Friday, October 29, 2010

The Numbers May Not Lie, But Not All GPAs Are Created Equal

Grades from the first marking period will soon be in the mail. I can't remember specific grades from my first report card in sophomore year, but I am sure it will be similar to our teen's. Stronger in the liberal arts, better in geometry than algebra, not so hot in physics but not for lack of trying.

Nor do I remember my class rank out of 400 or so students. It was respectable, I think, but maybe not stellar, for the reasons above (algebra and science).

Here's a take on the issue of GPA and why it is so difficult to compare grade point averages from different schools. One admissions officer calls it "precision guesswork." It's because rigor of classes, even cultural and geographic variations, can affect a GPA, and provide challenges in comparison.

As imperfect a measure as it is, the GPA remains an important element of student selection for this one reason: it has proven to be the strongest indicator of the ability to complete college, at at time when, according to a study a few years ago, it takes nearly 50 percent of college students six years to finish a four-year program.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If You Can Stand It, More on Money

Aside from various calculators available for families to help determine their contribution to college, there will now be more help from colleges, since each college is different in how it grants aid, and in what form.

By Oct. 29, 2011, all colleges that participate in Title IV student aid programs (assuming that is most schools) must post a net price calculator on their Web sites, providing that school's data to show estimated net price information to current and prospective students as determined by the individual student's situation. Here's a summary of the law, under What's New on this U.S. Department of Education bulletin.

Good news for sophomore families -- a little more enlightenment!

Some other interesting news on college costs comes from the 2010 "Trends in College Pricing" and "Trends in Student Aid". Public universities raised tuition and fees nearly 8% in 2010 to cover shrinking state support and private colleges increased 4.5% But there was also a large increase in financial aid, supplied by federal government sources, which lowered the amount actually paid.

My concern: how long can the Feds keep up the largesse?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Parents' Lament -- Where Will the Money Come from?

By the time your teen is in high school (and given today's economic environment), there may not be a lot of opportunities to boost the college fund. But whether you're in good shape to pay for college or losing sleep over it, it is still important to have The Talk. That's when you sit down with your teen and discuss all elements of college admissions, including cost. The Talk may involve some probing on the parents' part as well as offering some guidelines.

Vince Pattillo, a certified financial planner and a certified college planning specialist, puts it in simple terms. Have the student focus on what she wants to be when she grows up. It doesn't have to be precise, but just a general sense is useful in this exercise. Then start identifying schools where the student will excel and get a good grounding for the next step -- the best graduate school possible. He recalled someone who went from associate degree to Rutgers to a Wharton MBA. This may not be the path we've dreamed of for our kids, but it's one that works if the student is driven and determined.

Whatever direction is taken, it must be paid for. Here's a good place to start grasping your family's contribution in paying for college.

Meanwhile, if your child is a sophomore and you are looking ahead to writing those big checks in less than three years, here is some sensible advice from Vince:
-- if you haven't done so, speak to an expert who can look at your financial situation and offer advice.
-- if you don't have a 529 plan, don't start one now; the fees will kill you. Instead, just be diligent about saving and keep it in a conservative fund.
-- manage your own expectations, and help your child manage his; be open-minded and look for the right fit, not necessarily a school with a famous name.
-- parents and child, be patient with each other. You've got some exciting (and maybe a little stressful) times ahead.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gauging the State of Admissions

Want some fascinating reading? Take a look at the recently released 2010 State of Admissions study by the National Association for Admission Counseling (NACAC), based on 2009 data.

The study received headlines for data that showed only 65% percent of colleges saw an increase in applications, versus 75% last year. And 29% showed declines, the largest percentage since 1996. Research relates this to "changes in student enrollment choices" linked to the economy.

What was intriguing to me is on page 22 of the document, a chart that shows an overview of the relative importance of factors in the admission decision in 2009. Of considerable importance to colleges are grades in college prep courses (86.5%); strength of curriculum (70.7%) and SAT/ACT results (57.8%). Class rank comes in at 16.3%/considerable importance; 42.2%/moderate importance.

I was surprised at the rankings of some items I thought would be more important. Again, I am a novice. Anyone else surprised?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Parents, Back Off -- More Tales from the Front Line Part 2

Who knows whether we're doing a good or could-be-better job in raising independent, college-ready teens? Are we all, even subtly, guilty of too much helicoptering? What are the other issues that get in the way?

Sometimes it takes a little perspective. Our pediatrician panelist observes the parent/child dynamics during routine visits to the doctor's office.

"From about the age of three to four, I will usually address the child/patient first when asking a question, to 'hear it in their own words'. This often sheds a lot of light on why a patient is in the exam room. I then turn to the parents to fill in the gaps and clarify the reason for the visit. Often a parent speaks over the child, and dismisses their answers, or continues to answer for them. I think that there are always small opportunities in life to enable kids and help them grow toward being independent adults.

"Fast forward 10 years and some of the parents may still dominate the visit, not allowing children to speak for themselves, a skill that fosters healthy mental development into an adult."

Someone who has been in tutoring for years sees the situation this way: "There is a college for everyone and no one right answer to the many questions that are raised in the admissions process." But there are obstacles. She thinks the cell phone and internet have changed the parent/child relationship dramatically. And she doesn't see it stopping once the children are admitted. The parents continue to edit their children's papers well into college and to offer advice. She also sees these patterns continuing; friends who are in constant contact with their children who are already in careers or marriage.

Our admission officer panelist says, "My own theory is that a generation ago only the privileged and very, very bright truly had access to the most selective colleges. Now that the doors have been opened (happily), the competition for the limited number of spaces has increased, resulting in parents feeling that they have to do whatever they can to help their students. I have no problem talking with parents throughout the process, but there are always the extreme cases where the parent is clearly taking over. Let’s just say that they’re not doing their kids any favors."

And one parent panelist says, "I think that lots of non-issues get in the way. Other than encouraging your children to keep their eye on the end result, and not lose their minds from the pressure (which I think is the most important thing that a parent can do for their kid during high school), I think a lot of the other stuff is just distracting noise."

Are true-life stories such as those in this blog distracting noise, perpetuating the same old issues? She doesn't think so: "I do think hearing about other people’s experiences and frustrations. It's helpful because it allows you to get a sense of how far off-base you might be drifting, or it might reinforce an idea or philosophy that you have that seems to be working."

That's good to hear.

Thanks to Dr. Jacquelyn Detweiler, Tina Squyres, Linda Auld and Kathy Phillips

Friday, October 22, 2010

Parents, Back Off -- The Unexpected Results of Too Much Attention -- Part 1

So, I sent a note to the Mom's College Cram Course panel, venting that I was tired of reading about helicopter parents, that I doubted it was such a big problem. I was informed that I was out of touch. Several panelists also pointed me to a recent series of opinions on "Have College Freshmen Changed?"- The pieces are worth reading -- and they just may cause some attitude adjustment.

Here's a sampling of areas covered/some do overlap: students are in touch with their parents an average of 13.4 times a week; they don't feel the need to make new friends since they can so readily stay in touch with high school friends; parents view students as an investment, a human asset class, and that the investment must be protected (give me my money back, my kid flunked a course...); parents aren't preparing our kids to be the young adults they should be when they arrive at college but allowing them to stay in a familial cocoon far too long.

Think about your own experience; it might have been like mine. I called home once a week, maybe wrote an occasional letter though I received far more. I was on my own as were my new friends, making decisions, determining which courses to take, doing foolish things that we didn't necessarily feel compelled to share with parents.

So please absorb the points made in the Times and then on Monday, I will share some personal comments from our panelists.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sophomore Parents' Night -- What the Year Holds

At last night's Sophomore Parents' meeting, a counselor asked for a show of hands: how many parents were already anxious about the college process? A number of us raised our hands. Then he asked, how many of our kids were anxious. I didn't see a single hand go up. I suspect we should take some cues from our teens, at least this year.

Meanwhile we received an overview: testing this year (PSAT, done; subject tests, to be considered); a reminder of the parents' role in the college process -- co-pilot, not pilot; acknowledgment that all years are important (not just junior) because all years are reflected in the GPA; and a tip to start looking at the counseling department's newsletter for descriptions of summer enrichment programs, along with scholarship information.

Then, just as a preview experience, I went to another meeting and joined the last part of a talk given by an admissions officer from my alma mater. Even in 15 minutes I learned a lot about the school's approach to admissions.

But the most important thing I heard is something we all must remember. A student controls 75 percent of the admissions process -- which schools to consider, apply to and then which one to select. Of course, that 25 percent left to the colleges themselves is critical. But the breakdown does provide us all with some perspective. Free will is still a major part of the process.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Doctor Is In -- Helping Our Kids Learn Good Habits

Not enough sleep, not enough breakfast. That's how our teen goes to school some days. I know better, but boy, is it tough to win kids over to the sensible side (of caring parents who can be a pain).

So I asked Dr. Jacquelyn Detweiler, a pediatrician who has a great way with teens, for her thoughts on issues related to teen health.

"Good health habits are exactly that, habits; these are often difficult to instill in a typically rebellious teen, who is in excellent health.

Most important: Sleep , sleep, sleep. I have not meet a high school student yet who gets enough. Their bodies are changing tremendously at this age. They have multiple stressors from varying from social pressures (do I have sex, should I try a cigarette, do I try marijuana, do I drink etc......), a large workload at school, hours of homework, with extracurriculars on top of that. Then we throw in being well-rounded and having to worry about college when you are barely through high school. Here's what teens should know:

1. The average teen needs 8-10 hours of sleep. Most get 6-8 hours or less. Reaction time (for driving and sports, for example) are all reduced on less sleep, as well as concentration and performance.

2. When you are stressed, the immune system is stressed, functions poorly, and kids are more likely to get sick. This in combination with the poor diet of the average teen increases the chances of a prolonged illness.

3. Eating a well balanced diet, getting plenty of rest, taking a multivitamin with Calcium and Vitamin D, all increase your ability to fight off illness."

Dr. Detweiler also told me about a common complaint/problem she often sees between September and December, especially in junior year.

"It's fatigue and malaise. When I take a good history I find that the teen is up at 6 a.m. for school, has an after-school activity, and then homework from evening until midnight. Once in awhile their bodies can tolerate this but not continuously on a daily basis." She points out that there could be medical disorders causing the fatigue, such as thyroid problems, anemia, vitamin deficiency, Lyme disease, mononucleosis and depression.

She adds that any of these conditions can become overwhelming and lead to a depressive mood -- with the condition occurring simultaneously with school-related exhaustion.

Our job: to do the best we can to demonstrate how necessary good health habits are (by our actions and maybe the occasional well-targeted emailed article to the target teen), to be on the lookout for health problems and to know when to give it a break.

Good luck to us all!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PLAN Problem Solved

Sometimes things that make sense aren't that easy to achieve. I'd written about how I thought it would be smart to have students take the ACT PLAN (the pre-ACT test) around the time of the PSAT in sophomore year -- to get a sense of which seemed a better test going forward for the individual student.

But, I learned, if your teen's high school offers everyone the PSAT, chances are they won't offer the PLAN. And the ACT people don't keep a list of schools in a given area offering the PLAN (so that your teen could possibly take the test elsewhere). A nice person at ACT told me our school could request a single PLAN test to be administered to our teen. That wasn't what I had in mind.

Her guidance counselor gave me the best advice: stop obsessing about it, just buy an ACT or PLAN practice book, and have our daughter take the PLAN under test conditions -- timer, etc. That should achieve what I want.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reaction to Bad Grades As Determinant of Future Grades?

Progress reports came in this weekend. With the exception of one course, the news was good. And the problem course, well, it was expected and a tutor has been scheduled.

It occurred to me that how a student reacts to grades and reports may provide an indication of what's to come. I found an interesting piece from Psychology Today on that subject. It looks at fixed mind set (I did badly and I am stupid and there is nothing to do about it) and growth mind set (Sure, I didn't do well on this math test but that doesn't mean I don't understand it and I know I can improve.)

Neither one test nor one course is destiny. Not if students are encouraged to shape their own destinies by believing in themselves and notching up the effort.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's Late, and This Physics Problem Is a Killer

Somehow, even with the most difficult lit or history homework question, there are ways to sort through it, do a little more research, start writing and then find yourself with a plausible response.

That would not be the case with physics, or algebra II or calculus. So who ya gonna call? One site that is getting raves now is Khan Academy, It's a not-for-profit open source learning project with the mission of providing a world-class education to anyone, anywhere. It won't provide the exact answer to a specific problem, but it does offer a teaching video and then exercises centered on highly targeted areas, such as parametric equations or introduction to mechanical advantage.

Another well-thought of site is The Math Forum @ Drexel/Ask Dr. Math which also has an online tutoring component for help with a specific problem. There is a cost -- the fee starts at around $35 a month for unlimited, 24/7 assistance.

Don't do anything desperate when neither you nor your teen can figure out the velocity problem. Simply seek immediate professional help.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Things This Blogger Does for You, Dear Reader

So, I signed up (and paid for -- a huge step on my part) a four-part online course called Inside the College Admissions Process, hosted by Jacques Steinberg, national education correspondent for The New York Times. It's to be an inside view, with interviews with several deans of admission, of the selection process. And then I was going to provide Mom's College Cram Course readers with the highlights.

And I will, one day, once I am sent information on how to get into the course. There seems to be a problem with admissions to the course on admissions. Will start to share when I am able.

On the financial aid front, President Obama wants Congress to extend a tax break called the American Opportunity Tax Credit, that provides as much as $2,500 a year per student for expenses such as tuition, books and other related supplies. It might be worth contacting your congressman if you think it is worthwhile.

Meanwhile, this is my 100th post. So please let me know what is useful/what more is needed, so the next 100 can be fully tailored to parents' needs.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

PSAT Day for Sophomores Too

This morning it begins. Our little chickadees start running the college-testing gauntlet. At our high school, sophomores (and juniors, of course) are taking the PSAT -- Preliminary SAT as it is officially known, or Practice or Predictive as it could also be called.

So while I am finishing another cup of coffee, my sophomore will be enjoying/enduring more than two hours of demonstrating strengths in critical reading, math and writing skills. It really is a warm-up test for the sophomores -- and maybe for parents, too -- as we truly enter the college-prep phase of our families' lives. To be followed by that first progress report, Sophomore Parents' Night, our teens' first serious college-related session with their guidance counselors, report cards, decisions about subject tests, and so on.

The College Board, which seems to think of everything nervous kids and parents need to know, has a helpful, calm-inducing piece that is worth reading. The main takeaway from the College Board is: Are you in ninth or 10th grade? Yes? Then relax. The PSAT/NMSQT shows skills you’ve learned and skills you may still need to work on before you go to college. It does not expect you to perform as well as students in 11th grade, and you still have time to learn and improve.

Learn and improve! Remember that when the scores come back in December. Meanwhile, our teen went off to the test happy: she got to sleep in a bit more today and she was excited about taking this first step. Good for her.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where the Boys Are (or Aren't)

Stories like this have been running for at least the past five years. For a number of reasons (girls are better students, have better grades and are more likely to be selected by colleges; boys are less likely to complete college; and demographics related to income and race), some schools are seeing more girls than boys on campus. I suppose that reverses generations of the opposite situation, but it is worrisome if the trend continues.

Here's another look at the situation. There are a number of social and cultural implications that don't help either sex.

Co-ed schools as the new mostly all-girl schools? Who'd have thought that?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't Be Afraid - Just Be Yourself: College Essays 2010 - Part 3

So we've heard from parents and a teacher who advises students on their college essays. Now it's time to hear from a college admissions officer. She provides perspective and some commonsense pointers.

"When the most selective schools say that the essay is 'considerably important,' we’re saying that it can be a decision maker, though still not as important as other factors. I always make a point of telling students that their essay can be the reason they’re admitted, but it’s almost never the reason they’re NOT admitted (as long as their English teacher approves of the usage and their parents would approve of the content!)

The student who says that he has “three minutes to stand out” isn’t far off base. I read every part of every application, but with over 1,500 to read in three months time, the applicant has only about three minutes to capture my attention. One of my colleagues once said that the essay should be personal enough that if it was dropped on the cafeteria floor without a name on it, someone would know whose it was. I liked that example a lot.

Finally, as far as knowing whether or not the essay was coached, I just assume that most students get some level of help but don’t hold it against them. It’s true that a fantastic essay that doesn’t match the rest of the application would be a red flag, but we usually give students the benefit of the doubt. I recall my student- teaching experience many years ago when I gave a student a B on an essay about chinchillas because it seemed too well written to be her work (she was an average student). It turned out that she had a gift for writing...oops.

The one thing I do look for is the ordinary essay with too many sensory details. I call it the 'sports at sunrise essay: The orange sun was just coming up on the horizon. The grass gleamed with early morning dew. It was the day of the big game, and our team was ready … blah blah blah.' Those always feel coached and over-written to me.

My key piece of advice to students is to allow themselves to be a bit more informal than they would normally be in an essay. It helps them come alive."

Two parent panelists had additional thoughts. One said a friend of hers in a private college in New York could spot the coached essays from a mile away. Another has a friend who interviews for an Ivy. She looks for students' passion about their interests. Without passion, no matter how good they look on paper, they won't get into that school, the friend says.

I suppose that to show unity with our students, we should all attempt to write personal essays. On second thought, bad idea. We'll need to conserve our powers of persuasion to apply toward our teens.

Today, special thanks to our admissions officer and to Kim Cook and Marla Richardson.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself: College Essays 2010 - Part 2

In the last post we looked at the college essay from the parent's viewpoint. Today, we hear from panel member Lauren Fazzio. She is a high school English teacher who is currently teaching a unit on "reflective/personal/college admissions essay writing" with her senior writing students. She has studied the subject of college essays at length and also advises students individually. Here's what she has to say.

"The admissions essay is the only chance admissions counselors have to see who an applicant really is. I ask students these questions (among many others), and have them journal about them:

-- What’s your passion?
-- What makes you weird?
-- What do friends make fun of you for?
-- What has your life taught you, and how?

Once they have some of these ideas, I tell them to start the essay in a story or a moment. For example, if a student’s passion is piano-playing, put us on the piano bench. If a student’s quirk is a messy room, she should walk into the room and write what she sees. If a student’s life has taught him that fear can be conquered, put us in a scenario with description and dialogue where he's facing a fear."

She also provides guidance on the set up for the essay:

"For students who really need structure, I tell them roughly the first third (a paragraph or two) of the essay should be a specific moment or story, the second third should be a more general explanation of the situation (for instance, how typical it was of their life or what it meant to them)and the last third should be how they are now changed as a person because of it." She adds that, "Everyone loves when last lines come full circle, so an echo of the intro paragraph is always nice."

Her conclusion: "As a teacher, the best essays I’ve seen for college admissions (are candid and genuine. They sound human. I think they reflect the kind of student admissions officers would want to admit to their school."

Many schools, through their English departments or guidance counselors, offer sessions on the essay. Make sure your student is taking full advantage of them. The fear of essays can be conquered.

Next post: an admissions officer comments. Meanwhile, here is a recent look at the essay situation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fear and Loathing: The College Essay 2010 -- Part 1

What makes the college application essay such a popular discussion topic? There must be hundreds of articles and blog posts each year on this rite-of-admissions passage. Tips abound on how to write the standout essay.

Why is it so talked about -- and reviled? Is it that the outcome seems so subjective? (As one mom, who is in publishing, says, two different people can read the same thing and walk away with totally different opinions.) Or is it the sense that just a few hundred words can make or break an application?

So I turned to the Mom's College Cram Course Panel members for their anecdotes, advice and words of caution. In this three-part discussion (running consecutively), we will look at the essay from the front line (parents and teachers) -- and the front office -- admissions.

The College Essay -- From the Homefront

One mom understands why the essay is an important part of the application. As she says, "Life is all about communication, right? Even the most brilliant mathematician has to get his ideas across somehow." She also points out the need for a good editor. And that's the tricky part -- everyone needs an editor for any important piece of writing. But there's editing...and there is over-coaching. More on that later.

Another mom relates how her child's counselor says he wishes schools spent more time reading the personal essay than the transcript, since more can be discovered about the whole child in that missive than in the grades. This mom advises against tweaking or polishing. "Instead," she says, "we have conversations where our daughter can muse and self-reflect -- and those chats have been helpful in finding a topic."

Then there are two reports on the actual writing -- and the time frame in which it was achieved. Despite all we hear about the benefits of essay creation being an organic, ongoing process, reality is often quite different.

"My daughter wrote her essays a night or two before the absolute deadline. While it's probably not preferable to procrastinate to that degree, good writers can get away with just about anything," said one mom. She also recommends the novel Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz, a former Princeton admissions officer who includes excellent essay advice.

Another mom said, "My daughter, who had previously been pretty good at getting stuff done, turned into a procrastinator when it came to the college applications. After the stress of junior year, I was really picking and choosing my battles very carefully. She was adamant that she could handle the process without any help or interference. After a couple of fights about it (and in order to preserve family harmony, and our sanity), her dad and I decided to take her at her word. Other than proofreading the essay for grammar mistakes we offered no advice or criticism on the essay itself. It was rather freeing to leave it in her lap...and since she is at a great school and is ecstatically happy, I am very glad that we bowed to her wishes."

Finally, one mom said, "I hope that my daughter writes with her heart -- and spells everything correctly when the time comes to write her essay." Amen.

Many thanks to Kim Cook, Jeanne Hogle, Marla Richardson, Tina Squyres and Sarah Wohlenhaus.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Community Colleges Get Obama Nod

It was a big day for community colleges. Jill Biden, a community college professor, introduced President Obama at a White House conference yesterday. He called community colleges the "unsung heroes" of our educational system. The day's dessert: a $35 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will be used to reverse a serious problem. Just about half of the students in community colleges don't get certificates or complete their associates' degrees.

The high cost of four-year colleges and a lousy economy have led to many articles and discussions on the benefits of attending a community college for two years so that the total cost of an undergraduate education (two more years in a regular four-year college) is more manageable.

Seems to me we are asking a lot of these schools which have seen decreased funding by local and state governments. We want them to help out the kids who wouldn't have even considered a community college a few years ago as well as the traditional constituency. And right now, for whatever reason, these schools aren't fulfilling their goal of students ready and able to move on to complete their college education or land a good job as a fully trained worker.

Good luck to our community colleges -- they need it, and we need them.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Financial Aid -- Dark Arts or Straightforward Math?

So, what do 5,000 high school counselors and college admissions officers talk about when they gathered for the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling?

No surprise that one topic was financial aid -- and how naive some parents are about the admissions/aid process. Here's an interesting look at the situation, one that places some blame with parents, some with the schools that don't understand the concept of transparency.

A point to consider. If students receive financial aid, it is important for families to understand, and make sure they are comfortable with, the form it takes: loans, work study, etc. There aren't a whole lot of free rides out there.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Five Things to Do While You're A Sophomore

At Mom's College Cram Course we constantly seek fresh, quality content. Today the blog moves closer to achieving that goal.

We will now, in addition to regular posts, provide informed insights, expert opinions and reports from parent survivors of the college admissions process. The panel is still being built, but we already have a strong core that includes parents with children already in college, or with high school juniors and seniors, an admissions officer from a major private university, a high school teacher, a guidance counselor and a tutor. We'll likely revamp the blog somewhat over the next several months and also alert readers to panel additions.

Let's get started with the first question presented to the panel.

What are the most important things for sophomores to consider/do as they gear up for the college admissions process?

1. Academics. Do well in academic courses and choose the most challenging levels (Honors, AP, etc.) that you can handle when selecting junior year courses. Consider class rank -- a higher rank may be more beneficial than a challenging course that may result in a lower rank. Talk to the counselor about that. Stay focused on grades and keep the GPA high.
2. Test and Prep. Take the PSAT and ACT Plan. Start thinking about what kind of test prep would be most beneficial to the student's learning style when the time comes for prep: group classes, online tutorials or private tutoring.
3. Build the Resume. Find a club/volunteer activity/cause that really matters to the teen, so that it is easy to become immersed. Quantity is not as important as level of involvement; think about a leadership role down the road. Consider balancing a time-consuming activity with one or two requiring less time. Keep a diary of all activities -- or at least a list. It will be useful when writing essays.
4. Visit Colleges. Yes. Now. See as many as you possibly can, on school holidays or vacations. It's a low pressure time and a great way for students to get engaged in the process. By junior year, there is less time for travel because of the intensity of the course load and the stakes are feeling higher. Make it relaxing, but do take notes, photos, videos -- because the schools may start to run together after a while.
5. Develop a Personal Relationship with the Counselor.
There are lots of students, and the counselor will be writing a recommendation letter. The student should stop by, say hi, stay in touch -- starting as soon as possible.

Any additions or disagreements? Please comment. We're all in this together.

Meanwhile, many thanks to parent panelists Kim Cook, Jeanne Hogle, Barbara Rosamilia and Tina Squyres; teacher Lauren Fazzio; and a college admissions officer for their thoughtful input.