Sunday, December 9, 2012

Never Too Soon to Plan for College/Never Too Late, Either

For those of us in certain parts of the East Coast, it has been one messed up school year. For high school seniors, it has been particularly painful as Sandy caused kids to miss a week or more of school, forced the cancellation of SAT and related testing, made it tricky doing homework and applications in the cold, by headlamp.

Many colleges have extended their due-date for applications. The problem is, that just makes the agony of application season last longer. In our house, we are trying to get another four or so out the door before Christmas so that the holiday isn't too frantic. All will be sent before Jan. 2, when school starts again.

College Board has introduced a new element to its online offerings, Big Future, a soup-to-nuts website designed to help families organize the college planning process. Even if your child is a freshman, it's a good idea to start thinking about this college stuff. And I like the vignettes used -- tends to bring the process to life through the eyes and minds of students.

Here's a recently published blog that looks at the process year by year. It's by April Bell, the director of counselor advocacy for the College Board.

Meanwhile, seniors, back to work on those supplemental essays!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fielding the College Question: New Sport for Seniors

How did your high school senior answer "the question" that certainly came up at Thanksgiving dinner? You know, "So, Susie, where are you applying?" Or, "Mark, where will you be going to college?"

Our daughter, for the most part, isn't talking. She finds that it is easier this way. It was her decision, and I support it. In solidarity, we are posting a notice on the front door asking Christmas dinner guests to refrain from asking questions about college.

Maybe that is too dramatic (though I still think I will do it.) Still, there are alternative approaches to handling college questions during the next month or so of holiday gatherings.

Here's where we stand today -- standardized testing is done (until AP exams in the spring), all transcripts sent, letters of recommendation have reached their destinations, the Common Application is completed. Now it's time to get the supplemental applications wrapped up, including what seems to be about 20 or so essays of varying lengths and difficulty.

It's a long road, nearing the end. Or at least it's nearing the end of the application process that our senior can control. Soon enough it will be out of her hands. That alone will be cause for celebration.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Good Are AP Classes?

Is the emphasis on AP classes a good thing? Today the College Board offers 39 different AP tests. Many kids believe that the greater the number of AP classes taken, the better than chance of getting into more selective schools. I read that one high school guidance counselor once told a group of parents that if their teens didn't have nine AP classes on their transcript, the so-called best schools wouldn't even look at them.

I have no idea if this is true -- but if it is, shame on all of us. AP classes, like most, are only as good as the teacher. But good teacher or not, it's a two-semester sprint to get through all of the material covered on those big exams given in the spring. Here's a piece from The Atlantic that certainly may make you rethink the whole AP situation. Some of the worries listed: it limits discussion time or expansion of topics -- gotta move on to cover all of the work; some schools let anyone take an AP course (no pre-testing or grade requirement) which means that thousands of students are in the classes and struggle to do the work, holding back other students; the courses are usually not equivalent to an introductory course in college; and most colleges do not let you skip a semester or whatever due to an accumulation of AP credits.

Now, our teen is taking two AP classes her senior year. She has not taken all that her school offered, by any stretch -- primarily because a significant number are in math and science which she never believed were her best subjects or interests. I would have worried if she hadn't taken any -- afraid that colleges wouldn't think she was a contender.

If you want to get really upset about the whole AP thing, here's something pointed out in the article: "The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from its Advanced Placement program -- more than all its other revenue streams (SATs, SAT subject tests, PSATs) combined." Wow. So that's where that $89/test fee goes!

Lots of education needs to happen before this dependence on AP tests subsides: colleges, counselors, parents, students all need to think carefully about whether the AP approach offers the best education -- or does it just give colleges an easier way to reject?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rutgers Has a Winning Attitude!

And I am not just talking football, since I know so little about it.

Something else caught my eye recently besides the win over Syracuse. It was full-page ad in the Star-Ledger that stated, "Research universities ask questions. A great research university asks GREAT questions." Here's a closer look at some research done by undergraduates. It's impressive.

Some may think that such an ad, in a time of rising tuition, is a poor way to spend money. But I think institutions sometimes need to remind people about what makes them great, what makes them matter -- especially when thousands of New Jersey's high school seniors are getting ready to apply to college.

So that brings up a question close to my heart/mind/anxiety levels -- how is your senior doing in the midst of application craziness? How's the Common App going? Has your little darling tackled some of the supplemental applications?

Nancy Pullen, director of recruitment and enrollment at Rutgers, offers good advice. If your child is interested in Rutgers, she recommends applying now. "There is a required essay on the Rutgers application—be sure to answer the question, but do so in a way that helps us know more about you and the activities that have been meaningful to you. No need to wait until the deadline and get stressed out about the application process. Get a copy of your high school transcript from your guidance counselor so you can complete the 'Self-Reported Academic Record' online. We DO NOT require a copy of your high school record from the guidance office until such time that you are admitted and decide to enroll."

Now that's sage counsel as well as a nice, straightforward process. It could also be confidence-boosting to get an application out the door. And who knows, if the essay is good, it just might be worth reworking for another application.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Seniors: As the leaves fall, keep your spirits up

Fall is my favorite time of the year. It's gorgeous blue skies, crisp clean air, misty nights, lovely multi-colored leaves.

And there are gloomy, rainy days, too -- better suited to the mood of high school seniors who may not exactly be savoring the season. Instead you might be cursing it as you work to keep up grades, take the SAT one final time, and write essay after essay after essay for the applications.

Here's some advice for seniors that's practical. Oh, there's a little about recommendation letters and essays. But the most interesting is the simple suggestion that seniors take long walks in which they spend the time imagining themselves at each of the schools on the list. Why did it make the cut? Can you honestly see yourself at the school? As you think about why the college matters to you, you might also come up with some ideas for supplemental essay questions that try to get to the heart of why you want to attend.

Keep your spirits and energy up, have fun when possible, and remember, this portion of your life will be over soon enough.

Meanwhile this mom is wishing for another freak October snowstorm that closes schools. Our senior could sure put a snow day to good use!