Monday, July 29, 2019

Optional College Application Information

As seniors begin to apply to college this fall, they might find tremendous disparity from the approach one college takes to their application process to the next. One of the biggest differences they might find is the kind of information that is required on an application. Indeed, one school might require a piece of information while another lists that as optional. So, this concept of optional information usually taunts seniors with the question, do I send it or not?

These applications can ask for any one of a number of things. It’s probably safe to say that if it’s optional, it’s pretty far down the list of criteria the college will use to accept you, but how can it not make at least a little impression on the person that is reviewing the application?

      AP scores are a great example of this. I’ve never heard a college representative tell me they intentionally use AP scores for admission purposes and I’ve asked them about this directly before. However, I have heard representatives reference AP scores in the context of ancillary information that could provide additional information about a student who is right on the line for admission. So, yeah, they don’t seek them out for the purposes of admission but if you have two students who are otherwise equal and one has an average AP score of 1.5 and one has an average of 4.5, that better score could be a real edge. 

        For the record, I think AP scores and other optional information are far more likely to be meaningful to highly selective schools (think Ivy League) than others. For most schools, optional information is just something a little extra to look at. It only makes sense that the colleges are going to be most interested in the information they require. Think about it, if you loved to cook, and you had to buy a house without seeing it in-person and could only look at five pictures from the inside, one of those pictures has to be of the kitchen, right? You might be able to live without seeing the inside of the garage though. 
  So, do you send optional informational or not? I generally believe that unless something is glaringly bad for you, go ahead and send it. I’m talking really bad. If your writing score is a little lower than your reading and math, but still in league with them, go ahead and send it. If your AP scores are kind of mixed, go ahead and send them. On the other hand, if something optional for you is just truly awful, then maybe don’t send it. I think we are who we are and the colleges appreciate transparency. If the realtor of that house wouldn’t even let you look in the garage, don’t you think you’d suddenly be a little curious about what was going on in there, even if it wasn’t a room you felt like you’d use a lot?

        There is a thin line to walk here. You are who you are and if you’re meant to get into a college, you will. If you don’t have a perfect score or whatever, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad score or whatever. Be realistic about where your optional information truly lies statistically and unless it really is at the bottom of the barrel, maybe it’s better to send it.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

What Happens After Graduation

High school graduation is a weird thing. It’s like society drives young people up to this jungle and then just opens the car door and says, “Good luck in there!” Or, if the expression is “It takes a village to raise a child,” high school graduation is the first step out of the village and into the wild. Yes, graduation is kind of crazy when you think of it as the arbitrary spring date we choose to kick our children out of the village. Maybe it shouldn’t be that harsh,

I really worry about what happens to my students in the years that follow graduation. For their whole lives, they’ve enjoyed the safety, comfort, and security of their childhood which has often been headlined but their school experience and the guidance they’ve received from their guardians and teachers. So much of that falls away on graduation day though. Sure, good parents are going to stick around but are probably taking at least a little step back and certainly the routine of grade school is gone.

That means there is a lot left for a young person to figure out on their own and I believe the years that follow graduation are every bit as crucial in a young person’s transition to effective adulthood as their teen years. So, I think it’s really important for the “village” to stay vigilant and keep a careful watch over the people they’ve supported at this time. Actually, they probably need to be more vigilant now. Gone are the support networks offered by schools and the web of support they might have received from friends is likely smaller too. In spite of this, they’re facing some of the biggest decisions of their lives involving career and relationships when they need support the most. There’s a lot of significant things going on and there’s a lot that can go wrong.

Providing support to this demographic is complicated. These people need a balance between letting them be the adults that they and this continued support. Playing the role of the overbearing, I-still-know-what’s-best-parent likely isn’t going to work. Young people in this situation need to fall down sometimes, they need to be a little hungry, they need to discover what they like and don’t like about being an adult because those opinions will drive them down the path they choose. The supporters of young adults need to accept that mistakes will be made. They can’t and shouldn’t prevent the inevitable lessons that will be taught by those mistakes. However, supporters can be ready to extend a hand to pick up their young people, to bring them in from the jungle with the storm grows too fierce, and be willing to offer advice, when solicited, which the right amount of touch. In other words, your job as a parent isn’t done at graduation. Except when it is.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Traditional Skills for Millennials

              As another group of young millennials are heading off into the workforce, there are a few traditional skills I’m afraid they’ve never acquired. These are skills that might seem archaic to young people who are quite adept at navigating a digital world. However, the types of tasks that are to follow are ones that are extraordinarily commonplace to the parents of these graduates and are likely to be needed long into the future.
              Unfortunately, I have come to understand young people’s attitudes towards these skills the hard way. So, for example, I once had an extended debate with a student as to whether there was ever a scenario in which one needed to supply their own phone number in voicemail wherein they requested a return call. To this student, cell phones or caller ID were so ubiquitous that anyone who retrieved the voicemail would be able to see the numbers of the people who called the phone. Apparently, this student assumed that anyone who might work at doctor’s office or any company would naturally use their personal cell phone for all communications related to their work and
that the main number of these businesses was simply that of an employee who worked there. In my work, the majority of my calls are from parents who do almost always identify themselves in their message and leave me with their preferred method to return contact. However, I would estimate that more than 90% of the occasional voicemails I receive from students do neither of these things. They are usually something simply along the lines of “Hi, I have a question for you. Please give me a call back.”
             A parent once shared with me an anecdote that she had tasked her son with addressing a number of envelopes for an event she was having. The teenager in turned placed the stamp in the dead center of the envelopes and wrote the return and recipient addresses in incorrect places as well. At first, the parent thought this was the act of a careless young man until she realized he really didn’t know any better. I’ve also seen students who seem unaware of how to write a check or how to properly use a phone that is not cell phone (or what “dial 9 to get out” means). They prefer to text and don’t do a good job of monitoring their email and their business etiquette can be somewhat lacking in
situations like interviews or formal meals. In other words, there are some skills young graduates will be expected to know in the adult world, because adults use these skills, but the schools are not doing much to teach these skills and young people are too connected to the alternative digital versions of these skills to have ever needed to acquire them.
            If schools are teaching these things, it’s probably a quick lesson on one day, perhaps in elementary or middle school. If that lesson covers a skill the student doesn’t use again for a long time, it’s easy to forget. So, I think the onus of really teaching these types of    things ultimately falls on parents. Consider teaching your child how to do some things that are second nature to you that might not be to them. You never know when

they are going to need it.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Getting the Feel of College Campuses

Summer is upon us and many people have vacations planned. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to go somewhere unforgettable, like Paris. However, what would be the point in that? Surely you’ve seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower before, right? What else could you possibly gain from going all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Well, probably a whole lot. Seeing the sights and sounds, eating at the cafes, being immersed in the French culture--that’s a very different experience than just looking at a picture of the Eiffel Tower. So it goes with touring college campuses.

Unfortunately, not touring campuses is one of the biggest mistakes I see families make as they make their decisions about college. They assume that because they’ve been to the city the college is in, or been to the college the day of a big football game, or your friend who
graduated last year goes there, or they looked at a brochure, that they know what the on-campus experience is all about. Those things can’t replicate what it feels like on a college campus on a day-to-day basis though any more than eating a baguette from your local grocery store while listening to Claude Debussy and looking at pictures of the Arc de Triomphe on your phone can replicate a trip to Paris.

My operative word here is vibe, or you might say feel. Being on a college campus, on a more or less regular day is going to present a vibe that students need to inhale before they make the biggest decision of their young lives. You have to be there in person.

Actually, what I get most from students is this; “I’m going to such and such university. Well, I’m going to tour it next weekend, but then I’m going to go there.” So, I think most students do take tours but really only after they’ve fully made the decision to go to a given school. Hey, I’ve bought a shirt before, taken it home, and then tried it on. The difference is that it’s a whole lot easier to return a shirt than it is to transfer colleges.

TAKE COLLEGE TOURS, and do it before senior year. I think sophomore and junior year might be the best years for this, but if you’re driving past a school that might be on the radar in the 6th grade that you’re not going to drive past frequently, take the exit and go see it. That’s not too early.

All colleges and universities offer tours. Usually, you can find this information on the school’s website. Tours conducted by a trained individual (often a student) are best, but if the availability of those don’t fit with your plans, spending 20 minutes walking around campus and eating a meal at the student union is better than nothing. Whatever the case, make the effort to give your student the feel and vibe of the college they want to attend before they make this massive decision. And have fun on your trip this summer. Bon voyage!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Tough Schedule For Senior Year

As one school years begins to wind down, it is time to look ahead to the next. For some students, this means selecting classes for their last year of high school, and if that’s the case the strategy might be a little different than what was done during the other years.

This is especially true for students who intend to go to college. The appearance of a strong and rigorous senior schedule is extremely important and is something colleges look for. They want to see that a student is continuing their pursuit of knowledge and is continuing to challenge themselves. Many seniors will have met their most strenuous graduation requirements and might not be required to take courses in some core subject areas However, that doesn’t mean they should not. A college-bound senior would do well to take challenging classes in language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Here is the bigger secret; who cares how you do in the classes? Well, to a point. I tell my college-bound students that as long as meet the minimum GPA required to graduate I don’t have much interest in their GPA at graduation. I am most interested in the GPA they have at the end of their junior year because that is the one they will present to colleges on their applications in the fall of their senior year.

To put this point another way, a student applies to college before their senior grades have a chance to take hold. What this means is that the courses listed on a senior schedule are magnified. The colleges are going to be forced to recognize the strength of your senior schedule before they might have the opportunity to see a result. This means a senior can and should be less conservative in the courses they select their senior year. They can take a class that might be a slight a reach for them because that is going to look good to the colleges and if they don’t do as well as they would like, the consequences are not as severe.

Now, the disclaimer paragraph. Colleges can do send what is a called a letter of rescission. This is when you get accepted, the college gets a final transcript which is terrible, and they send a letter rescinding your acceptance. Some times, this can even come after you’ve spent a semester at a college. Letters of rescission are an awful thing to receive. In my point above, I think seniors can afford to do a little worse than they are used to. They can’t afford to bottom out and I’m not suggesting it’s okay for a student to fail or make Ds in their classes. I just mean you don’t have to necessarily maintain your GPA exactly where it is through senior year. Students can take in a larger mouthful than what they are used to it, but they should not bite off more than they can chew. Senioritis is also a real thing too, so my greater point above is working with the assumption that a senior is a good student and has the will to continue to try to be that for the duration of their senior year.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

SAT and ACT Test Prep

One of the most common questions I am asked as a school counselor is, “what can I do to prepare for the SAT and ACT?” The answer is, there’s a lot. A ton of exam prep materials exist that can help students squeeze a few more points out of these important assessments.

However, to begin this conversation it’s important to temper expectations. The purpose of the SAT and ACT is to compare the aptitude of students who are applying to college from a national and sometimes international pool. These tests separate the elite from the average in an unbiased way that a GPA might struggle to do. And, the tests do a pretty good job of this. In a sense, they represent your body of intellectual work for the entirety of your schooling so a little time spent preparing for these tests is only going to elevate a student so much. Test prep can improve scores but no one should expect that can turn an average score into a perfect one.

So, how does a student prepare for a test? My belief is that it is possible to overdo it. I wouldn’t want a student to ignore their classroom studies for the sake of preparing for an exam. Plus, it just seems like a good way to burn a young person out. However, some dedicated time spent preparing for an exam in the six to eight weeks leading up to the administration can be beneficial.

The College Board has partnered with the Khan Academy for their test prep and the ACT has partnered with Kaplan for theirs. I think these are the best places to start. It makes sense to me that the people who publish the exams are going to have the best insight into how to prepare, so I think any test prep should include these services at least in part. Both services allow a user to look at previous test attempts, explore weaknesses, and target those weaknesses within the test prep. This is an extremely valuable tool and one that any student will be wise to take advantage of.

These are not the only means for SAT or ACT test prep though. A multitude of third-party resources exists that are aimed at SAT or ACT preparation. They can carry different approaches or different methods of delivery and I won’t suggest that any one of them is better than the other here. You can find these at places like or in the big box book stores like Barnes and Nobles, so it’s probably a good idea to do a little shopping and find one that looks like it’s a good fit for you.

Those products will often be self-directed which means they’ll require a level of self-discipline that not every high school student has. In that case, many high schools offer some after-school or weekend workshops in the days or weeks leading up to test. Colleges and private tutoring services sometimes also offer test preparation classes. These can be the most expensive options for test preps but they occasionally come with money back guarantees to improve your score a certain number of points. I have had good feedback from these sorts of classes in the past and I imagine they wouldn’t offer the guarantee if they weren’t confident they could meet it more often than not.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Athletic Scholarships in College

For many students, athletic activities rival the work done in the classroom. Flexible educational opportunities such as virtual schooling exists now that allow students more time to focus on their training. Many students see their athletic ability as a way to potentially pay for college and therefore the time and costs associated with a sport can be considered an investment with the return being reduced tuition bills. While this is true, it’s important to note these scholarships are very competitive and limited. There are also some important differences in the different tiers of college athletics. Students and parents should be familiar with these as they make decisions about high school and their athletic opportunities.

Most people are familiar with Division 1 college athletics.
These are the schools that play college football on TV on Saturdays or
basketball in March. There are around 8 million students who play high school athletics
but only around 175,000 play Division 1 sports at any given time. So, these are
the most competitive scholarships. However, if you’re able to land one they can
be quite lucrative and cover tuition, housing, and meals. Nevertheless, if you
are talented enough to have the opportunity to play Division 1 sports, there is
still no guarantee you’ll receive scholarship money. This is particularly true
if you play a “non-revenue” sport which is often everything except football and
men’s basketball.

Division 2 schools give some athletic scholarships
as well. However, these schools are often smaller, and the demands of the
athletic program might be less intense than what is found at Division 1
schools. Student athletes might have more of an opportunity to be a bigger fish
in a smaller pond.

Division 3 schools do not offer athletic
scholarships. This is a very important line that is drawn at this tier and one
that many students and parents are unaware of it. Most Division 3 athletes will
qualify for some financial aid but that will be in the form of academic or
need-based scholarships. It won’t come from the athletic department. As a
result, the demands of the athletic programs might be less intense still than
Division 2 programs.

The same is true for colleges that compete in the
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or NAIA. These colleges are
generally on par with Division 3 schools and also do not offer athletic
scholarships. However, they will also give most of their athletes some
financial aid through other avenues.

Any high school athlete who aspires to play at the
next level should register with the NCAA Clearinghouse. There are strict
academic standards a student-athlete must meet in order to qualify for college
athletics. These qualifications vary by the tier of the athletic program but
registering with the NCAA can get your foot in the door for each division.
Students and parents should be aware of financial implications of being a
student athlete and how different colleges and individual sports at individual
schools treat financial aid. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for anything
related to college athletic scholarships so it’s crucial to ask lots of
questions to recruiters and do your own research.