Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sadder But Wiser College Admissions Blogger Tells All

Today, Mom's College Cram Course marks its first anniversary. I started the blog to learn as much as possible about the college admissions process; deadlines and an audience have a wonderful way of keeping me disciplined.

Some of the topics I kept coming back to included selecting which colleges to apply to; funding the education; those personal essays; the purgatory of wait lists; and how teens should spend summers (no consensus, just keep busy).

There's no comparison to how I went about applying to college. Today it's big business -- with advisers, prep courses, essay editors, financial planners. Right or wrong, it's college admissions, American style.

And this process is not going to get better anytime soon. As a parent and a rational being, I find much that is appalling about the admissions process. That includes the ever-declining acceptance rate at some of the most selective colleges. Will the ultimate level of status be to accept none of the applicants? We seem to be headed in that direction.

It bothers me that so many kids are, right now, devastated they did not get into their first choice -- kids who were valedictorians, with perfect SAT scores, who had meaningful extracurricular activities. They played by the rules, worked hard, got their applications in on time and were among the 27,000 who did not get into Brown, or the 32,000 who got bad news from Stanford. Sure, it's an important life lesson in dealing with disappointment and moving on, but should life be so difficult for an 18-year-old?

And I worry about the debt being taken on by kids -- a decision that can negatively affect their whole lives since that is almost how long some may be paying down college loans.

But I also see more clearly that while there is little I can do as a parent to change the present system, I can begin, right now, to remind myself, and our teen, that this crazy process is not a validation of self-worth. Its outcome will only be a small part of the shaping of the adult.

Most importantly, I understand that our kids aren't powerless pawns, aren't victims of this process. They still make the final pick. It's still in their power to get the most they can out of college.

And parents, our job remains the one we've had from the start. Provide guidance, moral support, a few suggestions here and there, unconditional love -- then give them room to begin growing up. They'll manage just fine.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beware the Sticker Price Mistake

I think about money a lot, and it's generally in three categories: how to make it, save it and spend it wisely -- and that includes college.

My parents didn't go to college. There were many reasons, I am sure, but a primary one was that their parents didn't appreciate the value of education or know how they would pay for it. Here's an updated version of that belief: we can't afford a private college; a state school is your only choice.

As John Nettleton, a certified college planning specialist at The College Financial Network, says, "Parents make the sticker price mistake."

A Mom's College Cram Course panelist/admissions officer had restrictions placed on her choices. Her parents, who hadn't attended college either, assumed they wouldn’t receive financial aid and that meant they wouldn’t be able to afford our panelist's private college choice.

As our panelist stated, "There’s no question that state colleges and universities can be excellent choices for some students; my concern is that many people assume it’s their only choice. My advice: at least apply to private universities and see what financial aid you might receive."

As parents, we shouldn't shut down the dream process prematurely. Our teens should be able to consider a wide world of possibilities.

So even if money is an issue -- and it is to nearly all of us -- don't let perceptions about costs limit the application process. What's to lose by applying?

With some planning, there just might be a wonderful surprise.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Parents -- Give the College Discussions a Rest (for a while, at least)

Sometimes even I can't stand to hear what comes out of my mouth.

I'm talking about my more than occasional nagging about all things college. To a sophomore. One who is conscientious, sensible and who will do the right thing -- in her own good time.

In the past month we've visited one area college (whew, the College Board says that is a good first-time choice); our teen has taken a self-quiz to determine what sorts of colleges might make sense (results were completely inconclusive and to her mind, she's more confused than ever); her guidance counselor knows her name already; junior year classes have been selected; and we've got the not-fun part of the summer mapped out.

Our teen will take a preview course in Algebra II and trig, to get her ready for next year's math, and a two week PSAT/SAT prep class to get her accustomed to the test and to help her gain test-taking strategies. There will also be babysitting and other paying tasks, along with, I promise, some fun.

We're in good shape, for now. And I should say nothing more, listen when our teen wants to talk about college, and then just wait for signs of a budding interest in this process.

Let's see how long I can keep my thoughts to myself.

An Update: Last week I shared a Sweet 16 handicapping based on comparing the admissions pages of the two opposing teams. Blogger Eric Hoover selected the losing team as having the best site 50 percent of the time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

It's That Time of Year...Dealing with Rejection

Spring brings heartfelt and revealing articles and columns about handling rejection when the college of choice denies or wait lists a student.

One making the rounds this year is a column by Mitch Ablom. It certainly resonated with one high school senior. A teacher who's on the Mom's College Cram Course panel told me about a student of hers: valedictorian, taking college courses already and getting As, but still deferred from Columbia. The young man said he thought this column allowed him to feel that someone really understood the plight of college applicants.

Back when I was applying to colleges, admissions wasn't an industry and as far as I remember, it wasn't particularly newsworthy. Too bad. I could have used some insights, and perspective, when I was dealing with wait list and rejection pain.

But it does seem to hold true. We all wind up at the right place -- or we learn how to make it right. And that's a life skill we'll all need, at least occasionally.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Sweet 16 Match-Up of College Web Pages

Eric Hoover, a blogger for The Chronicle of Higher Education, has indulged in what even he calls a silly exercise -- he compares the websites of the teams playing each other, so Ohio State vs. Kentucky, Kansas vs. Richmond, Butler vs. Wisconsin, etc., and declares a winner based on his assessment of the sites. It's probably as good an approach to handicapping as any other one.

He's bothered by things such as trite copy, over-used images (enough with students leaning against trees, already) and the inability of so many sites to capture adequately the student experience at Rah Rah U.

It's a fun way to kick off the basketball craziness. And I will let you know how Hoover does!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Money Conversation -- What Are You Saying to Your Teens?

In this series of posts on paying for college, I asked Mom's College Cram Course panelists if they were telling their children to factor in cost as they were thinking about colleges, or were they taking the "Apply, get in, and we'll see what we can do" approach. Here's what they had to say.

"Our pact with our kids has always been do your best in school and we will find a way to send you to your first choice school. We are not limiting choices due to cost," said Tina Squyres. "Our older daughter was given a full scholarship at one school and a decent scholarship at another...neither was a top choice. She chose a school that does not offer merit scholarships."

Another mom, Deborah Gaines, said, "I’ve told my daughter that she will get to go to the school of her dreams when she finds it/if she gets in, even if it means me taking out big loans. That said, she is aware of the financial issues, will be working this summer to save money for school (hopefully to be used for extras like a new computer or a car if she needs one), and knows she needs to be open to the fact that the school may not be one currently on her radar."

Jeanne Hogle is also giving her daughter free rein in the selection process. "Many colleges have very large endowments which reduce the final cost for families dramatically. My daughter is very smart, works hard, takes AP classes, and is studying to get the highest score she can on her SATs."

One of our admissions officer panelists made this point: "I’ve talked with many friends and colleagues over the years who attended private colleges (and whose parents attended college), and their attitude was much more the 'apply and we’ll figure it out' approach. I think it comes down to how higher education is viewed by the family. If it’s considered as essential as owning a home, families look for a way to make it work. If it’s considered a 'luxury' item (my own father’s view back in the day), it’s hard for them to justify the cost."

At our house, well, yes, there are no restrictions. And a quality education is considered an essential part of life. But that is tempered somewhat; our daughter does understand that a less expensive undergraduate school means there might be money to get started in graduate school.

Knut Lundberg, with Factius Financial Strategies, believes students "should have some skin in the game." Whether that takes the form of loans that aren't too onerous, or working during summers or the school year, it's a philosophy that many parents believe in -- including those quoted here. When it comes to paying for college (or at least some of the expenses related to the overall cost), it makes sense for all parties to be involved.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Menu of Life, College Edition

Bear with me. This is college-related.

I've never been good at spending on myself, or on discretionary activities in general. I think about the money too much. And that means when I go out to dinner (other than local, casual places), I spend a lot of time wondering what makes a small portion of cod, however tasty and prettily presented, worth $32.

I sound so provincial that I blush in embarrassment. But now I will go a step further and say something even crazier, something that belies my feminist tendencies. Sometimes I wish for the very old days, when the lady's menu had no prices on it. Then I would select my dinner based on what sounded good, and how hungry I was, or what I was curious about, rather than what it cost.

In fact, I wish colleges could be selected that way. Students would search for colleges offering the best fit, the most simpatico campus, the strongest professors in a given field, and apply to those schools, regardless of cost. The final decision about which college to attend might well be influenced by money, but it would not be the overriding factor.

And that is the way a number of the Mom's College Cram Course panelists are approaching college selection. Starting tomorrow, and then continuing now and again over the next few weeks, we'll look at specific strategies panelists have in mind; whether there is any conscious limiting of choices due to cost; and whether teens are worried about cost.

Monday, March 21, 2011

It Depends on What You Mean by Co-Ed

Two interesting and somewhat related articles popped up recently related to co-ed colleges. First, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights decided it didn't have enough solid information to make an informed decision on whether there is gender discrimination in college admissions. So it suspended its investigation of 19 colleges. Part of the reason? Some of the most selective schools refused to turn over admissions data. Also, for some reason, the commission could only subpoena data from schools within a 100 mile radius of its office in Washington, D.C. -- providing a somewhat limited look at the issue.

The investigation was prompted primarily by anecdotes springing from an accepted fact: nationally, the female to male ratio in colleges is 60/40. The concern was that colleges were starting to accept more men simply to make the ratio more balanced.

Andrew Ferguson, the "he's everywhere" author of Crazy U and senior editor at The Weekly Standard, writes about the practice here. According to him, it's all about politics and colleges wanting to make their campuses attractive to boys and girls. And that means the schools are using quotas to ensure there are enough boys each year, even if they are selected over better qualified females.

It's a complex situation, as is everything related to admissions. So, if a girl doesn't get into a school where she met or exceeded the college's requirements, blame it on quotas. And if a boy gets into a school he never really dreamed would accept him, well, he can thank his likely stars...and quotas.

Is the 60/40 campus an actual social problem? How many students scrutinize these numbers? Is it a big deal, or an invented problem?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Theater/Music Team Scores Huge Win

In the midst of March Madness, we've been consumed by a high school musical. Not that one, a real one. Our teen was in the pit band of The Drowsy Chaperone, and her positive experience and the great outcome made me remember that teams come in all shapes and styles, that a stage and a playing field have much in common. It takes talent, hard work and dedication to win a game, and to win over an audience.

Call me starstruck, a sap for musicals, a doting mom whose doting quickly extended to the entire cast and every musician, stagehand and chorus member. But the one thing you can't call me is a liar. The show was spectacular. Three friends who attended, at different performances, will back me up, including one who has seen more New York theater than most of us combined.

I won't even try to describe the incredibly accomplished singing, dancing, acting, directing and musicianship. Here's a sample, though, and if you want to buy the DVD, let me know.

But back to the March Madness mention. Our daughter doesn't play sports, but this experience gave her the opportunity to be a part of a team, to feel the camaraderie, to understand the gifts each of these kids brought to the production and to practice time management.

Go arts! Go theater! And, ok, I can't help myself: Go, Duke!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's All About the Teachers

There is nothing better in the world than a wondrous teacher, one who inspires, instigates, challenges; one who makes a 7:30 AP US History class worth getting up for or an honors music class another highlight of the day. Our daughter has a few good teachers this year, each different in approach but focused on making the classroom a place worth coming to, through their passion for teaching.

In high school I was blessed with some memorable teachers, including one mighty fine, young English teacher who helped me hone my writing, kept class interesting and taught us so much. There were teachers I wasn't impressed with, or just didn't like, too. But I always respected them, for the work they did and the knowledge they were -- for the most part -- imparting.

I remember even back then hearing people say that teachers had it easy -- shorter days and summers off! We all know that is nonsense. Good teachers work long hours, whether in the classroom, working with students after class, grading papers, improving their study plans. Yet in the U.S., we really don't respect teachers, do we? We tend to respect those who make lots of money. And then in New Jersey towns like ours, we really twist things, because we link our astoundingly/embarrassingly high property taxes with teachers' salaries. It just shouldn't be.

There's a new study out that looks at test results of 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries. U.S. students were outperformed -- 15th in reading, 19th in science and 27th in math. This is not good.

The report urged the U.S. to employ common academic standards, use better test to diagnose learning problems immediately and train better school leaders. The No. 1 recommendation: raise the status of the teaching profession.

Maybe by the time our children have children we'll see better outcomes -- for students, teachers, and ultimately, our country. We are falling behind fast.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Love at First Sight on Campus Tours?

We'd recently gone on a tour of our state university, and it was fine. From a parent's perspective, I saw it as an overview, a first step, with future visits more focused on academics (classroom visits, etc.) It seemed to feel like the beginning of a friendship, but not love.

Some schools are trying to grab hearts and minds from the start. UNC at Chapel Hill is now offering more personalized tours. The primary tour will place more emphasis on academic buildings. And a second tour, for certain prospects, will allow longer visits to professional schools and departments.

Chapel Hill admissions people see this approach as a way to differentiate it from other schools. It hopes to attract more top state students for visits and encourage greater numbers of academically attractive out-of-state students to apply.

We're new to the campus tour thing. I suspect tour quality is all over the lot. Or maybe, tours are great if teen and parent really want to like the school. One thing is certain: a whole lot of psychology is going on.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Practice Storytelling to Train for the Essay

So much has been written about the college essay -- avoid cliches, be authentic, be conversational, check for typos, make sure the Common Application doesn't swallow the closing sentence -- that the task may seem overwhelming. But this part of the application can sometimes be a tie-breaker. Why not make it wonderful? Even better, why not make it a great piece of storytelling?

Movie producer Peter Guber (The Kids Are All Right, Rain Man, Batman, Gorillas in the Mist) has written Tell to Win, about the power of purposeful stories. It occurs to me this is the heart of any personal essay, particularly one that must be utterly persuasive and memorable. Here's a brief interview with Guber.

Now let's all work on our own stories. Assignment due in a week.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What the Heck Is a Super Score?

I've been reading and writing about college admissions for nearly a year. I just learned about super scores -- and feel foolish that I'd never even heard the phrase until I attended a basic review of SATs and ACTs held at our local library.

But I still didn't quite understand the concept. Nancy Pullen, director of recruitment at Rutgers, set me straight. "We take the highest score achieved on each of the three sections of the SAT to then make the highest combined best set of scores." It sounds like a good deal to me. But she also said that some schools choose the best total score of all SATs or ACTs taken. You will need to check with the schools.

Okay. I should have known about this. You have my permission to laugh.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Oh No! Daylight Savings Time Lowers SAT Scores

Or something like that. Just wanted to share some bad, who-knew news. Here's an article about the effect of daylight savings on our bodies: shifting our internal clocks in the fall and spring can cause serious sleep deprivation that has an impact in ways I couldn't have begun to imagine.

And here's the kicker. According to the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology and Economics, the time change caused a 16 point drop in SAT scores among Indiana high school kids. Now, I can't read the entire article, and can't provide a link -- so I am not sure I fully understand the implications. But here's the quote from the article mentioned above.

"Until 2006, some of the state's counties observed daylight saving and others didn't; the study compared the results from both. Co-author John Gaski, an associate professor of marketing at Notre Dame, said the results aren't connected to the one-hour loss or gain of sleep because the tests weren't taken close to either time shift. Rather, he believes they reflect the long-term effects on students' circadian rhythms.

"We thought if we got 2 points or 5 points, that that would be a blockbuster — and we got 16 points," Gaski said. Based on how much research has been done on sunlight's effect on our mood, though, Gaski said it shouldn't be that surprising.

"Having clock time so much different from your natural bio-rhythms can't be good."

It's all a part of how we don't properly deal with the known fact of teens' circadian rhythms. Classes starting at 7:30 a.m. just shouldn't exist.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pell Grants at Risk

I certainly know the term Pell Grants, but I was never sure who was a candidate for them when it comes to funding college. In summary, these federal grants are available for lower income families. The amount, no greater than $5,500 a year, is dependent about need, status as a student (full time or part time), etc. As with anything related to college finance, a FAFSA form must be submitted. The beautiful thing is, they do not have to be repaid.

Today, the largest federal student aid program is at risk. It's being looked at for cuts, along with so much else. Unfortunately, cuts here will severely affect students who look to these grants to get through college, even though Pells would cover just a portion of tuition costs. High school counselors don't know how to advise their students -- and colleges can't give incoming freshmen concrete numbers about aid.

It is only fair that all elements of the federal budget are scrutinized. But our country's future depends on an educated, innovative populace. The effects of our economic meltdown may last a generation -- or longer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We Scan the Globe for Admissions Information

Today, I offer a summary of a report from Mom's College Cram Course's Virginia bureau. Christine Amrhine (full disclosure: my sister-in law)and her sophomore son recently attended a college night. They heard from representatives from James Madison University, University of Virginia, the University of Mary Washington, all state schools, and Georgetown.

By the way, just remember that Virginia has an impressive number of well-known, really good state schools. These schools like out-of-state students because they subsidize in-state kids and they lend diversity, an important aspect of the college experience.

Many of the points raised by the college reps are universal, but several are worth repeating. Here are some thoughts on the college search, from the James Madison rep:

* Here's a basic one we sometimes forget -- is the student ready to go to college right after high school? Why?
* Be sure to go to college fairs. (Our school, Columbia, has one on March 16, 7-9 p.m.)
* Go online to look at freshman profiles (GPA, SATs, curricula of the admits)
* Visit colleges when students are there and spend several hours; it's even better if the student can attend a class or so. The worst time to go -- between Christmas and New Year's, at night, when the campus is deserted.

The Georgetown rep discussed the application, and offered these suggestions:

* Let the college know what do you do for fun and who you are. Let admissions see clearly what you bring to the table.
* Georgetown is more focused on SAT than ACT scores. Take the test once or twice, but never more than three times.
* Don't procrastinate on the essay. Georgetown asks applicants to write 200 words on a special talent, but foolishly, 10 to 15 percent of the applicants leave that blank.

The UVA rep discussed the essay:

* Here's an interesting tip on how to get started on the essay. Divide a sheet of paper into four quadrants. In the upper left put "teachers, coaches, counselors," lower left put "friends, peers," upper right put "parents," lower right put "self." Come up with three adjectives that each group would use to describe you. You are a composite of your experiences and the people you've interacted with. Evaluate yourself as a student and as a person.
* There is no substitute for an academic record, but the essay is where admissions can get to know you. It's an opportunity to stand out.
* Explain if you have learned a valuable life lesson through extracurriculars, music, sports, part-time job.
* Think about details. Don't use words borrowed from the thesaurus.
* Write about you, what you'll add. UVA wants to know who you are. If you're hilarious, write a funny essay. If you're serious, don't try to write a funny essay.

We'll save the financial aid discussion for another day. Happy?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March is a Tough Month -- for Seniors and Admissions Officers

I really can't remember what I was thinking, nearly 100 years ago, while waiting to hear from colleges. Maybe I was keeping myself occupied with working on our yearbook. Or trying to imagine what college life would be like. I was pretty clueless. Though getting into college is a thousand times more complex today, at least teens seem better prepared for their quasi-independent life of academics and play.

But that doesn't make the waiting any easier. And as a parent, I feel the pain, too -- and our wait is two years away. In the spirit of equal empathy for all, try to imagine what it's like for admissions officers as they winnow thousands of applications to reach the magic acceptance number. No question: it's difficult and sometimes painful work, if done right. New Mom's College Cram Course panelist Deborah Gaines, who is mom of a sophomore and The Corporate Writer, shared this piece about Bowdoin admissions.

She said the Bowdoin description gives her hope for the process. I would agree.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From the Trenches -- Starting Points for the College Selection Process Part 3

This will be the last in the series -- we will be looking at some concrete things that can be done (dare I say by parents)to jump start the process of figuring out what schools just might make sense.

Here's what Tina Squyres shared. "This is the one place that I stuck my oar in (with my kids’ blessing). To get them started, and since the number of schools that are available is so large, I created a spreadsheet for each daughter. I started with what they want to study (which included for my older daughter music opportunities for non-music majors). The spreadsheet includes information about male/female ratio, SATs, location, number of students, academic/social/quality of life ratings, and a column of notes from the college guides. It is sorted by location in the country (neither daughter is interested in a southern school but they are on the spreadsheet), overall size, and academic rating.

"My older daughter used the spreadsheet exclusively when deciding which schools to visit and where to apply. I’m not sure how my daughter who's a junior will use it, but she feels like it makes the process a little more manageable. Her spreadsheet has 60 schools on it. She probably won't consider smaller schools (under 3,000 students); the southern schools that made the list; and schools where the male/female ratio is skewed heavily in favor of women. That means that her working list is approximately 30 schools...a more manageable list than the several hundred schools found in the college books. It also means that I hope I did my homework really well!"

Kim Cook and Tina have taken similar paths. "Some experts may disagree with this, but frankly once you have some of those preferences, and if you know your kid pretty well, I would do a fair bit of the legwork yourself online in terms of researching schools. I work from home so I could devote an hour almost every day to scouring all of the aggregate sites – Princeton Review, Kiplinger’s, US News, Collegeboard, College Prowler, College Confidential, etc. I delved deep into potential schools websites – you can tell a whole lot about a school from their online image, and from videos, student comments, how engaged the school seems to be with its community and student body. Departmental pages for the subject areas my kids were interested in were an important component of this online research too."

She added something we all need to remember as we face travel to prospective schools. "You can waste a whole college visit trip if you haven’t thoroughly ‘explored’ the school online. We have lots of friends who literally drove up the entrance to campuses and turned around and drove back out – the first impressions were so negative for the kids they didn’t even care to get out of the car! If you’ve driven or flown a long way, that’s a big waste of time. Do a lot of virtual legwork ahead of time, then present the bookmarked pages and your first impressions to your student, let them explore the schools’ websites on their own, and build your list that way."

But, try to make the process as pleasant as possible. Linda Auld, of Suburban Learning Center described a mother/daughter road trip her friend took recently. "They took it easy visiting one college in the morning and then sightseeing, staying in nice hotels, and visiting family/friends along the way, covering five schools, big and small, from Delaware to D.C. Now they have some ideas about big/small, public/private, city/suburban. Their advice: treat yourself nicely and just don't try to do too much in one day!"

We'll change the subject tomorrow, but many thanks to our panelists who responded and shared their views.

Monday, March 7, 2011

From the Trenches -- Starting Points for the College Selection Process Part 2

Today we're looking at how families deal with building a foundation for the college search -- and how they work with their children to sort out the basics.

Our college admissions panelist gives us an honest perspective, one that I feel I lived myself many years ago. When I was looking at colleges, I didn't do much research but did have some gut (though generally uninformed) feelings about what I wanted.

She says, "I can’t help but feel that this is where we fell flat as a family. My daughter’s choices were based primarily on a few factors (in a major urban center, medium to large-sized, not in the South) and she refused to consider anything outside those parameters, although at least it gave us a starting point. I felt that she didn’t really know why she wanted those things (other than not being in the South since that’s where we live), she just did. Now that we’re a month away from final decisions, she’s still happy with those choices, though, so maybe she knows herself better than I think."

She goes on to mention two other young women she knows well. "Our niece the musician chose only schools where there were notable instructors for her particular instrument. I worry that she didn’t look more broadly at the schools themselves, but I suppose time will tell. Our friends’ daughter selected schools based on her desire to major in dance, and now she’s finding that she’s not being admitted to the dance programs, even when she’s admitted to the schools." I hadn't even thought of that admissions nightmare.

Panelist Kim Cook says, "We did a lot of visualizing with our kids in terms of how they saw an average day at college, what were classes ideally like, what should dorm life offer, are you seeing yourself using the gym, do you need a city nearby or would a small funky town be a refreshing change, do you want some nature nearby, how often do you see yourself coming home...We talked through these questions frequently, not just once, and some of the answers began to appear over and over while others evolved until finally we had a pretty decent ‘scenario’ from which to work."

Jeanne Hogle's daughter started getting her admissions moorings in sophomore year, right around this time last year. Till then, she was bouncing around in her thinking about the where and what of college but doctor or lawyer were definite interests. She started talking to an English teacher, who had been a lawyer, and to doctors about becoming one. She also took the Fiske quiz mentioned last week and seems to be pretty focused in her efforts.

Tomorrow, we'll look at some specific steps parents can take to bring some discipline to the effort -- while also taking some pressure off their teens.

If this is giving you anxiety attacks -- because you don't think the process is going well, or you are too involved, or not involved enough (as if anyone knows what the answer is to that one), treat yourself to a quick read on an area of psychological research called self-compassion. The article grabbed me on the first sentence. "Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?"

If you answer yes, I want to know how you do it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

From the Trenches -- Starting Points for the College Selection Process Part 1

We've got to start somewhere on this college thing. I had some ideas, but when I have the Mom's College Cram Course panel of parent and professional experts, why should I go it alone?

So I asked panel members how the process began in their families. Responses were great -- from the heart and helpful. So let me begin sharing.

First, I had stumbled across this self-quiz from the Fiske Guide to Colleges -- and one panelist who happens to be an admissions officer and mom -- agreed that this is a good place to start. It helps the teen define a number of areas, from big to small, urban to suburban, serious academic setting to one that is not so intense, etc., that may help narrow the scope of possible choices.

Panelist Barbara Rosamalia suggests Naviance (if your school uses it) which allows searches based on distance from home, sports teams, music and theater, etc. She raises an interesting point -- she has found that students are pretty open-minded, but that it is the parents (consciously or not, I would imagine) who place limits or influence choices. At this point, early in the process, little should be off-limits, I imagine -- if the choices are coupled with some self-awareness.

Dr. Jacqui Detweiler puts it succinctly. She sees three major questions that a teen should ask: big vs. small, location (near, far, city, beach, and so on) and that broad but all-important "other" category -- the "it" factor that simply must be present such as pre-med, or music, or fencing.

In the next two posts, panelists will share their own family experiences.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Crazy U/Crazy Me -- Keeping Perspective During the Admissions Process

I guess at some point many of us think we have a book deep within, though not I. Andrew Ferguson decided to turn the college admissions adventure into a hardback, Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course on Getting His Kid into College. I can't vouch for the content, haven't read the book, but he does seem to pinpoint part of what makes the process so crazy: for every solid, plausible point made about admissions, there is an equally solid and plausible, 180 degree different counterpoint. Arrrrgggghhh.

It could make a mom insane, if she allows it. But none of us will go that far, if we keep our senses of humor and skepticism intact.

Here's an interview with Ferguson, courtesy Inside Higher Ed. It's worth reading -- if only for the worthwhile opportunity to hear a dad's viewpoint.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Game Plan for Life Begins Now

At the risk of sounding over-programmed, unrealistic or downright crazy, I will share some of the steps our family will be taking to get ready for college starting now, in the second half of sophomore year.

We talk about high school a lot -- grades, activities, junior year classes. We're still filling holes in the summer schedule, but there will likely be some math preview work as our teen looks ahead to Algebra II. We're also looking at an overview SAT prep class. It's a two-week summer program. My goal on this: to get her familiar with the tests in a setting more structured than her bedroom; to help her learn strategies and some basic approaches to the tests; to refine even more where she needs to focus special effort. Junior year we'll likely do more intense test prepping prior to SATs.

We've done one college tour, a school not too far away. We'll look at more campuses over the summer so that when we hit junior year, we may have better ideas of where she will want to spend more time -- whether interviewing, in classes or just strolling the campus.

I'd like to see our teen peruse one of those books of majors (will pick one up soon.) She has some ideas and directions, but seeing descriptions of what specific majors entail may be helpful as she shapes her thoughts on which colleges might make sense.

It's a lot of work. But perhaps doing the thinking now and looking ahead to some of the things she wants from life may help her keep focused on what's important. By that I mean a fulfilled and happy life. What college she goes to is really just a small part of that.

I have done a lot of muddling -- through college, and at times, professionally. Maybe our daughter will be more firm-footed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yet Again, Another Facebook Warning. Please Pay Attention

Kaplan, the test people, recently issued a report on a survey regarding Facebook use by college admissions staff, stating that 82 percent of the 386 participating admissions officers used Facebook as a recruiting tool. It turns out that the statistic also encompasses prospective students who sent a request to friend an admissions officer. Eighty percent of the admissions people say yes, up nine percent from a 2009 study.

So, it's not just about prowling admissions officers digging up unsavory photos or tasteless comments -- it's about students inviting them to do so. Even though most of our kids are pretty smart about this stuff, here are a few simple tips, from Facebook and other sources, about positioning a teen's Facebook persona prior to applying to colleges.

1. Clean up the photos in the Facebook gallery. If there is anything questionable or ambiguous, kill it. If teens see a photo of themselves elsewhere, untag it and try to get it deleted.
2. Use the privacy settings. Make sure what you want private is private. Or make sure what is not protected is a fair representation that you wouldn't mind your mom seeing.
3. Google yourself occasionally to make sure there are no problems.

Facebook is becoming part of our students' applications. It may not carry the weight of GPAs and test scores, but it can be a factor. So be smart about it.