Hoping that you and yours get to witness this moment – when all the effort of writing your essays and filling out applications are worth it. I have my fingers crossed!
There has been a tremendous response from readers of Blog #5 on “7 Tips on Avoiding Arguing with Teens Over Writing the College Essay”. Thank you so much. Many of you wanted to hear more about parenting teens, so here is some guidance about understanding how you can prepare them for the transition to college and reduce tensions. For more guidance about the adolescent years, read: http://www.education.com/reference/article/landmarks-parenting-adolescence/?page=2
It’s important to understand what stresses teens are facing senior year and how you can help them become independent and in doing so, calm their nerves about the big changes ahead in their lives.
1. Understand that teens face leaving the security of the family “nest” and the friends they have known their whole life to live and study in an environment that is unknown and different. A visit to the college campus, an interview with an admissions officers, and even advice from friends/siblings who have attended the college is little information about what it is really like to live there. If possible, I recommend spending a night at the college to learn about college life. This has to be arranged ahead of time through the office of admissions. Spending a day at the college, attending classes with a student, is another option. In this way, teens will have the opportunity to see the professors and lecture halls.
2. Realize that teens need self-monitoring skills, a preview of the workload, and strategies to succeed at college. At college, they must independently organize their time and be self-disciplined about studying. Since the dorm room is often loud and the hallways busy, your teen should understand that he or she will have to go to the library or find other quiet areas to study. College discussions should include information about homework expectations during freshman year and how to plan out assignments. Make sure that college visits occur when classes are in session. Go into the library to check out where students are studying and ask the person who is giving you the tour where he studies. Also, does your teen know how to take notes? Oftentimes, students do not have sufficient note-taking skills – this should be addressed with tutoring.
3. Help teens become more independent about doing their homework and organizing their time as a junior or senior. Encourage them to decide when they are going to study and when it’s okay to just “hang out”. You won’t be able to supervise them in college. Also, many teens have iPhones or smart phones. Look for apps that they can program to remind them when papers are due or appointments are scheduled or have them use the calendars on these phones to type in this information. Also, getting up in the morning for school needs to be their responsibility – you won’t be there to wake them when they are in college.
Helping them become more independent will calm their fears about transitioning to college life, give them confidence, and may soothe the tension that arises over writing the college essays. It’s telling them “You can do this!”
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Want to go to your top-choice school? Writing a great essay is key. Make sure you know what mistakes to avoid:
1. Don’t be someone you aren’t: Not everyone can be president of the class, editor and chief of the newspaper, or the leading scoring on the lacrosse team. Find the real you. What are you good at? What are your successes – no matter how small? If they are important to you, they are significant.
2. Don’t over compliment: Schools don’t want to hear about their “impressive” professors or the “state-of-the-art library”. They know this already. (That’s why you are paying so much tuition.) They want to hear about you and why you want to go there – what programs, majors, courses prompted you to apply?
3. Don’t write with the thesaurus next to you: Talk people talk – the greatest journalists use language that someone in seventh grade can understand. SAT words don’t cut it here. Use simple, expressive language.
4. Don’t use humor if you aren’t certain it really works: You can’t take a chance that admissions officers won’t find it funny. Humor is difficult to pull off unless you’re a natural.
One of my goals is to provide resources you can use to learn about applying to college, funding a college education, and standardized testing. Below is a list of some of those links. Remember, even if you are a sophomore or junior, it’s not too early to begin exploring the process. Knowledge is power!
www.collegeboard.com: Does everything from registering and preparing you for the SAT to doing a college search. Want a Division 3 men’s baseball program in New York that offers an advertising major and is located within 10 miles of Syracuse? Collegeboard will do that and much more.
www.act.org: Besides allowing you to register for the ACT, this Web site quickly and easily allows you to figure out your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for financial aid calculations.
www.finaid.org: Gives you a much more detailed analysis of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and financial aid options. For example, it will analyze your financial need through the “Federal Methodology” calculating your EFC—first, and then it will calculate your need using a formula that many private universities and colleges use.
www.fastweb.com: Tons of information about all things college for high school students, college students, and parents. If you’re interested in receiving information about scholarships, after you fill out a personalized information form, it plugs you into a database of thousands of scholarships. As new scholarships are added to their site that match your profile, you receive automatic e-mail updates.
www.fairtest.org: Don’t do well on standardized tests? This website includes a list of colleges and universities that do not use or de-emphasize standardized tests in their admissions process. More than 400 colleges are on this list.
www.commonapp.org: This website will save you a lot of time and aggravation. Over 450 colleges and universities that have agreed to use a standard, common application are listed here.
www.princetonreview.com and www.petersons.com: Two websites with an abundance of information about how to prepare for college.
www.fafsa.ed.gov: The US Department of Education site allows you to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form online. It’s fast and easy, so take advantage of it.
www.studentaid.ed.gov: An excellent site sponsored by the US Department of Education that reviews the whole college process from A-Z.
Finding the right college takes some research. Colleges aren’t just making a decision about you – you are making a decision about them. The first step is to go on a tour of different college campuses. In this way, you can make comparisons. However, if you are just asking about the meal plan and vacations, you aren’t finding out essential information you need to know. After all, you are going to spend four years there! There is a terrific guide to choosing a college – http://nsse.iub.edu/pdf/NSSE_PocketGuide.pdf – by the National Survey of Student Engagement. Here are some questions from the survey that you should ask when on campus. I would ask one more question – “How many faculty members have a Ph.D.?”
How much time do students spend on homework each week?
How much writing and reading are expected?
How often do students discuss ideas in class?
How often do students make class presentations?
How many students work on research projects with faculty?
Are faculty members accessible and supportive?
What type of honors courses, learning communities, and other distinctive programs are offered?
Is a culminating senior year experience required?
Ask these sorts of questions and you’re more likely to choose a college based on what’s truly important, rather than on how many vegan entrees a school cafeteria serves.
In response to some of my reader’s comments, I want to address the issue of whether or not to take the SAT/ACT several times. The general advice on this issue is the following:
1. Take three second-semester SATs junior year: January, March, and May, leaving June for subject tests. Most schools do not ask for all you SAT scores.
2. In some cases, it makes sense to have juniors take the SATs in the fall, but I generally it’s recommended that juniors keep their focus on school and grades rather than on SATs/ACTs.
3. It’s advisable to have three second-semester ACTs on alternate months – February, April, June.
Although this is an intense plan, it allows students six chances at the tests and the opportunity to mix-and-match for a CommonApp “super score,” with little to no downside.
I’m writing this post in response to comments by readers which indicate that they find writing difficult and get discouraged. Even famous writers – George Orwell, Gertrude Stern, Ernest Hemingway – have experienced rejection when submitting them for publication. What if they had given up? The great books would never been written – Animal Farm, Three Lives, or The Torrents of Spring. Read their rejection letters:
Several people who have read my blog want to know what I do. Here’s some information that will clarify my goals at The Academic Support Link:
I am committed to helping teens develop their skills as writers and prepare to succeed in high school and college. I guide teens through the process of writing college admissions essays that reflect their interests and experiences and get the attention of admissions officers. I also provide SAT tutoring and English language and writing tutoring.
You can be assured that I will provide the one-on-one individualized support you need.
For a consultation – in person or through Skype, Facetime, call me at 617-584-5295 or email me at Debby@academicsupportlink.com
Facebook: The Academic Support Link
A friend told me that her daughter was waitlisted at the college she really wanted to go to. What should her daughter do? Remember that getting onto a waitlist means that the school is seriously considering you and if there is an opening – someone who got in, decides not to go – you will be seriously considered. The important date is May 1, when students have to give deposits.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to predict how many students will be accepted from the waitlist every year. However, you can remain on more than one college’s waitlist. If are on a waitlist, accept another school’s offer and send the required deposit by May 1st. If you get into your waitlist college and want to attend, withdraw from the school you originally accepted and accept the waitlisted college’s offer. Here’s some other tips:
1. Be sure to keep your senior grades up.
2. Update your application through a letter or e-mail, discussing recent achievements and your continued interest in the college.
3. Write a new essay,
4. Get a new letter of recommendation from one of your senior teachers.
5. Plan a return visit to the campus and express your interest, again.
Not a good writer? You can learn how to write well. Why is writing important? Colleges and universities are looking for a community of scholarly students. You will be required to write many papers and reports during your studies. I maintain that those students who learn to write well, get better grades. To succeed in a career, you need to communicate well. Think of it – even emails, takes a knowledge of grammar and language usage. (Remember to always reread an email for errors before you send it.) Getting into college depends on your writing ability. Required tests, such as the SATs and ACT, now require that you write an essay (http://satdude.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/sat-multiple-choice-writing-red-flags-part-1/). And of course, as I have pointed out in past blogs, you need these skills to write your college application essays – and there are a lot of them. What are the elements of a successful essay?
1. A great lead sentence and paragraph that really catches the readers attention. Think exciting and intriguing.
2. Transitions between ideas and paragraphs.
3. Organization – are the paragraphs in the correct order?
4. Use of quotes – never in the first or last sentence but as evidence in the body of the essay.
5. A conclusion that summarizes your ideas and looks at the bigger picture – what did you learn or what is the greater meaning from your experience.
6. Can you see it, feel it, smell it, and touch it?
7. Have you taken a unique approach to a topic, issue, or experience?
Keep in mind that writing well takes practice, so keep at it!