Which Numbers Matter Most?

For high school students, spring is a time filled with testing: SAT/ ACT and subject tests, AP exams, and end of year assessments, to name just a few.

Those going to college are all too aware of these scores – along with their respective GPAs – and how these match up with their peers. Unfortunately, not all students end up feeling good about these numbers.

The good news, though, is that these numbers are not as important as we once thought (especially those related to IQ). Yes, it is helpful to know which areas may be challenging so proper support can be provided, but there is no need to dwell on this.

Research has shown that social/emotional skills and character traits that can be taught are incredibly important for success in life.

I have seen it over and over – some students do much better in school than they “should,” based on what their testing indicates. Many go on to shine even more when they can put school behind them and gravitate toward their strengths.

It is their passion, perseverance, interpersonal skills and integrity that often makes the difference. These skills can be taught and continue to develop as students mature. Thankfully, colleges have started paying more attention to evidence of these “soft skills” in their applicants.

I have mentioned before a book that speaks to this researchGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth.

Recently, I listened to a Podcast with more stories on this topic. Very hopeful!
What’s Not on the Test” on the Hidden Brain podcast series by NPR. (May 13, 2019 edition)

Many students that have struggled throughout their school years have had to work harder and have learned to bounce back from multiple disappointments. As hard as that is, it is what will make college and working life easier to navigate, compared to those who have not experienced failure along the way.

So, while the testing numbers mentioned earlier do have some value, here are additional “stats” worth paying attention to:

  • How often has a student bounced back from a setback?
  • How often has a student been a loyal friend?
  • How often has a student pushed him/herself to stick with a difficult topic?
  • How often has a student realized he/she needed help and been willing to ask for support?
  • How often has a student found an area of interest and pursued it, even if it is not a traditional, “put-it-on-a-resume” activity?

In this season of test scores, let’s all keep the numbers in perspective and keep plowing ahead with helping to develop successful and happy people!

Springtime Conflicts

Spring in New England is eagerly awaited but can also be stressful, especially for seniors. Grades are important for prospective colleges, as are the SATs or ACT exams that students are preparing to take. Not to mention trying to keep up with a sport, a job or activities outside of classes.

It may be tempting to let things slip as you get into these last couple of months. But believe me, it will be worth it to hang in there until your finals are over – strong grades this year will give you more choices when you apply to colleges in the fall.

There are only so many hours in the day and you should not cut back on your sleep. Studies show that teens still need 8 hours of sleep each night and that your performance suffers with less. Sometimes the results are better by getting one more hour of sleep than one more hour cramming for a test.

There may be some other areas where you can cut back for a couple of months until school is out, so that you can fit everything in and still have some time to unwind each week. Work on cutting out distractions (phones, internet, TV) so you can get your school work done in less time and then have some time for you!

We all have times of day when we are most efficient as well as routines that work best for us, so we get our work done in a timely manner.  This spring is a time to really zero in on being efficient, so you get the results you want without sacrificing your health or all your social time. Ask for help in setting up good routines and study habits if this is an area where you struggle. Of course, progress in this area will benefit you next year and in college as well.

Remember that you will want to ask two teachers to write your college recommendation letters this spring. They may write them over the summer, so in most cases, it is a good idea to ask in late April or early May to make sure the teacher you want does not fill up. Continue to participate in class, stay after school for extra help as needed and plan to give your teacher background information if they agree to write your letter. They do this on their own time so be very polite and thankful when asking!

In most schools, your guidance counselor will also write a letter, so make sure you keep in contact and plan out your senior classes together. It’s hard for them to write a strong letter if they don’t know you!

Try to keep family college conversations to a meeting time and just enjoy your meal times together without any talk of college preparation. Good to have everyone take some deep breaths and remind each other that this will all work out!

Stand Up and Stand Out From The Crowd!

Some students worry that their academic qualifications do not stack up well when compared to those of their peers. Fortunately, summer can be a time to help level the playing field – as they prepare for college applications and their lives as young adults. 

Grades, test scores and whether or not your family has the resources to send your child on an amazing volunteer trip need not come into play here. Everyone can find something to do in the summer that will be worth talking about in a college interview and that may make them stand out in a crowded field of applicants.

More important, it will genuinely move your child along on his/her path to maturity and increased self-awareness. It may even help with the discovery of a passion or a career direction.

Summer activities can help your teenager learn about his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. It can help increase independence, provide a sense of responsibility, develop an ability to interact with and accept feedback from people they do not know well, and even realize the consequences of not following through with commitments.

A job, internship or volunteer experience is a great way to accomplish many of these goals. As can something as informal as learning how to code online, setting up a regular time to visit/help an elderly neighbor, starting a lawn or pet-sitting business, and more.

I’ve been talking with my students about planning for the summer. But I know there are still many teens who do not yet have a plan. It is not too late, but finding a worthwhile summer activity does take work and persistence. Also, I find that this is an area in which your child may need some encouragement and help (from you) in brainstorming options, thinking outside the box and finding an opportunity that feels worthwhile.

Here are some questions to help get your child started:

  • How much available time is there to add something new (considering current responsibilities)?
  • Does your child need to make money? Is there money to spend on an activity or experience?
  • Is there a career interest that could be explored? Either through a formal career exploration program or by setting up shadowing opportunities with acquaintances to learn about various careers.
  • Is there a class or a weekly tutoring session that will make a difference for school in the fall? This may be the time to learn some more effective study skills, communication skills or work on strategies for writing.
  • Is there an interest that has not been fully explored? Maybe there is a class that is nonacademic – cooking, photography, painting, modern dance, etc. Or maybe there is a neighbor who is skilled in an area of interest and who could use a volunteer and teach some skills at the same time.

Ideally, your child will uncover something that he or she is passionate about and excited to pursue, either as a possible career focus or leisure activity. Having an area of intense interest can help a teen blossom and weather many of the less than positive experiences that they need to get through on their way through high school (learning what they do not like can be important too).

Whatever your child decides to focus on this summer, and however it turns out, they will have something of substance to talk about when the college interviewer asks that inevitable question: “How did you spend your summer?!”