Early Decision, Regular Decision, No Decision

Guest blogger, Darryle Pollack, writes: I finished college in 1971, a member of the first class of women to graduate from Yale. I would not describe myself as overly ambitious–still, I like to be first, and I like to be best. Of course I want the same for my children. And I have to confess, by this stage of my life, I feel as if my kids have become one of the standards by which I am judged. Pack them off to the Ivy League, early decision if possible, and you get an A-plus.

College graduate - "better late than never."

So when people ask where my 21-year-old daughter is going to college, I wish I could answer that she’s following in my footsteps. But Alli’s not at Yale. She’s not in the Ivy League. She’s not at UCLA, or USC, or even CSU. My daughter took her 4.0 average from a top California prep school, and she went to UPS–United Parcel Service.

At her high school graduation, I had to congratulate all those other parents who had brilliantly aced the child-rearing final I had so clearly failed. That summer, while my friends were attending parent orientations on college campuses, my daughter was moving into a shabby apartment and shipping boxes for other people’s children heading off to start their adult lives.

I came to dread running into the mothers of Alli’s former classmates. With Kathy, Alli’s status came up in the third question, right after “How are you doing?” (busy) and “How’s your husband?” (traveling a lot).

“Alli’s great,” I deflected. “How’s Lauren?”

I received a rundown on her relationship (over), her major (economics), her summer internship (amazing experience!) and her plans for grad school (Hopefully NYU or UCLA). Then she circled back…

“So, what’s Alli up to?”

I sighed inside.

“Working really hard.” (It’s the truth.)

“Did she ever go to college?”

Perky as possible. “Not yet.”

Kathy gave me the look to which I have become accustomed–concern mixed with pity.

That first year, I’d mumble something about Alli taking a year off–which seemed acceptable, even trendy. Three years later, the story’s tougher to spin.

Some parents feel burdened by the college application process. I actually looked forward to it. For years I had interviewed prospective students for my alma mater, and I always welcomed any contact with academia. I daydreamed about visiting beautiful campuses with Alli, and allowed myself to imagine what could be the end result. Providence? New Haven? Princeton?

Then one afternoon during Alli’s sophomore year, as I was driving her home from field hockey practice, I suggested we visit the University of Pennsylvania during our annual Thanksgiving trip East to my family in Washington, D.C.

“You promised I could visit Jen.”

“Jen lives right outside Philadelphia. We could stop first at Penn.”

She pouted. “But then I lose time with Jen.”

“Aren’t you curious? Just to see it?”

My real agenda remained unspoken. We can start with Penn, and soon I’ll take you to New Haven.

It was a textbook mother-daughter moment. She had studied her subject for a lifetime and knew the course material inside out.

“It’s a waste of time. And you can forget about me going to Yale.”

Bulls-eye.

“There is no way I’m going to college on the East Coast.”

“How do you know if you haven’t even seen these places?” I tried to keep my eyes on the road.

“I just know. You always think I’ll want to go, but I don’t. I told you I wanted to go to UCLA.”

Yes, she did–back when she was six and thought she’d want to live with me forever.

But she had a point. The East Coast idea had begun with me and remained there. It had never taken root in her heart. She loves California, and she hates to fly. Okay, so now I knew. I would not push her to apply.

By junior year, Alli was announcing her intention to take a year off before beginning college. I was calm. Teenagers are fickle, I thought. Maybe she’ll change her mind.

But senior year came, and Alli had not abandoned her idea of taking time off. Still, the college process continued. She had the grades,the scores, the resume–and dutifully got her applications in by Thanksgiving.

That spring, as each fat envelope arrived, I allowed myself to hope. I remember handing her the UCLA envelope, with a big smile. I don’t remember her smiling back.

“What did she say about UCLA? ” her father wanted to know when he called me that night. We had remained cordial after our divorce eight years earlier. I had remarried and moved with the kids 300 miles away. We usually spoke a few times a week; during this time we were speaking several times a day. Neither of us was sleeping.

“She didn’t say anything.”

“Well, what should we do?”

I had no answer for him. I had no answer for myself. I had been to college, however, and I knew basic child psychology: Whatever her parents wanted, she would do the opposite.

“Don’t pressure her.”

“Okay”, he agreed. “Just remember she only has until May 1.”

Actually, we only had until May 1. Alli had all the time in the world.

One morning Alli appeared downstairs with a fistful of letters.

“What’s that?” I asked, in the most casual way I could possibly make myself sound.

“Just the letters to the schools, telling them I’m not going.”

Gulp. “All of them?”

“Uh-huh.” A quick wave and she escaped out the door.

What had I done wrong? She was my first child, and I had been an overprotective mother. Had I crippled her, was she afraid to venture out into the world alone?

She had attended the best playgroups, classes, schools, lessons. if one program didn’t meet my expectations, I switched her into a better one. Had I created a perfectionist who would never be satisfied?

She had always been self-motivated and intellectually precocious: from age two, when she taught herself to read, through high school, when she studied three languages. Had I allowed her to burn out?

I had put parenting ahead of my television journalism career. Now it seemed I had failed at the most important job I’d ever held.

Family and friends tried to comprehend and covered their shock with love and logic: “Colleges like kids who take a year off before entering.” “It’s just typical teenage rebellion. She’ll be bored with UPS in two weeks.”

I wanted to believe them.

Once she was living in the real world, I thought, Alli would learn her lesson. Surely she would enter college by February.

So much for mother’s radar. College is still waiting, and so am I. And yet, life goes on–hers, and mine.

How many times do we say to our children: “Don’t do something just because the other kids do it…think for yourself.” At 18, Alli was doing just that. She had learned the lesson, and now it was my turn.

During the past three years I’ve watched in awe as my daughter developed life skills that I did not grasp until I was twice her age.

Making just over minimum wage, she has managed to live on her own, paying all her expenses, even buying a car. She knows all about insurance, credit ratings, interest rates. Before her friends left for college, Alli passed an exam, which she says was harder than the AP tests, and became a notary public (her first advanced degree, I tell friends). She has no assigned books anymore, but she reads things that most of us don’t–such as the full text of every candidate’s statement and proposition on the California ballot. She hasn’t taken a math class in three years, but she does her own taxes.

Alli will never get a bid from a sorority, but she got a promotion to manager of a UPS store, running a business by age 20. She understands a lot about real life and about who she is.

Most important of all, she is infinitely happier, more confident, and more comfortable with herself than she was in high school–in fact, more than she has ever been.

Okay, it’s not New Haven. But I have learned to be proud of my daughter. I’ve discovered that parenting is far more difficult than anything I ever had to learn at Yale. It’s a tutorial that never ends, but I’m hoping to speed up the learning curve with my other child, Daniel, a high school junior. (I’m almost hesitant to write that he’s eagerly looking forward to college–I don’t want to jinx anything.)

Alli says that she will go to college when she decides what she wants to be–and she plans to pay for her own education. With her characteristic independence, determination and maturity, I know she will do what she says. Ultimately she will choose a career that is meaningful, challenging and right for her–and a school where she can get the education to make it happen.

Meanwhile, I still feel a stab of pain when I hear about someone else’s child who has just graduated from Yale, passed the bar, entered medical school or gotten an incredible job. I have invested as much as any other mother has in her child. But now I know I need to be invested less in her success on my terms, than in her happiness and well-being on her terms. I owe her that. And in return, she’s given me a precious gift: knowing she will always be able to take care of herself.

College graduate

Editor’s note: After attending five colleges over seven years,  Alli graduated in May, 2011, from California State University at Fullerton.

Darrlye Pollack

Darryle Pollack is a writer, inspirational speaker, and role model for resilience, with her TED talk, blog and upcoming book all titled I Never Signed up For This…. An early adopter of social media and blogging, Darryle is also a leading voice for women online, with her writing featured on websites including the Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Purple Clover, and as BlogHer Voice of the Year.

18th Birthday Ideas for Your College Kid

Mary Dell writes: Name. address. click, click. I type the info into each box, working my way down the page. Yes, three dozen freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and cold milk to be delivered to my daughter’s freshman dorm for her birthday. Yes, her cell number for the delivery person. Credit card. click. click. The order is 99% complete. But the final question – completely innocuous in every other context – Do you agree to the terms and conditions? My heart sank. No, no. I do not agree. I do not want to be 400 miles away on our daughter’s birthday. That is not a term or condition I want to agree to, ever. But then, long sigh, of course I agree. click.

chocolate chip cookies

Our daughter will wake up this morning, on her birthday, will reach for her phone next to the elevated twin bed and see dozens of texts from her high school friends and one from me, “Happy Birthday, love, Mom.” This will be a poor substitute for the big hug I desperately wish to give her.

There will be no party waiting for her after school like every one that came before – magician petting zoo-bowling-swimming-discoball in the garage – sweet 16golden birthday. No giggling girls for me to watch growing up by her side, delighting in the lit candles, the balloons, the goodie bags, the dj, and, most importantly, the friendships.

Do you have a college kid celebrating a birthday? Since misery loves company, we asked other moms for 18th birthday ideas when the party is far from home. Here is their sage, and very creative, advice:

1. Spring for dinner

“One of the things we did for my son was to give him money to treat his friends to dinner since we couldn’t be with him,” said Mindy Wells Hoffbauer. Think about calling a local restaurant or campus pizza place to see if they have a private room and book it for your son or daughter and a group of new friends.

Don’t forget this tip  “We called while she was at dinner and sang happy birthday to her,” said Diana Resnick Musslewhite. Why FaceTime was invented, in my opinion!

2. Roommates to the rescue

“I knew my daughter said she was ‘just going to watch a movie with her closest friend on her birthday.’  I secretly got in touch with that friend and arranged a ‘party in a box’ for her. In the boxes, that I sent to her friend, I included decorations, a few gifts to unwrap, the fixings for her favorite meal, lots of movie-type candy, and a few silly party favors. Her friend took it all from there, and even sent me pics of the room (complete with candy and gifts arranged) before Cait arrived,” wrote Mary Bird Lanzavecchia.

3. Birthday experience

Send tickets for a concert or a sporting event for your kid and a few others. Having a chance to venture off campus for a shared experience with new friends could be one of the best, and most memorable, gifts you could ever give him.

4. Import memories

“My son turned 18 while away at college and seemed ‘busy’ to the point where I wondered if I would get to chat with him! I did a silly ’18 Years of Birthdays’ in a box and he seemed to really like the gesture,” said Sherri Kuhn. Another way to remind your child of his love from home is to take a lifetime of photos and upload into IMovie, complete with a few favorite songs for the soundtrack.

birthday cake

5. Dining hall celebration

Does your son’s dining hall offer to serve a birthday cake during dinner? If so, best to coordinate with a roommate or a friend to make sure that he will show up to blow out the candles. If the college doesn’t provide this service, look what Lisa Carpenter found, “The college my two youngest went to had a group of mothers who took orders for cakes, baked them and delivered on the kiddo’s birthday.” Failing that, consider ordering cookies and, if  your child is fortunate to live in one of 50 locations where Insomnia Cookies will deliver warm cookies and milk, give them a try.

6. Old friends

Would your daughter love nothing more than a chance to spend a weekend with her best friend in the whole wide world? Consider sending an airline or train ticket for her to visit that BFF’s at her college campus.

7. New tradition

“Flowers. The kind of peanut butter she likes. A barrette for her hair because she always loses hers. A mom gift” are Dr. Margaret Rutherford ideas who added,  “Not to sound overly ‘psychotherapist’ on you… just knowing that you are okay will do her a world of good. So, (for the moms,) plan a way of celebrating your giving birth!”

macaroons

8. Cupcakes to share

“I once baked a bunch of cupcakes and sent them, along with all the toppings (and store-bought frosting, couldn’t get around that one) in little containers, plus candles, etc. It was a ‘make your own celebration’ kit.” Whether the cupcakes are homemade, like expert baker Mindy Klapper Trotta’s were, or ordered on-line, spring for a few dozen! What better way for the birthday girl to get to know more people on her floor than to walk around sharing her birthday treats?

cupcakes

9. Retail therapy

Gather a fist full of gift certificates from local clothing and sporting goods stores, yogurt and pizza places, the campus bookstore, and if you have a daughter, don’t forget a nail salon, suggests Lisa Lichtenberg. Be generous with the amount so that your son or daughter has enough money to take along a few friends.

10. Cheers for your older student

Is there a micro-brewery or wine bar near campus where your 21 or 22-year-old would love to gather with friends to celebrate his birthday? If there is nothing quite this charming, consider paying the bar tab for an hour at a favorite sports bar.

11. Take a drive

Drive down and have brunch on Sunday,”  suggests Sharon Greenthal. If the distance is not too great, why not?

Finally, I took comfort with these words:

There is a part of you that never lets go of the “child” of  your children. The child who needs a hug, or a kiss on the forehead. The child who smiles at you no matter what…the one who runs to you after kindergarten, the one who cries just for you…I want Mommy! But if there is that part in us, there is that part in them. They only have one mother…and that is you. And that will never change. Donna Beckman Tagliaferri.





Photo credits: Chocolate chip cookies: aaron; Birthday cake: Will Clayton; Macaroons: Omar Chatriwala

11 Reasons Why College Admissions is HARDER Than You Expected

Lisa writes: You thought college admissions would be challenging, you knew it would be difficult, you had no idea.

College Admissions

1. Prepare for heartbreak

You are filled with confusion as you watch your kid prepare to leave. The frustration and sadness you feel is not about college admissions but about the inevitable change that is coming to your relationship and your family. You worry that this next stage in life may not be good, for you.

2. Rejection is coming

Your kid is going to be rejected by some universities and, if history is any guide, as a parent, that is going to sting. You know you have raised a great kid, but not every university in America knows it. When the inevitable thin envelopes appear, it is going to hurt her, and perhaps you, even more. We take our kids disappointments to heart, that is what makes us parents.

3. 18 is not adulthood

Eighteenth birthday looming or not, despite what the calendar might say, you are looking at a half-baked adult. The law says that on that one day he will be an adult, that his decisions and responsibilities are his own. But what the law doesn’t know is that your kid is still a kid, and that he still asks you what you think of his clothes or what to eat for a snack, that he may look like a grown up but he is not ready for the big time yet.

4. Give her space?

Your kid is about to make the single biggest decision of her young life and you are supposed to back off. Step away, give her space. You are supposed to keep your mouth shut at college admissions information sessions, read her essays noting only typos and grammar mistakes and let her take control of the “process.” Well, the people doling out this advice do not know how naive your kid can be, or that she could compete, nationally, in any procrastination competition. They do not know that she is confused, overwhelmed, overtired and, despite standing at the crossroads of her life, just wants to crawl in bed and take a nap. You are scared to enter into the process and equally scared to back away.

5. College admissions is costly

Every single step of the college admissions process is more expensive than you could have imagined and you have not yet written your first tuition check. It adds up quickly: Road trips, application fees ($41 on average), SAT sittings ($52.20), SAT sittings (again), Subject SATs ($26.00 each), and APs ($89.00) and sending out all those scores comes at a steep price. Oh, and by the way, why don’t we try the ACT ($54.50) too? Hell, why not?

6. And the costs keep going up

And the corollary…you can throw any amount, almost any amount at the college admissions process. SAT tutoring can cost upwards of $500 an hour. Visits to five, ten, twenty schools can eat up thousands more. The litany of decisions on how to rein in these costs, even before your kid begins to write her first application, is not something you expected.

college admissions

7. College is worth it, right?

You keep reading research that says college may not be worth the expense. Though you know the research is largely aimed at for-profit universities and kids who start, but do not complete a degree, while going heavily in debt, the questions remains. Is there any chance you are shelling out over $100,000 for your teen to party for four years? It is a scary thought and not true.

8. Try hard not to be That Parent

You are pretty sure that your wonderful kid is not getting the attention that he needs from the guidance office at school. They seem to be overwhelmed with the number of kids they need to help and the typical, well-adjusted, middle of the pack kids don’t seem to be getting the attention. You want them to sit up and take note of your kid, but you don’t want to be That Parent.

9. This is not familiar, at all

You feel completely out of your depth, this is not college admissions as you knew it. You applied to one state school and got in. Or you applied to three private schools and went to the one that accepted you. You didn’t even study for the SAT. Schools that were not on your radar are now impossible to get into. Schools you thought might be great for your kid, elicited a chuckle from his guidance counselor. You had never heard of “a hook,” “a safety,” or “EA vs. ED”. You have entered a parallel universe and you cannot wait to get out.

10. Too much information

There is too much information. Life was easy just a few short years ago when a handful of viewbooks came through the mailbox and leafing through the pages of leafy college quads was a relaxing and largely uninformative process. Now there are websites with thousands of pages, emails and texts sent to your high school senior, rankings, blogs …. You know that it is important to make an informed decisions, life has taught you that. But you suspect that the torrent of college admissions information may be beyond the capacity of the human mind.

11. Were you a good parent?

You had no idea that the college admissions process could make you, not your kid, feel so insecure. You are not a pushy parent, but should you have pushed more? The SAT prep class seemed great, but should you have hired a tutor? His main essay topic seems a bit weak, but it’s his, should you leave it? Should you have urged more AP classes or made her try out for varsity basketball? Those overseas trips seemed like a scam, but what if they weren’t? Did you actually spend all the hours you meant to with your child? Were you even a good parent?  College admissions does not seem like a healthy process for a parent’s ego.

Finally, back to number one. The pain, frustration and even anger that the college admissions process engenders may have little to do with the process. One of the people you love most in your life, have loved beyond what you ever could have ever imagined, is getting ready to walk out your door. And if that isn’t’ hard, I don’t know what is.



When Joining a Sorority is Part of the College Decision

Mary Dell writes: Sorority. Rush. Pledging. Do these words bring back memories from your own college days or has the sum total of your familiarity with Greek Life come from repeated viewings of Legally Blonde?

If your high school daughter is now in the college hunt, determining “fit” with a school’s social life will be a crucial part of her decision and one that is difficult to ascertain from afar. Though clubs and social traditions at colleges have infinitely more iterations than simply Greek or not-Greek, researching the presence, and dominance, of Greek Life on campus could become an important part of her college due diligence. Further, understanding the financial costs and time commitment of sorority membership, reported yesterday in the “Education Life” section of The New York Times, makes this a relevant family discussion.

Joining a sorority may or may not feel like the right choice for college students who discover camaraderie through other campus extracurriculars or with their own close friend group. But for women who decide to pledge and stay involved, sorority membership can be one of the very happiest, and most memorable, aspects of their college lives.

Where to Begin

The terminology and organization of Greek letter clubs are a confusing Tower of collegiate Babel. Each college has a unique roster of sororities and the timing, cost and rules of recruitment (aka rush) vary from school-to-school. Further, old school sororities, with roots dating from the late 19th century, exist side-by-side with historically African-American sororities, multi-cultural Greek groups and others clubs that all emphasize commitment to service. They are all known by names that combine two or three letters of the Greek alphabet, from Alpha to Zeta.

University of Nebraska Sorority Pledges

One starting point is with the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Founded in 1902, the NPC operates as an umbrella organization for 26 Greek-letter sororities on North American campuses. These specific clubs were started by collegiate women who desired the same social opportunities offered to men in fraternities, from which they were excluded. From feminist beginnings, the NPC has grown to represent more than 4 million women on campus and in alumnae groups, becoming one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the US. We recently posed a few questions to the NPC Chair, Jean Mrasek.

Interview with NPC Chair, Jean Mrasek

G&F: Can you give us some statistics of number of sororities, numbers of college campuses that have sororities, and number of women who are active collegiate members?

Mrasek: Our 26 member organizations have chapters at over 670 campuses across North America. During the 2013-14 academic year there were more than 350,000 undergraduate members.

G&F:How have those numbers changed over time, especially compared with the 1970’s-80’s, when their moms were in college?

Mrasek: By all indicators, sorority membership is thriving. Evidence shows that college women value what we have to offer and what we encourage—friendship, teamwork, leadership opportunities, networking, scholastic achievement, community engagement and outreach.
We are seeing large numbers of registrants in sorority recruitment as well as expansion requests to add more NPC organizations to College Panhellenic communities on campuses. Reports from 2012-2013 indicate a 10 percent increase in recruitment numbers this year over the previous year. These significant increases have continued for several years and correspond with the current high levels of female student enrollment at colleges and universities.

G&F: What, in your opinion, are the strongest arguments in favor of sorority membership?

Mrasek: Sorority life provides great opportunities for young women — leadership, scholastic support, community engagement and friendship.

Sorority upperclassmen and chapter officers often serve as mentors and help other members to campus resources and encourage members to get involved in campus activities. There are alumnae advisors who provide emotional support and help teach the value of lifelong commitment.

Texas A&M Sorority Members

G&F: The recent Gallup-Purdue University Index study queried over 30,000 college graduates to “research and measure whether they have ‘great jobs and great lives.’” What did the data show about sorority membership?

Mrasek: The Gallup-Purdue Index revealed 43 percent of sorority members who are employed full-time for an employer are engaged in the workplace compared to 38 percent of all other college graduates who are employed full-time. Even more specifically, other findings from the research determined sorority women scored higher in all elements of well-being – purpose, social, financial, community and physical; workplace engagement; emotional support from their college, experiential learning experience as a student; and alumni attachment compared to non-sorority women.

G&F: How do you answer critics of sororities? 

Mrasek: It is impossible to counter all the negative stereotypes and negative portrayals of sorority women and sorority recruitment. The good news and positive benefits of sorority membership does not always get covered. The NPC is encouraging our women to be brand ambassadors and to advocate for the sorority experience. We all play a role in shaping our positive message.

Sororities have evolved in recent years to meet the needs of students with a variety of special interests, religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds and the entire sorority system continues to work to provide positive changes.

Other Sources of Information

College Admissions Book

Christine VanDeVelde, Co-author of the excellent college guidebook, College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, offers this advice about researching a college’s social life:

When visiting campus, talk to current students and ask questions in the information session about the culture of a campus and its social climate. Is it dominated by a Greek system? Populated by artsy students? Is it known as a party school? What do students do on the weekend? What do people do outside the classroom? Is the library busy on Friday night? What type of people do you encounter on the quad? Do most students live on or off campus? Whether or not Greek Life is a priority for you, this is important information.

There’s no shortage of information — YouTube, websites, guidebooks. But the challenge is to sort through it all and extract meaningful information. Some of the subjective guidebooks or websites, including College Prowler,  have very good information for students and parents on a college’s culture and social life. These resources “review” schools, offering both fact and opinion and use feedback from students, faculty and alumni. So they can convey the personality of a school, the vibe of the student body and a sense of the campus’ values. Also, kids really relate to their anecdotal nature. They also honestly can give you the scoop on aspects of campus life that you won’t hear about from the admission office.

Fiske Guide To Colleges

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 by  former Education Editor of The New York Times, reviews more than 300 of the country’s “best and most interesting colleges and universities.” Each college profile includes an overall assessment of social life, indicated by a number of telephone icons (on a scale of one to five.) A discussion of Greek life and percentages of men and women who are members of sororities and fraternities in each college is included in every profile.

College Websites

Every college website will proudly catalogue the numerous social options available to students. If your daughter is curious about Greek Life, she will want to take a close look at how a college depicts sororities as part of the culture. Once she has finally decided on a school, she should research any requirements for registering for recruitment, especially if rush happens before school begins in the fall.

US News And World Report

Poking around the rankings and features stories of the US News and World Report Best Colleges 2015 can provide data-driven insight into a school’s social fabric. For instance, I found this article ranking schools with the greatest percentage of sororities to be an eye opener. From UT-Pan American at 100% down to Willamette at 28%, the list includes liberal arts colleges, big state schools, Ivys and more, coast to coast.

Washington and Lee Sorority Houses

 Personal Note

I was a member of a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, at the University of Texas, in the 70’s. Like others who have written on the subject, I found pluses and a few minuses during my four years. The drawbacks for me were the time demands during pledgeship and the uncomfortable process of exclusion required to not exceed the new member cap of 50/per year. In that era, diversity was bringing in one girl from Oklahoma, 49 from Texas. I know that has changed.

Kappa Alpha Theta

The positives were far more numerous. Tuition at a state school was a bargain so the added dues for Greek membership were not onerous. Being in a sorority on a mega-campus of 50,000 gave me a social anchor and I met more people freshman year than I have ever again in life. My pledge sister and roommate for two years in the Theta house remains one of my dearest friends in life. My mother was a Theta at SMU and I love that we share this bond, as well.

Having never attended a single sex school or gone to a girl’s sleep away camp, being part of a sorority was a very different experience for me. I was happy to be a member of a sisterhood with clout while at college and I felt that membership was a source of strength, afterwards, when I encountered various “boys’ clubs” later on in life. Finally, the opportunities among sorority alumnae for networking when moving to a new city or wanting advice with a career change have been real and helpful.

Kappa Alpha Theta

Finally, let me circle back to Legally Blonde. Like Elle Woods, I was president of my sorority and wrote about that leadership experience as the basis of my application to Harvard Business School. There were no video clips of me floating in a pool wearing a bikini and my resume was printed on unscented white paper. I admit that pink remains my favorite color.

Photo Credits: Charles Roberts, vintage University of Nebraska sorority sisters

Texas A&M, sorority sisters

Tauber Andrew Bain: Washington and Lee sorority houses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Ahead, Call Your College Freshman

Mary Dell writes: Whew, congratulations, we survived month one! Since that memorable hug goodbye, we have spent the last few weeks trying to adjust to the absence of our college freshman. We miss them like crazy, long for their phone calls and are thrilled when they text! We follow the rules about not hovering and abide by the sacred parenting principle that states that NOW is the time to let our kids take the lead. But after we dropped them off at their dorms, does that mean we should drop off the face of the earth?

College freshman

 

Parenting college freshman, especially during this first semester, is a hybrid activity. No question that we must respect the fact that our kids are living independent lives. But fully acclimating to college takes time and, while that process unfolds, parents should look for signs that either their child has adjusted and is thriving and or is truly struggling.

In her article, Parents of College Freshmen: Don’t Let Go Too Fast, psychotherapist, teacher and author, F. Diane Barth, identifies red flags: “Eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, failing grades and other difficulties don’t happen overnight and aren’t a sign that a young man or woman is inadequate or bad. They are, however, signs of trouble and require adult intervention…Do not be put off by the advice to ‘let go.’”

She writes that parents who are concerned about their college student:

hear from friends, books, and the internet (telling) them to let their adult youngsters figure things out for themselves….But surprisingly, there are other professional voices telling parents not to let go so fast. In 2007 George D. Kuh, an Indiana University professor, found that students whose parents were more involved were actually more successful at college than their “liberated” peers.

If you are, like us, trying to find the sweet spot in parenting your college kid, here are:

Nine Reasons Why You Should Call Your College Freshman

1. Schedule the Call

Make a plan to talk to your child weekly. Ask about his teachers, his roommate and other kids in the dorm. Ask about his weekend plans. If he bristles at what seems like an intrusion into his new-found independence, let him know that you want to stay in contact regularly, especially early on. As Barth writes:

Staying in touch is not by definition neurotic. It does not mean a parent cannot let go. It is an act of responsibility, a communication that you are letting go, but standing by to provide support and balance. And, as one colleague put it, “by listening to their voice on a weekly basis, you can tell how they’re doing – just as you could tell when you looked at their eyes when they were younger.”

2. Phone on the Weekend

Our kids learned how to drive only once they got behind the wheel. They will learn to drink with a cold one in their hand. Some kids already may have had painful lessons of being over-served while in high school; others will learn in college personally and/or by observing the behavior of other students. Schools try their hardest to get kids to understand about the downside of alcohol by mandating online awareness programs during the summer or at orientation. But painful learning can come with shots, kegs, or grain alcohol.

The results of this study,  Protective Effects of Parent-College Student Communication During the First Semester of College found that  “Encouraging parents to communicate with their college students, particularly on weekend days (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays) could be a relatively simple, easily implemented protective process to reduce dangerous drinking behaviors.”

Researchers theorized that “First, there could be a direct effect such that when parents express their concern about excessive drinking and suggest strategies for reducing harm, the students consume less alcohol. There could also be an indirect effect whereby interaction with parents may remind the student of shared values, internalized norms, or the importance of longer-term goals.”

3. Share Contacts

If there is a problem and you are unable to reach your son and daughter who would you call? There is a number for the Dean of Students but that may feel like calling the president of a company if your office computer is broken. Ask your child for his roommate’s number and ask that he give him yours, in return. Assure your son that exchanging numbers does not mean you will be sending texts with smiley-face emojis to his new friend.

4. Discuss the Game Plan

There is no returning to high school days with curfews but ask about the weekend plans. Is your daughter going to a fraternity party or the football game and, most importantly, is there a buddy with whom she will walk back home? Ask her to text you or send an email once she is back in her dorm. When you get up at 7AM on a Saturday morning and see the email at 2AM, you will feel great relief. (Note: I am, admittedly, more on edge about campus safety issues in the wake of a disappearance of a classmate of my daughter’s. We asked our daughter to text us and, as long as we make no comments about the time the texts come in, she is willing.)

5. Provide Warmth

Kids have emerged from the group hug that defined their high school years but they have not yet had the shared experiences that create deep friendships. They are on a campus of strangers and the gulf in closeness will be felt most keenly right now. Until they have developed the new friendships, you can try to fill in the gap with regular phone calls, a shipment of homemade cookies or periodically texting video clips of the family dog back home, this last one guaranteed to garner a response.

6. Support School Work

College and high school are like night and day in terms of work demanded. Your child may be completely overwhelmed by the volume of reading, the length and number of papers, the complexity of tests. Help him avoid an academic train wreck by making academics part of the conversation. If there is a problem, discuss the options the school makes available – tutoring, advisors, study sessions.

7. Check the Calendar

The fall is filled with campus meetings and deadlines. Foreign study, Greek rush, second year housing and course selection. Check out the academic calendar online and put these on your list of things to discuss. Do not begin a sentence with “You should…” but instead try “Have you given any thought to…” Be aware of dates and deadlines in case there is something looming that your daughter might have overlooked.

8. Look for Signs of Poor Health

There is a bounty of food at your child’s fingertips and comfort eating risks unhealthy weight gain. Does he need some new athletic gear in a care package for extra motivation to schedule working out into his week?

9. Plan a Visit

Whether it is a formally organized Parents Weekend, a home football game, or a random weekend after midterms, try to visit your child in college this fall. There is nothing like seeing first hand how your son is faring with his roommate, whether he is stressed by his classes or if he has gained or lost weight. Plus, taking your child out to dinner – with or without a group of new friends – and inviting her to spend the night in a hotel room with you will be a welcome break from dorm life. It will also give you a chance to do a little on site, and not merely long-distance, mothering. At this time of family transition, there is not much that can top a real life hug!