Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Explaining the Difference

So differentiate yourself already.

That seems to be the sensible command from many college admissions experts. Here's one summary piece that discusses a few ways to help a teen break out from the crowd.

The article also shares a preliminary version of the Common Application that will be available officially on Aug. 1. It's worth looking at -- it might even offer a chill on a hot summer day.

But thinking ahead can be beneficial. It's worth asking your teens to consider what they'd write about, what vignette or experience would help an admissions officer better understand the essence of that teen.

It could even be a pastime during a long family drive, when the teen has run out of DVDs to watch.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Campus Interviews as TV Does Them

I'm in transition, to desk chair from car and plane seats, so I will keep today's post light.

While we were away, I watched Friday Night Lights, the NBC show that viewers and critics alike enjoy. One storyline last week was about the coach's daughter having a college interview. Find the scene at about 28:54 into the episode.

Was it realistic? What grabs attention (of the positive kind) in the interview setting? How important are the interviews? Do they make a difference in a borderline admissions situation?

So much to learn! Good thing our teen is a pre-sophomore.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Girls and Science

Good intentions seem to dissolve while on vacation. Whether eating sensibly or getting exercise or writing new posts, somehow there are always excuses. For the latter, it's just being able to connect to the internet, sometimes a challenge even in this highly wired world.

But here I am and I have been thinking about science and girls. There was a piece last week in The New York Times discussing why more girls don't go into math and sciences, even though they score well on tests and do as well as males once they have a career in science. The writer felt that too much time is spent arguing about disparities in general rather than encouraging individuals.

Our teen in interested in the brain and how it works, and for her vacation book, brought along and is reading about the science behind how the brain understands music. She also enjoyed her biology course, despite gripes, and learned a lot. How do we keep this interest alive? What can we do? What do we expect teachers to do for her?

At this point, I am just so pleased she is willing to put in the time and effort to expand her knowledge -- and maybe find something she really cares about.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sporadic Postings While Away/Summer Plans

We're off to visit family in California. My husband and I are counting on it being a more satisfactory trip for our teen than the sodden camping trip to Nova Scotia last year.

I will post occasionally while we are away. And during the summer, I will post just a few times a week as I regroup and work to strengthen the content and presence of Mom's College Cram Course.

Happy summer!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Freshman Year Is Over!

Our teen's freshman year passed quickly, from the painful first days of transition to a far more confident, happy end.

High school has been good for our teen and good for me, too. I more fully understand we have a feet-on-the-ground daughter who has enjoyed getting to know a range of new people and who learned a lot inside and out of the classroom. She has created a good foundation for the academic and personal growth to come.

Last weekend, as part of my effort to get rid of stuff, I came across my junior prom dress. Why had I moved it so many times, why had I kept it? Believe me, it was not a special night -- neither my date nor I was a lot of fun. Anyhow, I looked at that dress, decidedly old fashioned (i.e., covered up), but I remember liking it and how I looked. I asked our teen if, for a hoot, she would try it on. She sweetly did, and suddenly, I was standing in front of me. It fit perfectly and she felt utterly ridiculous.

The dress will be tossed -- but it sure sparked some memories that will remain. After all, reminiscences don't take up space in the house.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Testing Knowledge About Family Members

Do you know what a Stokes unit is? In New York, it's the next phase in the immigration process if a couple flunks an initial interview related to a citizen attempting to get a green card for a spouse. As a recent article demonstrated, these interviews (in theory) help immigration staff assess if a couple is truly married or whether the marriage is a sham to help someone get a green card.

Sorts of questions asked might include: what did a spouse wear at the civil wedding, what are favorite foods or music, what birth control methods are used, who cooks?

A follow-up article looked at a couple that has been married for 17 years but keeps flunking the interviews. That prompted a frightening thought: would our teen and her parents pass a Stokes unit interview after nearly 15 years together? I view us a pretty involved family but I suspect we'd not get some questions right. Some answers might change daily, others we're simply not going to know.

In other words, would the Horton family pass a Stokes unit interview? I'd hope accommodations would be made for parents of teens.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Everyone Needs a Mentor

The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof related in his Sunday column the story of a man named Wes Moore, who survived a tough childhood in the Bronx, eventually went on to Johns Hopkins, became a Rhodes Scholar and then a White House Fellow and is now a banker who puts in many hours as a volunteer in Baltimore and New York.

There was another Wes Moore, who also came from a bad neighborhood, almost had some chances out of the despair of difficult times in Baltimore, was found guilty of murdering an off-duty police officer and is serving a life sentence with no chance for parole. Both Wes Moores were black, poor, had families who wanted better for them, experienced early run-ins with police and had opportunities. One got out of the dreadful cycle, one did not.

Kristof writes about the survivor Moore and the book Moore wrote, The Other Wes Moore, and identifies mentoring as the lifeline for the successful Moore. We as parents want to be the sun, moon and stars for our teens. But they need others, outsiders, to help them view the world more broadly, see its opportunities and understand that it takes hard work to take advantage of them. Read Kristof's piece and think about what we can all do to mentor young people -- and to give more kids an even chance.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Almost Summer

First, a confession. How will I be able to guide our teen toward a disciplined approach to handling college applications and adhering to deadlines when I simply couldn't get a posting done yesterday? It's a lesson:practice what I preach.

Our teen is taking finals now, turning in textbooks, tossing notes that she believes will never again be useful. It's just about the end of freshman year. She has already received her summer assignments for AP US History and has promised herself she'll get them done with time to spare.

I am hoping she will take a few minutes in the next few months to jot down her life achievements to date -- Girl Scout Bronze Award, flute camps, reading buddy, surviving life with us, and so on -- as a preliminary step in thinking through how she will describe herself to admissions officers. I am hoping she reads some fine books, has good discussions with us and her friends about anything that occurs to her and manages to have fun this summer, despite the dreaded geometry preview course.

Here's to all that summer should be!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Guidelines for Private Counselors

Private guidance counselors weren't around when I was applying to college. I'm not so sure that was a bad thing. I would imagine many families using them are already highly advantaged in terms of grades and income. One study says that 26 percent of "high achieving" students use them.

When high school guidance counselors can't or won't do enough to help students (not enough of them, maybe?), it seems the private counselors would be a wonderful and necessary resource. But they don't work pro bono --it can costs families many thousands of dolloars to hire them.

At least it is good to know that the two associations of private counselors -- the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) -- have a code of ethics. The HECA just announced it had instituted a code; the IECA already had one.

Take a look at this review of the codes. If these principles are adhered to, it does put to rest some concerns about the private counselors' role in the admissions process.

Monday, June 7, 2010

New Laws Affect College Debt

Since 2005, bankruptcy laws are harder on students who take out college loans and then suffer through years of unemployment than they are on people with large credit card bills or casino loans.

This segment of the law used to be known primarily within education circles. Finally it is getting public attention and there are bills in the Senate and House that would make the rules regulating private loans less strict. Today young adults who can't pay back these loans (different from federal loans which require repayment, but have more options for payment plans and even occasionally forgiveness of loans) are classified as if they didn't pay criminal fines or didn't pay child suppport.

It seems to me that increasingly high school students and their parents need to talk about money, the long-term ramifications of borrowing (especially large amounts) and whether value in education should trump expensive brand name.

Meanwhile, read about the bankruptcy issue here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Books, Even Unread, Make Our Kids Brighter?

Ah, vindication! One of the reasons we were attracted to the house we're in is that it has a small library. A room full of shelves -- and we had the boxes of books to fill them. But now I understand it wasn't just a simple matter of storage that made the house appealing.

According to a study in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, there is a correlation between academic performance and the number of books in the home. The study, spanning 20 years, involved more than 70,000 people in 27 countries.

A major finding: children in homes with more than 500 books spent more than three years longer in school and are 20 percent more likely to finish college than children in less book-centric families.

I guess the researchers are already trying to figure out how they can do similar studies in an era of Kindles and iPads.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

High School Course Cutbacks

It's the trickle-down theory at work. Without getting into the byzantine nature of New Jersey politics or the property tax horrors afflicting so many Garden State communities, let's just say that most school districts have been trying to figure out how to get by on less. In our town, we've just had a look at how these cutbacks may play out.

The high school needs a new choir director; in the past this person also taught AP Music Theory. The position is being advertised as part-time, and there will be no AP Music class taught.

Our teen came from a small private school to the big high school in part because of greater opportunities -- in academics and music.

In times of belt-tightening, pain must be shared. But we're all scared. What next? Will a school noted for its excellence in the arts soon be noted for its glorious past and now grim future?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

If You Started College Savings Late, Some Ideas

If you have teens and you haven't saved much for college, there are some options. None of them is pretty.

First, don't attempt any financial heroics without professional help. This will involve taking a long, hard look at your retirement situation. If you are young(ish) parents, intend to work to 65 or beyond and have already built up a solid nest egg, you may be able to do some shifting into 529s. You'll need to pay attention to gifting rules (there is a thing called "super funding" for college accounts, which means there can be a one-time gift of $65,000 per parent per child) but that gift precludes anything else being given to that child's account for five years.

Contact a financial planner or accountant, think through your own well-being and don't do anything rash. Here's an article about a family with a senior and sophomore and no college savings yet. See what a professional recommends.

Good luck, to us all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Time to Step Back

It was a long holiday weekend and our high school freshman spent a good part of it doing homework and projects. We are proud of the effort and conscientiousness -- qualities that will be critical in these pre-college years, and throughout life, too.

The weekend was also a good time to marvel at our child who isn't a child any longer, but who retains the sweetness, curiosity and openness of our little girl along with a growing sophistication in how she reasons, expresses herself and comprehends the world.

She'll be ready -- when it's time -- to deal with the college application process. In fact, she'll probably help me get through it.