Greetings from the Heart of Application Season!

I have been knee deep in essays and applications. I have a goal to write at least one blog post a month and I knew the clock was ticking to get a post in before the end of September but I was lacking direction (and time!).

I was at a function this week with parents of eleventh and twelfth graders and the chatter about college applications wove its way through many conversations. I drove home with a friend who has a senior and she commented on the stress that many parents expressed. I told her that people should not be stressed about admissions, they should be more stressed about their students graduating. I cited a piece that I wrote on my blog from another admissions season, What You Should Really Be Anxious About. And voilá, I had the inspiration for my September piece. If you have a senior, I hope this excerpt reduces your stress levels and facilitates some important conversations. Enjoy!

Admission is only the first step in a long journey. While students wait, they should think about how they are going to maximize their experience over the next four years. Did you know that the high school class of 2010 had a 60% graduation rate over a six-year period? Think about that for a minute. Only six out of ten students had graduated in SIX YEARS! Meanwhile, The Colleges That Change Lives have an average acceptance rate of 66% and more than half of the colleges in this country accept more than half of the students that apply.

So why are people worried about admissions when they should really be concerned about making progress towards graduation? High school students that complete a thoughtful college search and create a realistic list should not be stressed about admissions. The numbers say that a student is likely to be admitted to a college but they are much less likely to complete their degree in a timely fashion, if at all and THAT is where the real anxiety should be focused; what happens when they get to college and how do they graduate on time.

(Picture is from the dorm room of my favorite college sophomore. I REALLY have no time right now.)

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August Consulting!

IMG_2010I make it a point to write at least one new post each month and maintaining this goal during application season is a challenge. I find myself working around the clock this time of year. I named my consulting practice August Consulting for a reason! Reading essay drafts, consulting with the professional editor that I use to review my students’ work, visiting college websites to confirm deadlines, sculpting lists and communicating with families has me working at quite a pace. If you are a rising senior or the parent of a rising senior, my takeaway is this; make it a goal to get your applications completed before school starts. Last summer I wrote about A Path to Peace, Part 2 and it still holds true this year.

The concept is simple, but not easy. There are many false summits in this process. As my seniors finished their Common App essays in late July, there was cause for celebration. They felt like they had completed a critical piece of the application and they felt great. But that was just one weigh point on the road to college. On August 1st we jumped right into the Common App, finalizing lists and determining whether schools are Common App, Coalition App, or use a proprietary application platform. We needed to start writing supplemental essays and for some kids, that means LOTS of writing.

I literally call myself the College Stalker in August. I call, email and text, pushing each kid to keep working. I promise them that this will have an endpoint.  I tell them that they might dread seeing my phone number calling again, but they will love me in September. And as they start to cross the finish line, I see the smiles that light up their face. I tell them they are allowed to have a silent swagger of a senior that is done with their applications. And I ask them to be silent because if they talk about it, they might stress out their peers who are still working.

So this post is short and sweet because I have work to do!

7 Reasons​ Why I Love State Flagships

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I love state flagships. They tend to have similar attributes that lend themselves to an incredible college experience. Here are a few reasons why I recommend looking at them!

  1. Campus-These schools often are set on stunning campuses. Think of the University of Colorado, the University of Virginia or the University of Delaware as examples. They have picturesque campuses with a collegiate feel.

  2. Location-These universities tend to be in a large town or small city that provides a dynamic backdrop for the school. Think of Ann Arbor, MI, Burlington, VT or Athens, GA. These towns are adjacent to the campus and offer an array of options for a college student, from medical care to cultural events and shopping.

  3. Majors-State flagships offer such a broad array of educational options that you can feel confident that if you enter with one major in mind and decide to change direction, there is a good chance that your school will provide options for your new path.

  4. Admissions Threshold-One of the neat things about state flagships is that they provide first-rate educations in a dynamic environment with a manageable admissions threshold. Many of them are selective, but not impossible to gain acceptance. (One caveat here, of the 50 states, there are a few schools that are as selective as any in the country, Michigan, Texas, California, and Virginia are  examples that are uber-selective)

  5. Cost- The starting point for room/board/tuition at these schools is usually much less than a private school and many of them offer merit scholarships to out-of-state students. There are plenty of schools that offer tuition rates for out-of-state students that are substantially lower than private schools and with merit scholarships, might come close to the cost of your in-state flagship. Some of them, like the University of Utah or the University of Montana, make it possible to establish residency for in-state tuition.

  6. Sports-State flagships often field sports teams that compete nationally and help create an esprit-de-corps on campus that facilitates a deep sense of community. Think about the University of Wisconson, Penn State or the University of Alabama.

  7. Diversity-These schools create a level of diversity, ethnic, religious, racial and socioeconomic that is hard for a private school to replicate. At a state flagship, you will have exposure to people from all walks of life.

Richard Moll wrote a book in 1985 called Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s best public undergraduate colleges and universities, where he created a list of public colleges that offered an Ivy League-caliber education. The link below discusses the top “Public Ivies”. Enjoy!

http://brandcollegeconsulting.com/what-are-the-public-ivies/

Ready! Set! Write!

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My school year ended 48 hours ago and my consulting cycle immediately began to ramp up. I reached out to my rising seniors and told them that the future is now. All our work in the past year has been in preparation for what we are about to begin. When I told them that they are within 10 months of knowing where they are going to college, I could hear their eyes widen over the phone. I pointed out that in 6 months they will start receiving decisions from ED/EA schools (read here if you want a primer for what these mean.) So, now we begin the task of creating their application. And in my little world, that starts with writing. The most time-consuming, daunting, easy-to-procrastinate piece of the Common Application is the essay. So the first thing I direct my cohort to do is start writing. Once our writing is underway and the essay is taking shape, we turn to the other pieces of the Common App.

If you (or your senior) is struggling to get started, here are a few things I love about the essay that will hopefully encourage you (or them) to get started:

650 Words– I love that the 650 word limit creates an equalizer. Everyone has a 650 word maximum. There is no sub-group that gets extra words; nor is there a group that has to write with a shorter word count. Each applicant gets the same amount of words to tell their story. Period.

Wide Open Topics-I wish I could take credit for this, but I heard this from another consultant and I adopted the idea for my own practice; you can write about anything. Just start writing and then decide what prompt you are answering. Seriously, the seven prompts from the Common App (here) are so broad that you can start writing without deciding which prompt you are addressing.

Relax!-Don’t think of this as an essay. When one thinks of an essay, there is a formality that comes to mind that might intimidate an adolescent. Think of this as a writing piece. College admissions people do not expect you to have cured cancer, solved world conflicts or reinvented the wheel. They realize that while you are well on your way to becoming an adult, you are still a teenager.

Ready! Set! Write!

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons Why 10th Graders Should Visit Colleges

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Parents often ask me when they should start visiting colleges with their children and my answer is as soon as you can. This is especially true if you are traveling in another part of the country and have some time to go explore a campus. A couple of years ago a client of mine was on a vacation and weather rerouted them to Detroit for an extended layover. This savvy mom took her kids to see the University of Michigan and fast-forward 4 years, one of her kids is finishing her sophomore year in Ann Arbor! Here are my reasons for getting your sophomore on a college campus:

1. They Will Get Excited-When a high school student steps on a college campus, they get to peak over the horizon and see what is coming down the road. They will see the dining hall with all-you-can-eat ice cream, incredible gyms, the freedom to select courses that correspond with their interests and hopefully a sense of the freedom and fun that comes with college. They will also have a luxurious amount of time to think about colleges without having to make any decisions.

2. They Will Get Motivated-They say seeing is believing. School counselors, teachers and parents can talk until they are blue in the face about academic achievement but sometimes it sounds like the parents talking in the Peanuts movies. If your child steps foot on a campus that gets them a little bit excited (see #1) all of a sudden they have a tangible reason to focus on their academics. An excited student becomes a motivated student and they will understand why they need to work hard.

3. Athletics and Other Commitments-Obligations with athletics, clubs, youth groups, scouts, volunteer work, paid work, theater and music commitments is just a starting list of the many types of activities that the average college-bound kid has. When you look at the calendar and account for your child’s other commitments, you will see that trying to schedule a college visit can be complicated.

4. The List Needs to be Established Before Senior Year-When a kid starts high school, a parent might think they have four years to figure out the college question, but they really do not. If a student wants to return senior year with their applications complete, they must know where they are applying. In order to know where they want to apply, they need to have seen some campuses. Families can use senior year to continue to visit schools and many of my clients opt to add or delete schools from their list during senior year, but if you want a strong working list of schools, you ought to visit colleges well before 12th grade.

5. College Semesters Are Short-Once you have gone over your student’s schedule of obligations (see #3) and overlay your calendar on top of the college calendar, you might be in for a shock. Colleges tend to be in session from late August until early December and mid-January to early May. That is it. If you want your son or daughter to see a school when it is in session, you have a limited number of weeks. And to quote Gwyeth Smith, the school counselor profiled in Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges-and Find Themselves, “seeing a college campus that is not in session is like trying to buy a house that you have driven by but not gone inside”.

I always tell my students that nothing is stressful when you have enough time. The stress starts to build when deadlines loom and time runs short. Carolyn Pippen was an admissions counselor at Vanderbilt. She wrote an excellent piece in 2014, “Lessons From a Departing Admissions Counselor“. The takeaway is this quote, “The calmest and most organized students fare the best in this process.” One way to stay calm and organized is to see some colleges in 10th grade!

 

The Perfect List of Schools to Visit

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I received a call in early May from a parent of a rising senior. They wanted to visit colleges but they did not know where to go or how to begin. They felt they needed to see schools all over the East Coast but they did not have a sense of which colleges should be on their list. This made me think of a conversation that I had with a friend over the winter. This family was planning to visit relatives in New Hampshire and they had me take a look at the list of the schools they were going to see while they were traveling. And this list was perfect! They came up with it on their own but it is exactly what I would have given them. If you are beginning the college search and do not know where to start, you can take a page from their book.

When a family is just starting out, I suggest that they go see a cluster of schools that will allow their student to explore different types of campuses. Teenagers don’t always know what they want but they are quick to identify what they dislike. Most students can tell right away if they like a small campus, an urban school or a large state flagship. If you visit schools that are small, medium, large, rural, suburban and urban, I bet your teenager will be able to narrow the focus. And once their focus has narrowed, you can explore other schools that meet your child’s criteria. I will show you the list of the family I mentioned above and why this list works.

  1. Dartmouth College-Dartmouth is a highly selective medium-sized school in a rural setting.

  2. The University of New Hampshire-UNH is a large state flagship in a suburban setting.

  3. Colby Sawyer College-This is a small, liberal arts college in a rural setting.

  4. Plymouth State University-This is a medium-sized public school in a suburban setting.

This student will see a great range of schools with varying degrees of selectivity. The only thing that this group of schools does not include is an urban school. If you want help coming up with a cluster of schools that you could go see in a day or two, please reach out.  I would be happy to help!

 

Decisions, Decisions…

Today is April 20th and the clock is ticking toward the May 1 deposit deadline. If you have a senior, you must submit a deposit to one school, and only one, by May 1st. I have been fielding phone calls from families that are crisscrossing the country to attend open houses for admitted students and trying to come up with an answer as to where they will be heading in August. They are running out of time to make a final decision and it is stressful. Some of these kids are looking at apples to apples colleges. Others are trying to decide between state flagships and small, liberal arts colleges. If you are a parent of a child that is trying to make this decision in the next 10 days, I have a few suggestions:

1) $$$-Take paper to pencil and write down room/board/tuition for each school and add up the cost of attendance. Do not include books or personal expenses. Once you have that princely sum, subtract any scholarships or grants. Do not include loans in this number. If travel to and from this school requires airfare, add what you think the travel costs will be for freshman year. The next step is to take this number and multiply by 4. Do this for each school and if you anticipate tuition going up, please factor that into your four-year costs. Do this for each college that your child is considering attending. When your family sees the four-year expenses at each institution, it will provide some important data that could impact the decision.

2) Distance-Revisit the idea of distance. It is easy for a 10th or 11th grader to believe that they want to go to college on the other side of the country. It is an entirely different thing to actually do that. They will be making this move in about four months. As this becomes reality, they might have a change of heart. Evaluate this aspect and make sure that your child is comfortable with going away.

3) Major-If your child thinks they know what they want to study, take a deep look at the program that each school offers. This may impact the final decision.

4) Mum is the word-When your child returns from a visit, or you are traveling home from an accepted students day together, say nothing. I have no doubt that you will have opinions, possibly strong opinions, you might even feel panicked at the prospect of your child at this school. But I beg you to say nothing and be aware of your body language too; just remain neutral. If your student wants to talk, you should listen, otherwise, say nothing. Allow 24-48 hours for the dust to settle and then talk about it.

5) Boundaries-If your child is still deciding where to attend college in late April, it might be all you think about. You might be mulling the choices over in your head 24/7 and have pros and cons lists lying all over your house. Do not bombard them with your thoughts, which are going around your head like a ticker tape. I suggest that you do not talk about this except at designated times. Use this time to take your senior out to dinner and limit your conversations about college to those specific times.

One last word on this phase of the college admissions process; at some point in their college career, your child is likely to have a rough patch. They are going to have a moment when they look in the mirror and think that College A was not the correct choice and that they should have attended College B. It is imperative that your child own this decision and that is why you need to stay neutral and let them evaluate their choices after a visit, without your input. If you feel like your child is really going down the wrong road, after you have given them time and space to evaluate their options, then you can speak up and offer them guidance. Good luck!