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?!”

Make Your Campus Visit Worthwhile

Winter and spring breaks are popular campus visit opportunities. For seniors, that means going back to “Accepted Student Days” or making a second visit on a typical school day. It’s important to sit in on a class or two, meet with faculty in a specific department, and consider spending the night on campus. It may take multiple visits to make this important decision.
Juniors, on the other hand, will likely be visiting for the first time and deciding whether to keep a given school on their list. It’s helpful to visit before May so that students will still be on campus prior to their summer break. While most schools start offering tours again in June – and the summer can work for an initial visit – make sure to return when students are on campus if you like the school.
Remember as well to always “officially” sign up for a tour and information session. This way, the admissions department knows you were there, and you get credit for visiting.
Consider each of these factors on your visits. Take notes! (Seniors will want to get into more detail in each of these areas.):
Academics: What is the strength of the school or the program your student is interested in pursuing? How accessible are the professors? Are teaching assistants used to teach? Is the school’s emphasis on undergraduate teaching or on graduate research? Is the atmosphere more competitive or collaborative? What is the level of student stress?
Class size: How large are the freshman classes (this is not the same as the faculty to student ratio)?
Graduation Rates: These may be reported as four-year and/or six-year rates. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples across schools.
Retention: What is the percentage of freshmen who return as sophomores? Compare this to other schools of a similar nature.
Support: Are there resources to help with the transition to college? Are there writing, math and foreign language labs? Is there a fee for content tutoring? Are the tutors peers, grad students or faculty?  Is there help with time management, organization and study skills? Does faculty tend to notice if a student is struggling and recommend resources?
Internships: What percent of students complete internships? (A college degree is not always enough these days!) Does the school help secure the internships?
Housing: What percent of students live on campus? Is housing guaranteed all four years? If students live off campus, are they commuters from home or do they live in near-by housing?
Student Body: What is the level of diversity in all areas – racial, socioeconomic, religious, geographical, etc.? What is the level of tolerance for differences? Is there a political leaning one way or another? Do at least some of the students seem like people you could be friends with?
Campus life: Do the students look happy? (Keep in mind that no one looks happy on a college campus early in the morning or when they are dashing to class in the rain.) Try to talk to students in addition to the tour guide. Ask what they like about their school and what they wish were different. 

  • What percentage of kids goes home on the weekends?
  • Are there plenty of activities for students who are not interested in parties?
  • Is there Greek Life and, if yes, how dominant is it?
  • Are there ample opportunities for volunteering?
  • Does the school have the amount of school spirit you are looking for?
  • Do students regularly attend sports games or dance, music, drama performances?
  • Where do students go when they want to get off campus?

Location: How easy/expensive is it to get home and how much does that matter?
Finances: It’s important to consider the overall expense to graduate. Look at the percentage of kids who graduate in four years and consider the extra cost if additional time is often needed at a particular school. All schools now have a “Net Price Calculator” to get an early estimate of any financial aid your child may be awarded.
Finally, make sure you leave enough time to have a meal in the dining hall, spend some time in the student union, look at what is posted on the bulletin boards and grab a school newspaper.

Try to enjoy this time with your child. It goes by quickly!