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December 1st Stress Antidote

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Years ago, I heard The comedian Gilbert Gottfried say, “A good bit always works”. In that spirit, the piece below is a repeat from December 1, 2018. Things are about to pick up speed in the cycle of college admissions and many families have shared that this piece helped them. If you have a senior in your life, I hope it helps you too!

December 1st is an important day in college admissions because, in exactly five months, every senior must place a deposit at the school that they will attend in the fall. The National Deposit Deadline is May 1st, so seniors are starting to make a turn toward the home stretch.

One of the best people writing regularly about college admissions is the Director of Admissions at Georgia Tech, Rick Clark. It doesn’t matter if you are considering applying to Georgia Tech or not. His blog can help any family that is on the college admissions journey. His latest piece, Preparation Day, speaks to the December 1st phenomena. It’s a real thing!

We are entering a new stage as the early decision schools start to send their acceptances, denials, and deferrals in December. There is an accelerated level of anxiety in many schools as these decisions are released. I wrote the piece below for the very first group of seniors that I worked with, and it still rings true. I hope it is helpful as we begin the final leg of the college admissions process. Enjoy!

As early application results come in, I have noticed a heightened state among college-bound seniors as they wait for results from the schools where they applied. I searched my archives of articles to find something that might help students take stock and maintain perspective, but none of the articles said what I wanted to say, so here are my two cents. Keep your eye on your own ball. Do not pay attention to the admissions chatter. Think about what you are looking for in a college and what you want your life to look like after the 45 months that you will spend at college. Consider your strengths and weaknesses as a student as well as how you learn best. Continue to explore areas of study and career paths that interest you. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish in college like studying abroad or completing an internship. Explore the websites of ALL the colleges where you are applying and see if anything jumps out at you. College admission is just the beginning. The kids that “win” at the college game (if there even is such a thing) are the students that arrive on campus with a sense of purpose, use their four years well and graduate on time. In precisely five months you will be submitting a deposit to the lucky school that gets to have you for the next four years. Use this time to ponder what you want in a college so that when your choices are on the table, you have a deeper sense of what you want in a school.

6 Ways to Show Demonstrated Interest

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Several recent meetings with parents have brought up the concept of demonstrated interest. What is it and does it matter? Demonstrated interest is a factor that some colleges consider when they are evaluating a student’s file. Colleges want to determine if the applicant is likely to come. Most schools are fighting to protect their yield (% of admitted students that enroll), so when they are deciding whether to admit a student, they factor in the likelihood of a student accepting a spot. They look to see if a student has been on campus or if it is a “cold” application. Here are six ways to demonstrate interest:

1. Visit a college and register for their information session and campus tour. If you are visiting colleges and miss a tour due to traffic, detours or any other type of unforeseen circumstance, it is still worth your time to stop in at the admissions office, share your information and request brochures and a campus map. 

2. Check the school’s website to see if they plan to visit your area. Admissions officers plan visits to metropolitan areas and book a hotel conference room to present information about their school and meet students that are interested. A tip here, check the school’s website at the end of the summer to see if a college is coming to your area, so you get it on your calendar and you don’t lose a valuable opportunity to meet with admissions officers.

3. Communicate with the guidance department at your school to see if a representative from a college where you are applying will be visiting your school. This is an excellent way to demonstrate interest and the person that you meet will likely do the first read of your application. 

4. Reach out to your regional admissions officer to express your interest in the school and ask any specific questions that you may have. 

5. Check local college’s websites to see if they are hosting a college fair. This is another way to make contact with locally with admissions officers from distant colleges. You can fill out a card with your information and keep in touch with the representative that you meet. 

6. Open emails that colleges send you. Some schools track whether or not you have interacted with their correspondence.

Good luck!

An Exciting Milestone!

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It is an exciting waypoint in the admissions cycle for me when I sit down to make my application grid. Every year, I create a table for each student, of where they are applying, what plan they are applying under and the tentative notification date that the college will inform applicants of their decision. When I do this, I have been working on applications and essays for four to five months and it is satisfying to turn the page and look ahead. Most of my seniors have completed and submitted their applications, or are about to do so. Sitting down to create this document feels like a major milestone as we turn the corner and start looking for responses from colleges. 

~Good luck to the class of 2020!

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!