Author Archives: augustconsult

Scandal, Part 4

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There is news on the Varsity Blues front. Felicity Huffman’s case is making its way through the courts and she is due to be sentenced on September 13th. The prosecutor has recommended that she serve one month in jail as well as pay a fine. Her counsel is asking for community service and a fine. She has submitted all sorts of documentation to advocate for leniency. But the quotes from her and her husband made my jaw drop. William H. Macy wrote:

“Motherhood has, from the very beginning, frightened Felicity and she has not carried being a mom easily. She’s struggled to find the balance between what the experts say and her common sense.”

Felicity Huffman wrote:

“I find motherhood to be bewildering. From the moment my children were born, I worried that they got me as a mother. I so desperately wanted to do it right and was so deathly afraid of doing it wrong.”

I am not even sure where to begin here. Maybe they should get points for their honesty but from where I sit, to use this as an excuse for their transgressions is tone-deaf.

The reason that college admission is so chaotic is because, at the end of the day, we all want our children to be “okay”. What does this mean? I think if we knew that our kids would be able to sustain employment, raise their families, own a home, educate their own children and occasionally take a vacation, they would breathe a sigh of relief. But we all know that is an increasingly elusive goal. A recent article about college admissions in the Washington Post said that these days, a college education doesn’t get you ahead, you need it to not go backwards. So parents scramble, trying to decipher a code to shepherd their offspring toward some sort of future that will provide a decent quality of life. But, the truth is that in these changing times, that is increasingly elusive. So, parents latch on to the idea that acceptance at an elite college is a guarantee of some sort of future for their children. And this means AP or Honors courses and test prep in high school, all the way back to being selected for the gifted and talented program in first grade. Parents on all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum are seeking to get an edge for their children that will allow them to thrive in life. You see it with middle-class families that spend money on enrichment experiences for their children, with music lessons, private training sessions for athletics or tutoring. But you also see it among impoverished parents too. Google “mother goes to jail for enrolling child in school” and you will see cases where parents used addresses where they did not actually live to have their children attend better schools and they were sentenced to prison.

I sit with families and try to help them as best I can through this process. They are worried about how to guide their children. They are stressed about standardized testing and course selection, how their kids should spend their summers, what school offers the best opportunity and can their sons or daughters gain acceptance? And once they have sorted that out, they have to negotiate the minefield of college cost; FAFSA and CSS/Profile, merit-based scholarships and loans, both student and parent. It is a labyrinth and it is overwhelming. So I appreciate the Huffman/Macy family’s honesty about being frightened but the truth is, they are not unique. I think that we are all, to quote Macy, “frightened” and we all “struggle” and it shocks me that they would put that forth as an excuse.

 

August Consulting!

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I feel compelled to write one more post before the month of August sails by. I chose the name August Consulting for several reasons but one of them is that the Common Application opens on August 1st every year and it is the month that most kids leave for college. I sent two of my biological children off to school today and I am working hard with my seniors to get the last bits of writing done. We are coming down the home stretch, with their applications nearly complete. Labor Day weekend means just that in the college admissions world: labor. We are working hard! If you have a senior, here are a few things to think about.

  1. Review the courses that they put on their applications and make sure that they correspond with the courses that are on their schedule for senior year. Sometimes there is a change that needs to be updated.
  2. Take time to touch base with the teachers that are writing your letters of recommendation. Confirm with them that they are still available to write for you and if you have any early deadlines, politely let them know what those deadlines are.
  3. Take a look at the colleges that will be visiting your school. If you anticipate applying to any of them, make sure you take the time to meet the college representative. Introduce yourself and let them know that you are applying. This is an excellent way to demonstrate interest and the person that you meet will likely do the first read of your application.
  4. Turn in your transcript requests to your guidance office in a timely manner and be polite when you do it. Processing transcripts is a thankless task.
  5. Walk in the doors of your school as a senior, ready to get the best grades of your high school career. Senior year grades count!

The Empty Nest

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The bulk of my posts are of a professional nature which is ironic because the writing that I help my applicants do is of a deeply personal type. The best essays tell an intimate story about a person, so students need to be able to comfortably share private parts of themselves that they might not readily share in their day to day life. I was on a road trip this past week doing tons of driving to get one of my biological children delivered to their next activity and I had time to think behind the wheel as I drove about 1,000 miles in 72 hours, more than half of it alone. The idea for this post came from that drive and initially I rebuffed the idea of writing such a personal post in a professional space, but I reflected on the coaxing that I do with my clients to dig hard into their personal stories and let them out and I thought that it would be a good exercise for me to do the same thing. My work with my students calls on all my experiences, as a mother, teacher, and human on this journey we call life. When I “consult” I am drawing on my professional background, but all of the aforementioned aspects of my experience come into play as I help students tell their unique story. And the story of my road to an empty nest is unique, so here goes…

Two years ago, in the summer of 2017, my three children had completed 12th, 9th and 7th grade. I was crossing the threshold of “Sending My First Born To College” and all of the accouterments that go along with that milestone. But at the time, the Empty Nest seemed a long way off. I still had two kids at home for the next three years and I really didn’t give it a thought. My oldest settled into college without any issues and we adjusted to being parents of two kids at home and one away. The following summer, my second child opted to enter an early college program after 10th grade, a year earlier than normal. And just like that, we were home with one child. Fast forward to the summer of 2019, and child number three has decided to continue her high school experience at a residential boarding school. So out of the blue, two years after sending my oldest off, thinking that I had years of parenting kids at home ahead of me, my husband and I are looking at an Empty Nest this September. 

Each of my children is at a unique school that really suits them, so up until now, I have been upbeat and excited for everyone. No one would ever accuse me of being a Tiger Mom or a Helicopter Parent (or a Snowplow, or a Lawnmower. When the Academic Dean at my youngest’s school called me to talk about her schedule, I had to apologize. I did not know what she was taking). I raised them to be independent and the end goal was for them to be able to leave home and thrive, so by all accounts, I have done what I set out to do. So I was caught unaware when I found myself outside of a Five Guys Burgers & Fries in Albany and my heart landed in my throat at the thought of the Empty Nest. 

My family of origin spent our happiest times at the beach and when it came to raising my own family, that is where we settled. Our house is walking distance to the ocean and on a quiet night, you can hear the waves crashing in the distance and smell the salty air. Along the way, we acquired a house in the mountains and traveled most winter weekends and vacations to spend time there. Our kids were 2, 4 and 6 when we finished construction and our Fridays from Thanksgiving to early April required a military level of precision and organization to Get-on-the-road-ahead-of-the-traffic. We had an array of school pick up routines, pleading with our young children to make sure they visited the restroom before they came out and to come out as soon as possible! If we got stuck behind the school bus on Navesink River Road, that could cost us minutes that might cost us more time on the Parkway and even more time if we didn’t beat the Albany rush hour on the Northway. So, every minute counted and our Friday departure always had an urgency that dissipated as we rolled north. 

In order to accommodate the 3 pm departure, my husband had to be able to take work calls until 5. If his phone rang, I immediately snapped to attention and sternly commanded everyone to maintain complete silence. As my husband took the call I would face backward, imploring my tiny children to not make a peep. Not one sound! Have you ever seen those submarine movies where they have to maintain silence? That is what it was like. When my husband concluded his call, I would exhale and give the all-clear signal and turn the video back on. Commuting 8+ hours a weekend brought the challenge of finding videos that three different ages could all enjoy. “My Little Pony” did not work for the oldest and “Transformers” did not work for the youngest. I hit the motherlode when I found season one of the Partridge Family for ten dollars. This provided forty hours of viewing and we got up to Season 5 before my kids outgrew it. As a family, we could burst into, “Travelin’ along is the song that we’re singin’…” on a moments notice. 

Along the way, we made it a habit to stop at the Five Guys Burgers & Fries in Clifton Park, NY. This was the perfect balance between grabbing fast food and eating in the car and stopping at a full-service restaurant. In the dark of winter, we would make a quick stop, stretch our legs, eat some hot food, talk about how our week was and what the ski conditions might be like and start to relax into the weekend. Of all the different dinner configurations that we tried over the years, this one was the best solution. 

A few days ago I found myself with my youngest and her friend outside of “our” Five Guys in July. As we drove away, I told her friend, “That is where we always stop for dinner on Fridays in the winter”, and my heart landed in my throat. There would be no more family stops at Five Guys! This was the first time that I felt a sense of loss at the Empty Nest. I held back a tear as I drove on to the Northway with a lump in my throat. All of those crazy Friday departures, leaving the school, trying to jockey to not get stuck at the intersection with the slow crossing guard, running through yellow lights to get out to the highway, carefully checking google maps to avoid traffic jams. You would have thought we were trying to get ahead of a tsunami or an erupting volcano as you watched our SUV pull out of town on two wheels. 

And now my gang is spread out across the same latitude up in the North Country. Just like I went to the place where my family had their happiest times, my kids have all migrated up to where we spent our winters. I think the next month might be a roller coaster but I am optimistic for September and beyond. My husband and I have a laundry list of activities planned and including Parents Weekend at three different schools. And who knows, maybe the two of us will make a new Friday night winter dinner routine?

Why College Admissions is Like the Stock Market

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One of the statements that you always here from investment houses is, “Past returns are not guaranteed” and the same is true of statistics in college admissions. It is helpful to see the admit rates and test scores of the accepted class of a college. These tools are useful guides to determine if a school might have a place on your list. But the challenge is that these numbers can go up or down in any given year, much like the stock market.

There is a wonderful school with a national reputation in a beautiful city that high-achieving students used to be able to apply to Early Action and receive a letter of admission with a generous merit scholarship around Thanksgiving. This was an excellent way to go into the holiday season, with an acceptance in your pocket. Two years ago this school pivoted and stopped doing that. High achieving students were deferred into the regular decision pool around Christmas. Last year a selective state flagship that used to let in many high achieving students Early Action went in an entirely different direction. They put the majority of the early applicants into the regular round and accepted a much lower percentage of students. Every year in professional groups, as colleges release decisions, there is chatter about a school that used to be reliable to admit a certain type of kid making a change that leaves counselors and consultants scratching their heads.

And for the class of 2020, George Washington University has announced that they are going “right-size” their undergraduate population and reduce the size by 20% over the next five years. So if GWU is on your list, wherever you classified it, high probability, 50-50 or, reach, you probably need to go back and revisit the data with this new information. The good news about GWU is that they have announced this early enough that applicants will be able to plan accordingly. The article about this change is here.

In the end, all we can do is use the data from prior years as a general guide. One never knows how a school’s institutional goals might change from year to year, or how the applicant pool might shift the numbers. Kudos to GWU for announcing their plans so early in the application cycle!

The ​University of New Hampshire Goes Test-Optional!

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I am so excited that one of my favorite schools, The University of New Hampshire, is going to allow the class of 2020 to apply test-optional. The University of New Hampshire (UNH) is a state flagship located in Durham, NH. It is one of the only land grant, sea grant, and space grant schools in the country. They have about 12,000 undergraduates but the campus has a cozy feel with a deep sense of community that comes out to support the hockey and football teams. They offer an array of programs that are so numerous, that I have linked them here.  If you go and visit, make sure you check out the Dairy Bar, where they serve the most delicious ice cream, made with ingredients from cows that are part of the Fairfield Dairy Center, right on campus.

Kudos to UNH for offering test-optional admissions!

 

Write Here! Write Now! (Part 2)

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My current cohort of applicants is putting the final touches on their Common App essays as I write this. There are days when I feel more like a stalker than a consultant. As I was wrapping up things with my graduating seniors this past month, many of them thanked me profusely and told me that they could not have done this without me. Meanwhile, my rising seniors do not express the same sentiment. We are in constant contact, sometimes daily, to develop and create a good piece of writing. My current kids may cringe when they see my text/email/phone call right now, but when they are done, I bet they will be happy. I am pushing them to get their Common App completed in a way that will allow them to shine and that includes a meaningful, well-written essay. Here are a few more things to think about in terms of writing and college applications:

1) Start With a Journal Entry-When a student has a topic that they would like to explore, I suggest that they write a journal entry to get started. This takes the pressure off. They do not feel like they are sitting down to write The College Essay. They can relax and just get their thoughts on paper. And I beg them to ignore the word count. Most kids’ better ideas and thoughts come out in the second half of the entry and if they stop at the word count, we never get to see the writing that jumps off the page. I feel like the first paragraph or two is like an orchestra warming up, with unorganized, discordant tones. The gems start to appear in the second half, so I always encourage them to keep going.

2) This Piece is Short!-One of my most favorite clients ever is going to be a junior at the University of Vermont and this has availed me of the opportunity to fly from Newark to Burlington. Have you ever flown this route? This is a short hop; the minute you reach cruising altitude, they announce that you need to prepare for landing. And the Common App essay is the same way. Sometimes kids have this beefy topic that they want to address and I tell them that they just don’t have room.

3) Get a Good Editor-The secret sauce in my operation is my editor. She holds a Masters Degree, she is a National Board Certified Teacher, she teaches English at a secondary school loaded with uber-achieving students, she works in the college admissions world and she is a contributor to the New York Times Learning Network. She has a deep sense of what the college essay needs to do and how to make that happen. Sometimes I send her a polished essay for a final edit. Other times I send her something in early draft mode to see if she thinks we are on the right track. Either way, she is an invaluable set of eyes. And here is the great news, she is available to help you! If you do not need my services, but think that your student might benefit from hers, get in touch with me and I will share her contact information with you.

So if you have a rising senior, the best thing that they can do it write here, write now!

Write Here, Write Now! (Part 1)

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I am slipping this post under the wire. My goal is to write a minimum of once a month and June ran away from me, in part because I have been working hard with my rising seniors on their applications.

The essay is a critical part of any application and also one of the most intimidating steps to take. So if you are applying to colleges, how do you start to break the process down into manageable pieces? Here are three things to do that will help you get started:

  1. Read Other Essays, Part A-One of the exercises I do is to have students read an essay and I time them while they read it. It typically takes around two minutes and thirty seconds or so. And when my client has finished and I announce the time, I tell them that they have about two minutes to tell the admissions committee something about themselves so what do they think they should write about? Teenagers are always surprised at the brief amount of time it takes to read the essay. The truth is that 650 words are just not that long.

2. Read Other Essays, Part B-Grab a book from your local library that contains multiple college essays. I give all my full package clients 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays so that they have something to work with. Sit for 20-40 minutes and read essay after essay, until you feel like you have a sense of pace, scope and an idea of what you would like to write about.

3. Start Writing!-I tell my students that once they have an idea, they should start writing. The truth is, that most kids have great instincts and they usually suggest a topic that works. The first step is to start a journal style piece about their story and what they want an admissions office to know in the two minutes or so (see #1) that they will read the essay. I remind them to pay no heed to the word limit at this point (I will explain why in Part 2).

Once a rising senior takes these steps, the essay is underway and they have punctured the balloon of procrastination/overwhelmed/scared or whatever they are feeling as they go through this process. Every kid feels relief and excitement that their essay has started to take shape. If you know a rising senior, I hope these steps help. Stay tuned for Part 2!