The Good, The Bad and The OMG of College Admissions

Mary Dell writes: As teenagers progress through high school, the warnings to their parents about college admissions become an ever-louder drum beat that is nearly impossible to escape. With my eldest child, I braced myself for his junior year terrified at my ignorance on the subject. But anticipating only what we have been conditioned to fear can keep us from realizing a broader parenting experience. I have been through this process twice and our youngest will begin college in the fall. With the admitted benefit of 20/20 hindsight, here is my list of The Good, The Bad and The OMG of college admissions.

college campus, college admissions

The Good

Road Trips

I loved the college road trips I took with my kids. Though the info sessions and college tours are now a blurry mashup of dozens of schools, I have vivid memories of dinners we shared and decisions each child revealed while on the road. I may never again have a chance for such prolonged one-on-one time with each of my children as I did while they were hunting for colleges. I was happy when we traveled together and I relied on them for navigation and a sharp eye for the closest Starbucks. I am grateful that on this one part of the process, parental involvement is a necessity.

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Loosening the Ties that Bind: Growing Up with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day.  Organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week.

We have read Liane Kupferberg Carter for years and hope that her writing, below, will touch you, as it has both of us:

Liane Carter, autism, Autism Awareness Day

I don’t know how to do this.

There’s no book for taking the next step. No Fiske Guide to Colleges. No Barron’s. When our son Jonathan was preparing to leave home for college, we had a whole shelf of books to guide our family.

There’s no book for our autistic son Mickey, who is turning twenty. No U.S. News and World Report ranking best vocational opportunities; no handbook rating residential programs for developmentally disabled young adults. We’re making it up as we go.

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When Your Child Wants Off the College Carousel

A Grown and Flown friend, Cathy, writes: The process of deciding where to go to college is the single most significant event in your child’s secondary school experience. For many, the college process begins in 9th grade, with some parents seeding the groundwork before middle school. I wasn’t one of them. My daughter began her college search in earnest in her junior year and by senior year had narrowed her choices to eight schools. She was accepted at seven.

college campus, college kid

She registered at a small New England school with a strong academic pedigree. I left her there on a sunny September morning, and as I held her for our goodbye, I noted she was trembling. Sick with worry, I drove the six hours home, tears blinding my eyes. She called (well, texted) frequently in the ensuing months and seemed to be okay. Her grades were excellent and she seemed to like it there. I exhaled. When she came home at spring break, I noted she looked tired and thin but I attributed it to studying. In May, she was home for summer. By July she was fidgety and one night came downstairs and said “Mom, I want to take a year off.” Here are some of the things I learned in the process figuring out what her next steps should be:

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Princeton Mom on Marriage: Facing the Facts

Today on Forbes, Lisa writes: Susan Patton’s words sound like they might have the ring of truth.  When the Princeton Mom tells college age women in her new book, Marry Smart, that “College is the best place to look for your mate,” heads nod.  When she says, “Once you graduate you will meet men who are your intellectual equal—just not that many of them,” it almost sounds as if what she is saying might still be true.  But that ringing is the sound of the past.

Disagreements with Patton’s arguments abound, but the most salient rebuttal is that many of her contentions are based on outdated facts and are no longer accurate. She acknowledges that her book is advice and not a study as says, “There are very few statistics in this book, and my research has been limited to talking with people I know, like and trust…”

Yet, there is a very real reason to set the record straight.  Her points, if taken to heart, send young women a message that they should relegate their hard work, in the classroom and the workplace, to the back seat and instead focus on catching a man in college, lest they risk becoming “a spinster with cats”.  Yet 91% of college educated women (and men) marry, suggesting that the vast majority of those wishing to wed find a partner.

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Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, Part 2

Lisa writes: Here is part two of our interview with Lacy Crawford (@lacy_crawford), author of Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy. In this fictional account of the college admissions process, Lacy takes a long hard look at five very different families and how they endure the pressure-filled fall of senior year. For many parents of high school kids, this book may be either a window or a mirror on a world that fills them with horror. But perhaps it best serves as a cautionary tale, asking parents to acknowledge that this is the end of a road, a time when your child needs to be very much themselves, a moment when they begin to lead. If Lacy’s characters cannot make that unmistakable fact clear, then reread her wonderful book.

Lacy Crawford, Early Decision

G&F: What do you hope that parents reading this book will walk away with?

Lacy: Levity, confidence, and a sense of perspective. Also there are some honest tips, and if they help, great.

Helicopter parenting, of the type you feature, is quickly falling out of favor. Doing too much for our kids is no longer a badge of honor among parents. The number of high school seniors has peaked and the rise in applications at some schools has stalled. Do you see any of these factors altering the pressure that you describe?

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Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, a Conversation with Lacy Crawford

Lisa writes: Lacy Crawford is the author of the wonderful new book, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy (William Morrow.) For fifteen years she served as a discreet college admissions counselor to the super rich, shepherding their children through the maze of applications and essays. From August until acceptance, two or three times a week, she worked with students helping them research schools and draft, rewrite and polish their essays. While Lacy was employed by parents to guide their children, it is clear that those who hired her were in great need of her help as well. (BTW, Lacy can be reached via twitter at @Lacy_Crawford)

Early Decision, Lacy Crawford

After years of working with high school seniors Lacy faced an even more daunting task, filling out applications for nursery school for her own baby. “I’d been secretly judging these parents for ten years,” Lacy recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast. “But there I was, ready to step on the same moving walkway, and I thought, ‘I know how this ends.’ This ends with me hiring someone like me to get my kid into college.” It was then that she began to take the notes that would turn her very real experiences into a superb work of fiction.

Mary Dell and I met Lacy at the book salon of the incomparable Aidan Donnelley Rowley and, while I politely bought the book as I love to support authors, I had no intention of opening its cover, or even taking it out of the bag. [Read more...]



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Never Again Will I…

Lisa writes: My youngest son heads off to college sometime in August. When he finally slams the screen door, he will be emptying the nest my husband and I began to fill 22 years ago. With his departure, I reflect on a few things that, frankly, I am more than a little ready to let go. While everyone I know is already sick of hearing how much I will miss him, here are a few things that I will never have to do again:

sons, family, brothers

Sit in a car outside a school, gym or private home, waiting. In my car, in the dark, by myself.

Quiz anyone on vocabulary words. My husband has all the words he needs.

Worry about who is in whose bedroom, which door is opened or closed, and what other parents’ rules are for their kids who are in my home. Once you have lived out from under our roof, your personal life is your own.

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College Admissions: Don’t Go It Alone

Mary Dell writes: Dear Moms, We feel for you, we really do. Since your kid entered kindergarten, you have probably heard that nothing in parenting compares to the stress of college admissions. Few of you have arrived at this stage without feeling a degree of anxiety now that it is your child who has begun to think about life after high school.

college admissions

Lisa and I are two moms with five kids between our families. Our youngest are high school seniors who have the end in sight. “The end” is not only college application season, but also their high school years and childhood in general. Letting them go is part of the college process and one reason why it feels so painful. In fact, we could sit right down and weep between now and graduation but, instead, we want to throw an arm around your shoulder knowing that it is you who needs support right now. So we offer advice, a digital hug, from two moms to you:

Looking for colleges is a family matter.

Do not feel remotely guilty being involved, despite experts who may tell you to let your child “own the process.” It is their search, but parents should be there to lend an ear, a hand, and a credit card as needed.

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Princeton Mom vs. the Facts, Grown and Flown in The Atlantic

In last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Susan Patton (known as The Princeton Mom) penned an op-ed  ”A Little Valentine’s Day Straight Talk in which she advised young women by saying, “You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career—and you should start doing so much sooner than you think.” While her advice sounds dated, the more troubling aspect is that, in our view, it is simply wrong and not consistent with the facts. Grown and Flown took a look at the research and Lisa has written a rebuttal which shows that marriage has changed radically and our views of women’s roles need to alter as well.  Her story appears in The Atlantic.com.

Princeton Mom vs. the Facts

Susan Patton is attracting a great deal of attention with her polemic on the virtues of attracting a husband in college.  Her underlying theme, that the university setting is the ideal feeding ground for husbands, leaves many women up in arms over the suggestion that the goal of getting a guy should be right up there with getting a degree. In what can only be described as scare tactics, she offers her version of motherly advice, which is that women need to find the smartest guys in college and pursue them as marriage prospects.  It may be in her upcoming book she will fill in the facts that back up her many assertions, but her argument does not hold up, not because the message is offensive, although it is. Rather, because the argument does not square with the facts.

LisaHeffernan. College educated women and marriage

college educated women

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College Students: The Parents Learn, Too

Lisa writes: With two sons in college and another working his way in that direction, I should have acquired some real insights into parenting college students, wisdom that only a mother in my position could have gained. Instead, I have learned some very basic truths about life with college students.

college students, campus

 

Filthy Dorm Rooms

College dorm rooms never get cleaned, never. So when a parent has not actually set foot in their child’s dorm room since move-in day, a very unpleasant and foul surprise awaits. I have real trouble resisting the urge to straighten, so it is best if I just stay away. On move-out day I come prepared with garbage bags and old clothes; until then I meet my kids at the Starbucks in their college towns.

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How to Have the Best Parents Weekend

Lisa writes: September’s turmoil is winding down.  Bed Bath and Beyond has been depleted, dorm move-in has been successfully accomplished, and classes are in full swing. As parents, we can stop worrying about the transition to college and plan the visit.  If you live close enough to your college age child and do not want to wait until Thanksgiving to see them, well, it’s time for a little journey.  Some schools have an established Parents Weekend or you might just be heading to school on your own…either way, here are some things to think about.

parents weekend college campus

Bring food, after all they are teens, need I say more. If you bake, you are a goddess. If you can’t bring provisions, the grocery store makes a nice family outing.

In my informal poll, okay my Facebook page, there was a strong feeling that “Parents Weekend” was not really the best parents weekend, that the crowds and the staged events were not the optimal atmosphere in which to visit offspring.  Personal opinion will need to prevail. [Read more...]



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Goodbye to the Family Dog

Mary Dell writes: Long ago, our house became a favorite destination for our son’s playdates and we have a big, brown, furry family dog to thank. During our 20+ years of marriage, we have actually owned four (!) chocolate Labrador retrievers beginning with our very first puppy and ending with the dog who joined our almost empty nest three years ago.

goodbye to the family dog

 

Of all the dogs, though, Argus, who became our  six-year old son’s best buddy, was the rowdiest, matching up in temperament perfectly with the pack of energized little boys who came over to play.  As he trained  (somewhat successfully) his unruly pal, our son gained a playmate and confidante, alarm clock and friend; in fact, he gained a brother. The years of puppyhood, with chewed possessions and indoor “accidents,” are distressing. But witnessing your grown child saying goodbye to a now-aged dog as he leaves home for college is infinitely harder.

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8 Best of the Empty Nest

Here are our 8 Best of the Empty Nest, the handful of beautiful musings that we feel encapsulate the journey from parenting in our homes full of little kids to parenting young adults striking out on their own. Some of these amazing writers offer us up their pain, most their humor and all their love.  Each tells their own story, and like all good writing, it becomes our story.  In no particular order:

 

1. Anna Quindlen, Flown Away, Left Behind, Newsweek

Anna Quindlen

Three rooms empty, full of the ghosts of my very best self.

 

2. Michael Gerson, Saying Goodbye to My Child, the Youngster, The Washington Post

Off to College

He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close.

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Professor Offers Best Advice for College Freshmen

From Michelle, a Grown and Flown friend: A year ago, when my nephew was beginning his first year of college, I put together a top-ten list of advice for college freshmen based on my years as a professor and the advice of colleagues and former students. Last week I checked in to see if my advice had been of any help. The original column appears below, with comments from Elias, now a rising sophomore.

1. SHOW UP.

Attend every class session unless you have a contagious illness. (Woody Allen was right: 80% of success is just showing up.) And don’t sit in the back; I can practically predict a student’s grade based on where he or she sits. Slacking in the back row = bad grades with very few exceptions. Elias says, “I can’t say enough about how important this is. Two-thirds of the students in my 9:30 class, where lectures were posted online, never showed up for class. I went to everything, and as a result I developed terrific relationships with most of my professors.”

freshman year, college professor

2. INTRODUCE YOURSELF.

Find an excuse to go to office hours, not just once but two or three times a term.  Take a draft of your essay to a TA or professor for review; once graded work has been handed back, go back and ask for advice on how to improve it. These people will be your references, advocates, and possibly even friends later in life; you want them to remember your name when the semester is over. And don’t be afraid to kiss a little ass. If your professor is giving a talk or performance, show up — and make sure he or she knows you did.  Helpful hint: always remind said professor, adviser, or TA of your name when you encounter them; they will be eternally grateful. 

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Kids Going to College: Getting Your Heart and Head Ready

Lisa writes: When we published a post last summer about our kids going to college, we thought we had missed a most important moment and had one only chance left, when our youngest leave.  We were wrong.

College Move-in, Dorm Move-In

Parenthood has two big transitions, when our children arrive and when they leave. Mary Dell and I managed the first and, with our older sons, we have faced the second. Our youngest children are leaving for college in a year, a moment we have looked forward to and dreaded for almost two decades. A year ago when we considered this topic we were struck by the real wisdom offered by  Marshall P. Duke, Professor at Emory University in this wonderful piece he wrote for The Huffington Post.

“It is a moment that comes along once in a lifetime. Each child only starts college once. …Such moments are rare. They have power. They give us as parents one-time opportunities to say things to our children that will stick with them not only because of what is said, but because of when it is said.

Here is what I tell the parents: think of what you want to tell your children when you finally take leave of them and they go off to their dorm and the beginning of their new chapter in life and you set out for the slightly emptier house that you will now live in. What thoughts, feelings and advice do you want to stick? “Always make your bed!”? “Don’t wear your hair that way!”? Surely not. This is a moment to tell them the big things. Things you feel about them as children, as people. Wise things. Things that have guided you in your life. Ways that you hope they will live. Ways that you hope they will be. Big things. Life-level things.”

Professor Duke suggests a letter, that I did not write, to impart to  your now independent child all the important things you want them to know.  This letter, he reminds us, will not be deleted but kept and the message absorbed.

When I read his exceptional piece and all I could think was, “I blew it.”  I have sent two sons off to college without any attention to the profound.  I was saddened  for the missed opportunity and hoped I might be redeemed with my third and final opportunity when my youngest son goes to college.

And then I read the very wise professor more carefully (as I urge you to.)  Our children will, hopefully, cross many important thresholds in their young adulthood.  There will be first jobs and real loves.  There will be engagements and marriages.  They will face heart-wrenching disappointments and the joys of parenthood. At each of these moments, if and when they occur, we have a chance to quietly offer our thoughts to be accepted or rejected, but to be heard.

For many of us, the milestone moment on the horizon is our kids going to college. While Professor Duke offers advice for the heart, here are practical suggestions from BTDT* moms.

Off to College:

Last year we asked a group of very experienced moms to share their collective wisdom on saying goodbye to the kids going to college. Their advice spans the gamut from the very practical to the very personal, from the trivial to the monumental.  Other friends, the authors of the great book College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, offer professional advice:

In the end, our job as parents is to leave them with both the right size sheets and a sense that they are well equipped for this next, independent stage of life.  The challenges are no greater or lesser than when they arrived eighteen years ago.

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