Students Suffer from Achievement Pressure

"Rather than giving their students a leg up, an emerging body of evidence shows that hyper-competitive and overly demanding high school experiences can take the joy out of learning, undermine mental health, and leave teens less prepared to make the most of their college years," contends a recent article in the NACAC Journal of College Admission. Indeed, many educational and mental health professionals across the board are researching their concern about the ever-increasing competition around college and the way in which it is reshaping adolescence for too many teens.

Many, if not most teens, are not developmentally ready to manage the intense academic course loads and demands of over-scheduled extra-curricular activities. "We have put the educational cart before the developmental horse and, in so doing, have lost sight of key aspects of our most important responsibility: to foster our teenagers' health growth and developments," says clinical psychologist David. L. Gleason.

New Narrative Drives Frenzy

Nevertheless, both students and parents take a full court press approach to the college admissions process and a "new narrative - one that designates perfection as a prerequisite for admissions - is increasingly driving" the college frenzy. Colleges themselves add fuel to the fire.  Virtually every college tells candidates that it wants to see students challenge themselves with the most rigorous curriculum offered at the student’s high school. Hence, the plethora of AP classes offered at many schools.

Many school, and independent, counselors are seeing unprecedented levels of stress among students and the anxiety around college is emerging earlier and earlier in the high school years. Research confirms these reports. "A 2015 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found endemic levels of chronic stress among high-achieving students engaged in the college admissions process."  

 Follow your Interests

Fortunately, many schools and educational professionals are working towards shifting this paradigm. Daniel Miller, counselor at a suburban Chicago high school encourages students to "follow your interests, do what makes you happy, and the rest will fall into place" instead of taking a slew of AP classes "because you think a college wants you to take them." The same school recently dropped its "300 Club" where student members were required to complete 300 hours of community service.  "We didn’t' want students logging all these hours just for the recognition... We wanted them to focus on the quality of those experiences, not the quantity," highlighted Miller.

Colleges appear to be getting on the bandwagon as well. The Harvard Graduate School of Education, for instance, is working towards transforming the college admissions process with its "Turning the Tide" initiative.   Robert Massa, senior VP for enrollment at Drew University, asserts "...if we - meaning college admission offices - say we're concerned about non-cognitive factors, we need to behave that way.  We can't have the smallest difference in a student's academic profile become a reason to deny or put on a waitlist.  We have to find ways to recalibrate the process."

Let’s hope they do.



 

 

 

Important Summer Steps for Juniors and Seniors

Rising seniors truly should begin their Common Application in July to reduce the pressure later.  Ideally, rising juniors should know by now which standardized test – the ACT or the SAT – they plan to take in the fall or winter.  Summer is the best time to jumpstart the college roadtrip and take the important steps necessary to reduce the stress of the fall semester.

Seniors:

  • Finalize your college list – At the very least, review your school list and decide which colleges to visit in the fall.  Some schools already have their ‘open house’ and ‘special session’ fall visit schedule online.  Have a final list ready to review with the college advisor at your high school in September and ask him/her to suggest additional options.
  • Continue test prep for fall SAT/ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests – Many students hope to improve upon their scores by focusing on test prep over the summer and re-taking exams in the fall. Some students consider taking an SAT subject test, or two, in order to enhance their college applications. This is recommended even if the colleges to which you will apply do not require subject tests.
  • Application Essays – July is the perfect time to complete the personal essay for the Common Application. In August, the supplemental essay prompts for individual schools will be available and students will get busy drafting those. While many students have summer jobs/internships or are taking summer classes, there is time on weekends and evenings to begin composing the personal essay – the main college essay.

Juniors:

  • Begin Sat/ACT test prep –  Whether or not the student has taken the PSAT and/or PLAN, it is advisable to take a diagnostic SAT and ACT over the summer to determine which exam makes the most sense. If it is possible, students should begin practicing for a fall test. This leaves ample time for re-testing in the winter and/or spring.  
  • Start perusing the college guidebook - Parents can pick up any of the college guide books on bookstore shelves and start a preliminary list based on location, size, and possible majors (liberal arts vs. sciences). For parents who want to take the next step, use the guidebook to identify colleges of interest and spend time on each school’s website.
  • Website Research – You can spend hours on college websites as they are chock full of information. One piece of information that can help discern if the college is a real possibility or a long shot, is the 'student profile' for the incoming class. This includes the SAT and ACT scores; GPA range; and a slew of demographics. If your student’s current GPA falls close, it may be worthy of consideration.
  • Start planning fall college visits – Starting campus tours in the fall gives students a huge headstart and takes the pressure off of the spring when exams, school work, and extra-curriculars ramp up. The more schools students visit, the more focused they become.

ReadySetCollege has a unique approach to executing these steps more effectively than families and high school counselors can alone. Contact Franca today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why It's Become So Hard To Get In

Students often fear the college journey because they’ve heard so much negative hype around it.  Especially now when the admissions world has become so competitive, students often feel that the deck is stacked against them.  One of my missions as a counselor is to instill in students a sense of confidence and assurance that many, many colleges will be thrilled to welcome them onto their campuses.

It is important to maintain realistic expectations as students embark on their college roadtrip.  Understanding how college admissions departments operate may help to balance those expectations. Here’s a look at why it’s so difficult to predict outcomes.

·         Admissions committees make decisions.  Depending upon the size of the college, one or two admissions counselors may review a student’s application, or an entire committee will convene to review and discuss an applicant. Committees include not only admissions counselors, but the admissions director, faculty and sometimes additional administrative staff. The committee at each individual college will evaluate an application differently depending upon the criteria that are most relevant to each school.

·         Admissions department are not only admitting students to that college. They are also admitting students to specific academic disciplines. Popular majors, such as business, may have a lot more competition than a less popular major. This is one reason a straight A student applying to a popular major may not be not be accepted, but a B student is admitted to a less popular major.

          Admissions decisions are very subjective. When admissions committees receive thousands of applications with similar grades and test scores, other factors become critical when making decisions. What is important to one decision maker could be less important to another. Some admissions decision makers may feel a connection with a student and want to take a chance on the student while another committee member may decide not to admit. Lastly, admissions committees can change every year. Therefore, someone who was admitted for admissions this year may not have been admitted the previous year. There is often no rhyme or reason why one college accepts a student and another college rejects the same student.

How to Enhance Teacher Recommendations

Juniors!  If you have not already done so, it’s definitely time to request teacher recommendation(s) that will accompany your college applications.   Students are sometimes tempted to leave this part of the process until the fall of their senior year, but that leaves very little time for teachers to complete the recommendations, particularly when confronted with application deadlines as early as October 15th.

Tips to keep in mind:

·         The best recommendation is not necessarily from the teacher who gave you the best grades. Often, a stronger recommendation comes from the teacher in whose class you’ve struggled.  This teacher can address your academic drive and perseverance, qualities that admissions readers love to see.

·         Ideally, recommendations will come from teachers of your “core” academic subjects. Yet, if you feel that another teacher has gotten to know you well and can write about qualities that other teachers will not, by all means. Furthermore, you may want to check with the colleges that you are interested in to see if they require recommendations from specific teachers for some specific majors.

·         Whenever possible, provide your recommenders with “memorable moments.”  These are papers, projects, presentations, labs that you are particularly proud of and you would like the teacher to highlight in his/her letter.  The more details and anecdotes a teacher can include, the richer the recommendation becomes.

“Making Learning Better for Others”

“The teachers are usually the only ones who can offer a perspective of the student’s behavior in class,” notes Peter Osgood, admissions director at Harvey Mudd College.  “I want to know  – how creative, how determined, how playful, how focused, how they make learning better for others, are they quiet, but offer pearls of wisdom?”

The ideal teacher recommendation will fully describe the student’s performance, participation and attitude towards learning and towards his peers.  Colleges want to see that the student knows how to be an engaged learner.

Why You Should Hire An Independent Counselor

Parents often ask me what can I do for their teen on the college journey that the high school counselor cannot. Having been in their shoes, I understand the need for parents to weigh cost versus benefit. Parents want to know that I have something valuable to offer that the high school counselor does not. The answer is yes. A recent article in the NACAC Journal of College Admission explores the advantages of having an independent educational consultant (IEC) and the school counselor collaborating in the best interests of the student.

There's been a three-fold increase in the number of independent counselors across the country in the past five years. This is partly due to the overload of students that school counselors must manage. As the article states: "with school budgets being cut right and left [school counselors] don't have time."  Furthermore, while the cost of going to college continues to go up every year, the cost of hiring an IEC has remained stable.

Available 24/7

Every family comes to the college admissions journey with expectations and concerns, and lots of questions.  The number one value that an IEC provides is the availability to answer questions anytime and to offer as much customized guidance as each individual student requires. I tell my families that I am available 24/7 and both students and parents have my cell phone number to reach me evenings, weekends, holidays. The school counselor obviously cannot provide this level of commitment and may have very limited office hours especially in a large school.

Nevertheless, the school counselor is the student's best ally and I emphasize this to all of my students.  Only the school counselor knows the senior class: where are the student's classmates applying? given this school's track record, what are the student's chances of acceptance to the colleges on his/her list? The school counselor is privy to "inside information" that can be crucial.  If both counselors work together, the student gets the best of both worlds.

Get the Best of Both Worlds

By keeping in touch and talking directly to one another, the IEC and the school counselor can not only avoid duplicating efforts, but they can share their expertise and knowledge base about colleges. IECs build relationships with college admissions personnel just as school counselors do. Hence the addition of the IEC's connections to the school counselor's network can only benefit the student. In addition, because the IEC gets to know the student on a more personal level, the consultant can share insights that help define the colleges that are truly a best fit for the student.

Achieve Results

Because IECs have experience working with schools, parents should ask a prospective consultant how he or she has handled this in the past and how the parent should broach the topic with the school counselor. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that both counselors sincerely want what's best for your teen and will do whatever it takes to achieve the best results.

 

It's Decision Time!

Just a few advice tips to help you make your final college decision.  This is a biggie, so don’t be in a hurry to get it over and behind you.  It is important to take your time, and carefully evaluate all of the information to make the choice that’s right for you.

Things to keep in mind:

  1. No college can require you to commit to attending prior to May 1, the National Candidates Reply Date, with the exception of Early Decision or NCAA athletic scholarship programs.
  2. If you have received financial aid offers, compare them carefully. Determine exactly what your out-of-pocket cost will be to attend each school. Ask questions about scholarships (are they locked in for all 4 years? Do they increase with the college’s cost of attendance, each year?).
  3. Attend prospective student events at the colleges to which you were admitted.
  4. Never submit an enrollment deposit to more than one school. It is an unethical practice that may result in your acceptances being withdrawn by the colleges involved.
  5. Once you have decided, notify the other colleges that you will not be attending and request to have your application closed.
  6. If you have been offered a spot on a college’s wait list, learn what you need to do to be an active member of the Wait List. However, be sure that you have a place to attend if you are not eventually offered admission. 

 

Back from College Visits, Now What?

The answer is really in two parts: part one addresses how to assess the individual visits, and part two entails the steps with which students should follow-up.

Assessment – Here’s where I advise parents to keep their comments/opinions to a minimum (ideally, to themselves).  Most students don’t want to hear how impressed Dad was with the Economics professor who suggested stopping by the Career Center or how touched Mom was to hear how warmly the tour guide spoke of her roommates. Alert! It is your son/daughter who is spending the next four years at college so it is crucial that your son/daughter process the information, campus vibe and student sentiments on his/her own.

Instead, ask the questions that will help your student form an opinion. For example:

·         what stood out to you at X University?

·         what did you hear at Y College that surprised you?

·         what turned you off at W College? Why?

·         can you see yourself at Z University?

Have your student jot down responses in a notebook as well as details that he/she may have noticed. Was there something on this campus that you didn’t see elsewhere? Did you hear stories/anecdotes from students that resonated with you? Did it sound like there was too much emphasis on sports or Greek Life? Did students on campus look happy or stressed?

Next Steps – First, and foremost, make sure your student sends an email thank you to both the college rep who presented the information session and the student tour guide. If you do not have this information, call the admissions office and ask who spoke on the day/time that you were there and the name of the tour guide who followed.

*Students: In the email to the college rep, ask for the name/contact info for a current student majoring in your intended major. Even if you are clueless what you want to study in college, ask to contact someone in a subject area that interests you. Simply asking for some student contacts shows that you are genuinely interested in this college and want to learn more about the nitty gritty of being a student there.

Request a meeting with your teen’s college counselor to review the trip. He or she can help guide the conversation to important points and provide some expertise about the colleges visited. Having an independent third party asking questions can be very helpful.

The college journey is evolutionary, not linear. Priorities change and different realities set in with each visit. What was once on the top of the school list can fall to the bottom of the list, and new options come onto the horizon. But at every step of the way, make sure to allow your teen to take the lead, it is his/her ride!

 

Why College Fairs Are Important

Juniors returning from campus trips want to keep the momentum going and continue visiting colleges closer to home on weekends. For those who cannot make any further excursions, college fairs can be the next best option.  Many high schools have college fairs in April; the NACAC National Fair is in NYC on Sunday, April 22. Here's how to make the most of them.

Let your son/daughter take the lead - College fairs are meant to be an opportunity for students to confer with admissions reps. Parents, no matter how well-meaning, interfere with that valuable time and may be viewed by the reps as “helicopter parents.” If you have a question or two that you want your student to ask, write it down, and ask him/her to jot down the response.

Head straight to your first choice(s) - Every college fair provides a map of the colleges represented. Because the lines grow quickly, begin with those where you may wait a few minutes to introduce yourself. The less popular schools tend to have shorter lines anyway so you can save those for later.

Be open-minded, explore options.  It’s only natural to stop at the colleges you’ve heard of, and those already on your list. Yet, college fairs are precisely the place to expand your thinking and to explore alternatives to the few colleges you might already be considering. Widen your net and take a chance on a college rep whose table is quiet. He or she may truly surprise you!

Don’t be shy.  While it can be difficult to simply walk up to someone and start asking questions, the reps do want to meet you. It helps to have some prepared questions, but do not ask questions whose answers you can easily find on the college website. In other words, don’t ask how many majors a school offers or if it has club lacrosse. Do ask questions that may be more nuanced – “can you explain how I can get involved in research as a freshman?” or “tell me the most unique feature about X College” or “how would you describe the quintessential X University student?”

Write it down. Keep a college notebook with the details that you’ve gleaned and the name of the person you met. Don’t be embarrassed to request a business card (sometimes they’re right on the table) and make sure to send an email thank you to the rep with whom you spoke. When application time comes in the fall, you may interject those details in the supplemental questions on your application. And if you plan to visit a particular college after the fair, email your contact person and let him/her know when you will be on campus.

Always fill out the ‘contact card’ - Most college reps give you a card to fill out. These are an expression of your “demonstrated interest” so always hand them back. Many schools monitor how many contacts you’ve made with their college so every connection counts.

 

Making the Most of Campus Tours

In my October 16th blogpost, I explained the importance of the college campus visit and how it impacts “demonstrated interest.”  How can your son or daughter make the most of these trips?  The answer, simply put, is pay attention to everything you see and hear; ask smart questions; take notes; and maintain connections.  Here’s how.

Visit colleges on your preliminary list – this may seem obvious, but many families do not yet have a college list in place and make a trip to a college nearby just to begin the process.  If your son/daughter has not yet met with the high school’s college counselor, make an appointment to speak with a guidance counselor to get some idea of which colleges make sense based on your student’s grades, and PSAT scores (if available).  For students who do have a preliminary list, try to visit one “reach” school, and one “target” school to start.  Leave the “safety” schools for later in the process.  If you have time to visit several colleges, aim to see more “targets” than “reaches.”

Keep the number of trips reasonable – The campus visit is not a quick tour, especially these days when so much emphasis is placed on students finding the “best fit.”  Prospective students need time to soak up the atmosphere on a given campus, to really look at the college students and to sense if this campus “feels right.”  If your son/daughter feels enthusiastic being on this campus and can easily envision sitting in classes, and hanging out with, these college students, then he/she is closer to making a solid match.

Three Colleges A Week

Ideally, students should spend several hours at any one college so planning out the trips in a manageable way is important.  If a college is in a city, or even a small town, spend time exploring the downtown area also.  For these reasons, I recommend touring no more than three colleges in a week.

Pay close attention – to everything you see and hear and take notes. (Key Pointer: parents, this will inevitably become your job so make sure to write down your son/daughter’s thoughts and reactions.) During the information session, an admissions representative will recite a script about everything the college offers academically, socially, etc. Listen for what appeals to your son/daughter (and you!), and what does not. Most importantly, listen for features you have not heard from admissions representatives at other colleges as these are the aspects that make this school different.

Ask the Tour Guide

On the campus tour, a student guide will recite a script also, but here is the opportunity to go beyond the script.  Try to get an honest answer to: what is the one thing about “X” College that has disappointed you?  What is the number of students in your largest class and how many of these sized classes have you taken?  What are the most popular clubs and organizations?  What are the traditions that make this college unique?