even get a job at McDonald’s that’s worthwhile if you don’t have your high school diploma now. I think we as parents and as educators always want our kids and our students to do better than we did. I think of that when I look at my math classes everyday. I’m trying to give these kids knowledge that they can take and apply in a real world. Some of the knowledge that I have to be in part on them is not applicable. Some of them will never use it again except to take and pass a test at the end of the year. But my job is to make it exciting and get them engaged, even if it is something as trivial as a translation. They have to be able to just take an object and move it. But if I seem excited about it, about math, and it works with the kids. If a parent got excited about their school, and if a parent got excited about the college application process, and even got excited about taking them to school, imagine the future that they’ll have.

You know, I look at my girls and I think about it all the time. The hardest thing ever will be dropping them off to college. The best thing ever will be dropping them off to college.

How Early Is Too Early To Talk About College?

By Kendell Shaffer

“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.

 

Supporting A Family Member During College Admission Season

By Thomas Broderick

Thanksgiving is a time of family, togetherness, and food…lots of food. For adults, it’s one of the most laid-back holidays of the year (unless you’re the one cooking). For high school seniors caught up in completing college applications, however, deadlines, stress about the future, and upcoming midterms can put a damper on their holiday.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s examine how a family can support one of its own during this busy, frustrating, and worrisome time. In this article, we’ll look at things both parents and siblings can do to support their family member’s journey to college. If everyone chips in, your whole family should have a great Thanksgiving and holiday season.

Why All the Stress? 

NBC News reports that “30 percent of teens reported feeling sad or depressed because of stress and 31 percent felt overwhelmed. Another 36 percent said that stress makes them tired and 23 percent said they’ve skipped meals because of it.” Below are some of the top reasons why your family member is ‘feeling the squeeze’ this week.

  • The Early Decision Jitters: For starters, many students apply early decision to their dream college or university. Though these deadlines are usually November 1st, the ‘what ifs’ going through a teen’s mind can cause a lot of stress. Think about it: in a few days he or she may receive a life-changing email.
  • The Regular Decision Race to the Finish: In addition to early decision, there are the fast-approaching regular admission deadlines, which range from December 1st to January 1st. This means that December, just days away, is going to be a busy month as your family member puts the final touches on his or her college applications.
  • The Midterm Blues: Finally, December is full of another common stressor: midterms. Even though college admissions counselors do not see applicants’ senior year grades when making their decisions, some colleges have rescinded acceptance letters when an applicant slacked off academically or got into trouble during senior year.

How You Can Help

Whether you’re a parent or sibling, there are lots of little things you can do to help your family member succeed. Let’s consider a few easy options:

  • Hire a Tutor. Investing in a tutor is an investment in your child’s future. Even in their senior year, college-bound students still need help with difficult subjects, especially AP courses. Having a tutor work with your child for the few months leading up to final exams will make sure that he or she is well-prepared for college’s academic challenges.
    • If you’re an older sibling home from college during Thanksgiving week, offer to provide the same tutoring assistance for free.
  • Do Some Extra Chores. If you’re a sibling, help your brother or sister out by doing a few of their chores. Call it an early holiday gift! Even if you can pick up the slack just a little, you’ll allow your sibling more time to focus on the task of applying to college.
  • Be a Shoulder to Lean On. Stress causes many college-bound high school seniors to feel isolated. Talk with your child or sibling about their frustrations, worries, hopes, and dreams. Not only will you learn more about what they’re going through, but the conversation should help them realize that people they love have their back.
  • Get His or Her Mind off the Stress. Most students have the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off from school. Use this day to help your family member get his or her mind off everything on their plate (And I’m not talking about their Thanksgiving meal. ;). For example, have him or her help with Thanksgiving preparations. For some people, cooking is a great stress reliever. There will still be work to do later, but a mental break will help them reenergize for that final push in December.
  • Plan a Fun Event for When the Applications Are Complete. Successfully submitting college applications is a reason to celebrate. Let your child or sibling plan a fun activity to commemorate his or her achievement. Planning this activity in advance will help keep them focused and motivated throughout the coming weeks.

Final Thoughts

Even with family support, a high school senior must still complete the bulk of the work involved in applying to college. Over the next few weeks, that’s their full-time job. So if you have the chance, lend them a helping hand. I encourage you to go above and beyond the suggestions in this article. Every family is different, after all. I’m sure that whatever you try will have a positive impact.

“And finally,”…(takes a bite of a massive turkey leg)…”Apy Hanksgibing!”

The Pros and Cons of Taking Above-Grade-Level-Courses

By Thomas Broderick

As a high school teacher, I came across many students placed in above-grade-level courses. In some cases, students were gifted and needed a challenge. (My school did not offer honors or AP courses.) In other cases, students were put into a class because there was no other option. (My school was small, so this happened a lot.)

Starting from my personal experience as a student and teacher, I want to use this article to discuss the pros and cons of taking above grade-level courses. Though I am writing this article with you, the student, in mind, pass this article along to your parents and teachers. There are a few things they can learn from it, too.

The Pros of Taking Above Grade-Level Courses

I want to tell you about one of my first students. Let’s call her D. I first had D her freshman year, which was odd since my school usually didn’t accept freshmen. But D was a special case. Quiet and bright, she excelled in my sophomore English class. Due to my school’s student scheduling mishaps, she also took U.S. government, a senior-level course. D took these challenges in stride. Four years later, she graduated class valedictorian.

What’s D’s story teaches us is that some students can perform exceptionally well in above-grade-level courses. How did she do it? She had a few essential advantages going for her:

  • Academically gifted
  • Self starter
  • Motivated
  • Grit

Believe it or not, the top bullet is the least important. In my career as a teacher, I had many academically talented students who lacked the social skills, motivation, and resilience necessary to work to their real potential. In my opinion, grit is key to success. As reported by The Atlantic, grit is “shaped by several specific environmental forces, both in the classroom and in the home, sometimes in subtle and intricate ways.” More than anything else, D’s grit helped her succeed.

Sum Up: If you possess these traits, especially grit, an above-grade-level course may be right for you.

The Cons of Taking Above Grade-Level Courses in High School

As a teacher, I never had a student who could not handle the responsibilities of an above-grade-level course. When I was in middle school, however, I was that unprepared student. The Powers That Be decided that I was ready to take 7th-grade math in the 6th grade. I was not prepared academically, emotionally, or socially. I quickly found myself back in 6th-grade math. What does my story teach us? Just because a student is labeled ‘gifted’ does not mean that he or she can learn in an above-grade-level course.

Let’s break down some of the issues that students in this situation face:

  • Feeling alienated from grade-level peers
  • Feeling like ‘the odd one out’ in a class of older students
  • Lack of organizational skills (e.g., not using a calendar to organize assignments and due dates)
  • Lack of coping skills (e.g., reaction to performing poorly on an exam)

This isn’t the entire list of concerns you may feel. If you have the option of taking an above-grade-level course next semester or next year, write down your concerns and share them with your parents and teachers.

Sum Up: There are many potential stumbling blocks when taking an above-grade-level course. Choosing to take one requires much consideration.

If You’re Taking an Above Grade-Level Course

After my brief experience with 7th-grade math, I didn’t get another chance to take an above-grade-level course until 10th grade. Long story short, I and a handful of other 10th graders enrolled in honors chemistry, a course that up until then had been off limits to underclassmen.

Did I struggle? Oh yeah. But how I succeeded in that environment can teach you how to excel in your course. Let’s review some valuable pointers:

  • Ask for help. In honors Chemistry, I needed A LOT of tutoring from my teacher. To get it, I had to ask for it. There’s no shame in it, and asking for help is the first step toward a better grade and better outlook.
  • Enlist the aid of an older sibling. If you have an older brother or sister who’s still in high school, pick their brain about the best ways to succeed in the course. Even if they never had the teacher or course, they can still provide some valuable tidbits about organization and planning.
  • Roll with the punches. Even if the course is your favorite subject, you’re likely to struggle academically, especially at the beginning. If you fail your first test, it’s not the end of the world. All it means is that it’s time to follow the advice in the previous two bullets.
  • Join an extracurricular activity. To lower any feelings of alienation from your grade-level friends, join an extracurricular activity where you can interact with them. Even if it’s only one day a week, you’ll get more time in an environment of familiar faces.

Sum Up: If you’re taking an above-grade-level course, know how to reach out for help and stay connected with your grade-level peers.

If You’re a Parent or Teacher

As a parent, it’s natural to feel a swell of pride when a teacher suggests that your child could take an above-grade-level course. Go ahead and feel proud. But before doing anything else, consider the pros and cons covered in this article. Though bright, your child may not be ready for such a big academic and social leap.

If you’re teaching a student in an above-grade-level course, the best advice is to treat the student like every other during class. However, keep in mind that the student may need additional supports to succeed, such as scaffolding. Using these scaffolds for the whole class will not single out the student. Also, expect the student to need individualized guidance, especially during the beginning of the year.

Sum Up: Your child or student will likely need extra help when taking an above-grade-level course.

Final Thoughts

Taking an above-grade-level course requires a particular kind of student. Is that student you? It depends. If you’re unsure whether you can handle the jump, consider honors or AP courses as an alternative. They’re extremely rigorous and provide an excellent academic challenge. Also, excelling in these courses looks just as favorable in the eyes of college admissions counselors as above grade-level courses.

Finally, before making any big decisions, talk to your parents, teachers, or other adults you trust. They will provide you sound advice.

No matter your choice, good luck in the coming year!

Gardening With the Net Price Calculator

By Kendell Shaffer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kendell Shaffer

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.

 

 

Enjoying College Tours With The Entire Family

By Kendell Shaffer

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.

Helping Young Adults Balance Collaboration and Competition

By Thomas Broderick

Preparing for college and real life requires much more than learning facts and performing well on standardized tests. Life skills are just as important. Parents and teachers agree that topics like money management and career planning are essential for young adults’ future success. Yet when it comes to collaboration and competition, teachers and parents are at a crossroads. On one hand, students should know how to work well with others, contribute to a team, and even become a leader when the time is right. On the other hand, students’ peers are their future competition for not just a spot at a competitive college, but for future career opportunities, as well.

So what should teachers and parents emphasize to the young adults in their care? Always aspire to be the shining star when working with others, or put the team first? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Push children too far one way, they will lack the skills to work well with others. Push children too far the other way, people might take advantage of their hard work.

No matter the students’ personalities, there are ways to teach them how to balance collaboration and competition when working with others. In this article, we’ll explore both sides of the issue and discuss ways to give college and career-bound students the best of both worlds.

Competition

High school students are in competition with one another for top grades, SAT scores, spots on the team, and winning the romantic affections of another student. Competition is a deeply ingrained part of the high school experience, all of it culminating in the fight for a spot at one of the best colleges or universities. However, just because students compete in high school does not equate into all students knowing how to compete in a healthy, productive, and most importantly, fair way.

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At the same time, teachers have little choice but to promote competition among their students. After all, applying to college, landing a career – they all require students to become fiercely competitive. Yet this environment, in addition to teenagers’ general inexperience, can lead to one of two unhealthy habits:

  • Focused too much on competition that hurts others to achieve personal goals.
  • Buckles under the constant pressure and gives up, negatively affecting grades and relationships with others.

Collaboration

From the world’s largest companies to the smallest local businesses, employees who can collaborate with their coworkers are at an advantage for promotions, leadership roles, and a larger salary. In short, it pays to know how to collaborate. In high school, teachers traditionally promote collaboration through group activities and projects. After school, coaches and club leaders promote teamwork.

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In the 21st century, teaching collaboration skills may need a tune-up. For example, two collaborators working on a project entirely online sidesteps many collaboration pitfalls such as incompatible personalities. However, technology can complicate collaboration by taking out the human element. This lack of direct interaction can impede the formation of strong professional relationships.

Now that we’ve explored some of the benefits and pitfalls of both collaboration and competition, let’s discuss what teachers and parents can do to instill healthy attitudes into young adults.

What Teachers Can Do

There are many things teachers can do to promote healthy collaboration and competition in their classrooms and after-school activities:

  • For group projects, have both individual and group grades. This way, a student is responsible to herself and to the larger group. Neglecting one over the other will have negative consequences for the student.
  • Let students make mistakes. No matter what classroom strategies you implement to help students navigate the fine line between collaboration and competition, students are bound to make mistakes. Unless these mistakes were disregarding/breaking the rules you set for an assignment, use them as a teaching opportunity rather than a punitive one.

What Parents Can Do

As a parent, you have a greater opportunity (and responsibility) to teach your children life skills that will serve them well in a world that promotes competition and collaboration.

  • Promote healthy collaboration and competition outside of school. One of the best ways a young adult can learn about collaboration and competition is through a summer job. The stakes are higher, money is on the line, and your child will interact with new people of all ages and personalities.
  • Tell life stories. By the time your child is a teenager, he or she probably no longer considers you a perfect person. Though that change in perception can burst your bubble, it is a great way to start talking to your child about your life experiences. For example, discuss a time when you worked with someone who did not perform well, and how you handled the situation. Maybe someone stole your idea, or took advantage of your kind nature. Or maybe you were the one who took advantage of others. No matter the case, share these stories with your child and how the experience made you a wiser and better person. Your child may still make mistakes, but at least she will take some of your wisdom with him or her.

Final Thoughts

Walking the fine line between collaboration and completion can be tricky at best. Through using the techniques I have described, I am confident that you will be successful in helping your child or student develop these valuable life skills.

Starting the School Year on the Right Foot

By myKlovr

Labor Day is many things to many people. For adults, Labor Day is a well-deserved day of rest, a chance for one last summer barbecue or swim in the pool. But for college-bound high school students, Labor Day is often a day of uncertainty. How hard will my classes be this year? Will I have enough time for my favorite extra-curricular activities? How do I prepare for the SAT or ACT? What are my chances of getting into college? These are just a few of the questions that can make Labor Day a stressful day.

In this article we’ll explore how students like you can start their year with a strong work ethic that will conquer the back to school jitters and impress college application counselors. So if you’re ready, let’s use Labor Day to make this school year a successful one.

The Back-to-School Jitters 

For many high school students, the beginning of the school year can cause the back to school jitters. This is especially true for students enrolled in honors and/or AP courses. By Labor Day, you might already feel overwhelmed by homework, projects, and upcoming tests. Even AP exams, still months away, seem like an impossible mountain to climb.

 sad school upset frustrated adam sandler GIF

The best way to beat the back to school jitters is to face them head on. If the future workload feels overwhelming, use Labor Day to create a plan of action. How will you organize your time? Which class’ homework/projects are best done first rather than last? Though the plan you create now will require editing as the year progresses, you will surely feel more confident about facing academic challenges in the year ahead.

Work Ethic

I’m certain that at least one teacher has told you that a strong work ethic is necessary for college application success. First of all, he or she was absolutely correct. But what does a strong work ethic look like? Is it the same for everyone? Let’s find out.

A strong work ethic boils down to one word: consistency. A student will continue to perform well even when the pressure is on. However, ‘well’ is different for every student. A student struggling to earn Cs can have just as strong of a work ethic as a student making straight As.

You might think that a strong work ethic means giving your 100% throughout the year. Though a lofty goal, that’s impossible, and will lead to burnout and frustration. Instead, promise to give 95% of everything you’ve got 95% of the time. And when you fail, pick yourself up and keep going. That alone is the sign of a strong work ethic that the best colleges want to see in their applicants.

Demonstrating Work Ethic on College Applications

If you’re a high school upperclassman, the beginning of the school year brings thoughts of what’s next. If college is on your radar, it’s essential that your work ethic shines on your college applications.

Again, consistency is key when it comes to grades. If you struggled as an underclassman, demonstrating steady improvement throughout high school is another excellent sign that you applied a strong work ethic. Everyone, especially college admissions counselors, loves an underdog story.

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Grades alone can’t give potential colleges a complete picture of your work ethic. Your college application essays are just as important a piece of admissions success. For example, many students who struggle academically do so because of outside factors such as poor home life, poverty, or a past traumatic event. Using your personal essay to discuss these experiences, and how you worked to overcome them, is a powerful statement about work ethic that no high school transcript can convey.

Final Thoughts

Labor Day is just that, a day. Even if you spend dawn to dusk applying the advice in this article, the process will continue long after you return to school on Tuesday. Every day will bring new and unexpected challenges, but you will be ready to meet them.

So yes, definitely take some time this Labor Day to prepare for the future. You’ll feel better, and be ready to enjoy that final summer swim or burger.

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