Colleges Still Want to Hear From You!

These days, there are many things we cannot control. That lack of control with regard to our own lives can cause anxiety and frustration. One way to help is to make a plan and take charge of those things within our reach.

Typically, spring vacation week and weekends are a popular time to visit college campuses – for seniors who are making a final decision, and for juniors who are gathering information regarding where they would like to apply.

Seniors:

This year, and in order to give students more time to decide, some colleges have extended their typical deposit date, moving it back from May 1 to June 1.  Check admissions websites to be sure. Many schools have also said that they will work with students in difficult circumstances. If you are facing challenges in committing to a college by the deadline, it is important to reach out now to the admissions office and let them know.

Some seniors are considering asking to defer for a semester or a year, if classes are going to be online in the fall (nobody knows yet what may happen in September). Colleges have deadlines for deferral requests: students accept admission and then follow the procedure to request a deferral.

Each college has its own approach and plan for granting deferrals. Usually, these are granted with a Gap Year plan in mind, for volunteering, work, travel, etc. This year, those experiences may be harder to set up, but can still be found, provided you are flexible in whether they will be in-person or remote. Keep in mind that a deferral, once accepted to a school, is a request – it is unclear how many of these may be approved, given the likely increase in requests.

Juniors:

As I always recommend, show colleges your interest!

Use the extra time this spring to virtually explore colleges and build your list, just as you would have done before COVID-19. It is risky to wait and hope that campuses will hold in-person admissions events this summer. Also, if campuses are able to offer tours, it is likely that summer jobs will be happening again too – it may be hard to get away to see all the schools you would like. Hopefully, life will be fuller in the fall and you may not have time to travel to a lot of campus visits.

College admission offices are offering virtual tours and information sessions. A student that signs up and “attends” these events will “get credit” for a campus visit, as most colleges keep track of these. Typically, a tour and information session will be offered just as if you were visiting in person. Some schools are also holding live events – all detailed on their admissions visit page. Parents may want to “attend” these events with their child, just as you would likely have done in person. I encourage students to take notes and keep them all in one place.

Another way to explore a college (and show your interest) is to sign up for their online newsletter and follow the school’s social media accounts.

All Students

Students of all ages can use this time to learn more about a possible field of study. Colleges may offer live or taped presentations from particular departments – health careers, engineering, education, the arts, etc. This is another way to improve your knowledge in a new field and also demonstrate your interest in a school.

There are many, many online classes, webinars, YouTube videos, etc., available these days to learn more about any topic of interest. This is a good time to dive in and see what is exciting.

The bottom line is that college admission offices are open and they want to hear from you!

Your Silver Lining During the Coronavirus

The current pandemic is likely the biggest disruption in your child’s (and possibly your) life, so far. As hard as it is for us, as adults, to take this in stride, it is even more challenging for our children. It is a good idea to allow them to grieve and vent about their canceled sport season, spring musical, art show, music competitions, spring break trip, etc. These are real losses.

And there are additional losses for seniors in high school or college who may not get to enjoy their prom, senior week activities, and graduation ceremonies and celebrations.

Once your child has been able to mourn the loss of these life events, it is time to help them move on and ask themselves an important question:

What do I want to have learned, accomplished or contributed to my community by the end of all this?

Some high school students are continuing to have online classes while others have a looser schedule with enrichment activities and optional assignments. Either way, with extracurricular events all canceled, your student will have way more downtime than usual.

It is easy for teens to fall into an extended vacation mode, where they stay up until two am, wake at noon, and have more screen time than usual with Netflix or video games. This can work for a vacation week but it is not a good longer-term plan.

Teens are often resistant to parental nagging about this type of issue. My suggestion is to set up a meeting with each child separately and help them think about how they want this time to be structured. Help them realize that no one knows how long this will go on and they don’t want to lose ground academically.

I would ask your child to print out a schedule and agree on a time that they will set a wake-up alarm each day.  Then have something important early in the day that will encourage them to actually get out of bed! This could be a walk with a friend (with physical distancing) or a group video call where all the participants are following an exercise video or workout plan.

It is then critical to schedule some hours of academic work each weekday. Hopefully, this is being guided by your child’s school, but if not, there are many online platforms to help. The one many students already know about is Khan Academy (a free resource), which helps with SAT prep and most subject areas. They have put together sample schedules with course work for different grade levels on their site.

Your student should have a designated, distraction-free area for schoolwork. Research shows productivity is best when a 10 min break follows every 50 to 60 minutes of study.

Juniors and seniors who planned to visit college campuses this spring can sign up for virtual information sessions and other remote admissions events at each school’s website.

In addition to academics, it is critical to talk to your child about how they can keep up (or start) good habits in the areas of sleep, diet and daily exercise. This will help to lower anxiety and keep spirits up. Getting outside daily is also helpful – woods walks with family or friends, bike rides, dog walks, wall ball for lacrosse players, etc.

In addition, this meeting is a good time to ask your child what they would like to begin or dive deeper into during this period?

Here are some ideas that may appeal: photo projects, exchanging letters with a relative, learning to play an instrument, take an online coding class (or online class in any subject), art projects, learning to cook or bake, writing a short story / poetry, starting an online book club, woodworking project, etc.

This can also be a time to encourage your child to see how they can help at home and in your community. There are lots of suggestions out there – one is grocery shopping for elderly neighbors.

Finally, it can be helpful to share with your child a time in your life when something fell through or you encountered a big disappointment. Often, there is a story to tell about the “silver lining” of a positive turn of events that you can relay to your child. That may help them think about what they hope their “silver lining” will be as they look back on this period in their life.

I hope you and your loved ones all stay healthy and productive.

Make Your Campus Visits 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!