Lisa writes: I am going through eleventh grade for the fourth time.
First, in the late 1970s, I endured it myself. Then as the mother of three I watched my boys battle through this long tough year, struggling with their academic and athletic schedules while trying to visit colleges, navigate a minefield of standardized tests, have a social life and learn to drive.
It is an exhausting process for both parent and teen, fraught with emotion as our kids prepare for the next stage in their lives. At Grown and Flown, I have explored my journey towards the empty nest and there is no question that 11th grade is the first step on that journey. Here are some suggestions to help them on their way:
1. Study for the SAT in the summer
The time to study for the SAT is during the summer between 10th and 11th grade. While your child will not have reached their ideal intellectual maturity, once school begins, they will never again have this much time to focus on this daunting task. Whatever your preferred method of study, get them started before the chaos of junior year descends.
2. Write the college essay with an English teacher
The single best person to help your child write their college admissions essay is not you, the emotional parent, nor is it a paid consultant. The best person is an experienced high school English teacher, preferably one who has taught your child. A teacher will ask all the right questions and help move the process along (“Is that what you mean to say here, it is not clear to the reader? Do you have more details you can add to bring your story to life?”) but will not write the essay for your child. Find this English teacher during 11th grade so that teacher and student can work together the summer before 12th grade commences.
3. Don’t do a spring sport unless necessary
If your high school junior plays a spring sport seriously, so be it, but if they have signed up for that spring sport for social reasons or as a resume enhancer, suggest that they reconsider. Spring of junior year is the hardest time of the year, truthfully, the most challenging season of all four years of high school. Try to help them keep anything unnecessary off their schedules.
4. Don’t visit colleges until junior year
Much has been written about the pressure on juniors as they enter the college process. The easiest way to reduce the pressure is to ban conversation about college and, particularly, premature college visits until the middle of 11th grade. Most of these early conversations and trips are wasted because teens change so much over their four years. If kids concentrate on their studies, activities and standardized tests, they will have done themselves a favor once the process begins in earnest. Behind the scenes, parents can do some research about which colleges will best suit their family’s budget and their child’s interests, but until the middle of junior year, students should just focus on the job at hand. It is hard enough.
5. Pick one activity and stick with it
High school is about finding yourself and your interests but colleges insist they want to see depth and leadership in a student’s activities. The answer? Before your student begins ninth grade, try to help them select one interest or activity that they will pursue for all four years, with a serious commitment to the highest standard they are able to achieve. It doesn’t matter what it is — music, art, community service or a sport. Urge them to pick something they love and envision sticking with throughout high school. Other activities they can pick up and drop as their interests change, but they should select one interest about which they remain constant.
6. Ask for teachers recommendations early
Teacher recommendations need to be written by a teacher that students have in junior or senior year. With the early college application deadlines in November, this, realistically, means it needs to be a junior year teacher. Students should ask for this recommendation before school ends in 11th grade. Teachers are inundated with requests and students should ask early, politely and give the teacher the entire summer to address the request.
7. Avoid signing up for too many tests in May
Standardized tests introduce an entirely new alphabet soup of terms to first time junior parents. If your child is taking one or more AP classes, she will be required to take the AP test for each class in May on dates specified by the College Board. Don’t forget there will be classroom work and tests to do so avoid a May meltdown by looking to other months for the SAT, ACT, or SAT II tests.
8. Read the fine print
Parents need to be involved in the application process. This is a complicated process with multiple essays, recommendations, supplements and more. One of my kids almost missed an application deadline because the art supplement needed to be submitted in October. Another son almost did not get a recommendation from an employer because he missed a small asterisk describing the circumstance under which additional letters were allowed. They were studying for exams, doing sports and activities… I read the fine print.
9. Plan out all four years before they start
Sit down with your to-be 9th grader with their high school course catalogue and plan backward from 12th grade. Together, think about what they hope to accomplish academically over the four years. Few schools sit with kids and plan out their four years even though many classes have prerequisites. Help them pick the most challenging classes they hope to take in the subject areas they like best and develop a plan of how to get there. Things may change, interests alter, but kids with a plan have goals for themselves.
10. Learn to drive in the summer
Depending on your child’s birthday, can they do any of the work for driver’s education or training during the summer before junior year? This is not possible for all kids but for those whose birthdays allow for it, summer is the best time to learn to drive, when they have more time and weather is not an issue.
11. Start the year rested
Despite the above points about making time for SAT studying and driving in the summer, the most important thing to accomplish in the summer before this demanding year is to make sure your teen is rested. High school kids have summer jobs and perhaps for the first time, are staying out a bit later. Don’t let this get in the way of sleep. Beginning 11th grade anything other than fully rested will only be a great handicap in the year to come.
12. Parents: be ready with an ear and a shoulder
The most important thing a parent can do for their high school junior is continue to offer support and a listening ear. Even the calmest of teen will hit rough patches when angry rants or tears of exhaustion emerge. Being there to listen, console and offer counsel is the single best thing a parent can offer as help in guiding them through this tough year.
So much I learned about helping my kids through this process came from the wisdom of parents with kids older than mine. I would love to hear how you helped your child navigate the college process.