College Board Drops the Green Flag

Mary Dell writes: For our two families, the fall is well underway with our older kids back at college and our younger two  starting 11th grade. However, we have parented juniors before and we know what is heading their way. This year will be different for our youngest as they enter a new phase in their lives, thanks to the College Board.


Daytona 500, green flag, racing flag, PSAT,NASCAR, family trip to Daytona, teenage kids at Daytona, racing start

Like a Daytona 500 starter dropping the green flag, the College Board will soon summons juniors to sit for the PSAT,  signalling the beginning of the race known as college application season.

SAT, College Board, PSAT test, college acceptance tests for juniors, high school testing, college testingThe PSAT is big –  3.5 million kids big – and it is the one pre-college test that all juniors take with all of their classmates on a single day in October.  It is a rite of passage going back to 1971 (hey, we took it too!) and, for generations of kids, the PSAT  has started the college ball rolling.

Once the scores are returned, the next lap will feel long for high school juniors…and their parents, too. While our kids compete for college acceptance, we act as pit crews, praying there will be no crashes.  Lisa and I endured this with our older children and we can tell you that, with the PSAT behind them, they will begin to take SATs, SAT IIs, APs, ACTs (on top of the tests they take for their regular old school work.) It is exhausting just to watch! No wonder “junior year” is a synonym for “stressed out.”

It is not only College Board’s calendar that forces our children to shift into a higher gear. Already, they have begun to leave behind a more innocent age on their own. I saw it clearly at my daughter’s recent soccer team dinner. At the end of the night, eight juniors read a poem, honoring the eight seniors. While each 11th grade girl entered the dining room as an underling, each departed as a senior member of the team.

college testing, PSAT test, PSAT answer sheet, college test prep, junior year, college applications, SAT practice test

Likewise, our daughter will turn 17 in mid-November, cleared by NY State to drive wherever, whomever and whenever she wants. She plans to celebrate her birthday with friends out to dinner and I doubt we will be on the guest list.

By virtue of birth order,  she is and will remain our baby.  On the day she was born, when my husband brought our five-year old to see his sister in the hospital room, I was shocked at how changed my son looked to me. As he stood on tiptoes to kiss our new tiny child, he seemed much older than just the day before. Now it is time for me to see her in a different light, perhaps for the very first time.

It’s junior year and the College Board may hold the green flag, but if I look closely, I see that my child, our youngest, is already well down the track.

college board


College Board

Is this how your child’s junior year felt to you? 



  1. Emily says

    With our oldest a freshman in high school, we are not there yet, but I can tell you I am already dreading that stressful junior year. I become stressed just thinking about it! I am betting that you are much calmer going through this with your younger child than you were with your first, although it sounds like it’s never easy to send them off “down that track.”

    • says

      Emily, yes, you are right that hard earned knowledge comes with each child going through the process. I am calmer this time around! As for you, try not to stress too soon! There is plenty of time once your freshman in a few years older.

  2. happyoutlook says

    Loved your green flag and track analogy. While I must admit that I’m glad that our kids are done with all the college testing, what I remember most vividly about junior year was how suddenly I could imagine each one of my kids being almost ready to go to college as they became more independent.

    • says

      You said it well – that seeing them acting more independently helped you imagine them being almost ready to go to school. I see it now with our daughter. Thank you for the kind words.

  3. says

    My oldest is a freshman in college this year. She has moved 550 miles away and this has been more stressful than the junior year was to me.

    • says

      Pam, you must miss her very much and look forward to the times when she can return home for holidays. Yes, that is a different type of stress!

  4. says

    Junior year is rough! We don’t take the PSAT here, just the ACT but it’s just as stressful because that score means so much.

    • says

      Emily, you bring up a good point – there are many different strategies, and high schools determine what they think is best for their students. Thanks!

  5. nathalie dwyer says

    We have our 1st Junior and had no idea the scores were coming in the mail soon. Just trying to stay grounded and not add to our daughter’s stress and make it worse. She has just decided to buckle down now, and I truly believe there is a school for everyone, and in that vein, bypass the race, and encourage the ride.

    • says

      Nathalie, I believe that each high school determines how and when to distribute scores after getting them back from College Board so it varies when kids find out how they did. Good idea about staying grounded and trying not to contribute to your daughter’s stress.

  6. says

    One of my happiest days was when my son got into pharmacy school and everything became pass/fail instead of the constant grade pressure. I think an individual learns better this way.

    • says

      Shelley, agreed, kids have such pressure to make good grades and it is so hard to watch them with the struggle.

    • says

      Carol, so true- kids are much more aware of the process and than in our time. We had a little bit of blissful ignorance.

  7. says

    My two kids are in college now–a senior and a sophomore, but I still remember the stress that came with junior year. Your description of the experience is absolutely accurate. Thanks for giving the newbies the heads up. The first time around is an eye-opener and too stressful. My advice to parents now is take a deep breath, strap yourself in and remember, you will all make it to the finish line in one piece.

    • says

      Anne, there is much to learn about the process, as a parent. We would like to share with the first timers without making them more anxious, if that is possible. Good advice about remembering to breathe.

      • says

        The reason I started my blog was to help other parents avoid some of the stress I experienced the first time around. Parents worry too much during this whole process. The important things to remember are that there are many good colleges in this country, your child doesn’t need perfect SAT scores to get into one of those good schools, PSATs are meant to point out the areas your student needs to work on before they take the SAT, and, most importantly, your child will get into college–remember, they only need one acceptance. So again, take a deep breath, and read and learn as much as you can about how this all works and that will help relieve some of your anxiety.

        • says

          Your blog has lots of wonderful writing. What a fantastic way to share hard-earned knowledge you gained from the experience with your children. Thanks!

  8. Jennifer Comet Wagner says

    Junior year is by far the most stressed out year ever, as much for parents as for teens. But then, around the middle of senior year, after my sons got accepted to college and there were no big tests left, everything calmed down.

    • says

      Jennifer, that is how things were in our house, too. From the spring of junior year to the spring of senior year, things are hectic. Love seeing the seniors in the spring – they are smiling and breathing!

  9. Grace Hodgin says

    Mine have been out of school for so long it is kind of hard for me to remember their junior year. It is ‘the year’ to be thinking about the future and what college you want to attend.

    • says

      Grace, so true – junior year is really key for thinking about college. It ushers in a new seriousness in our kids which I now see in my daughter.

  10. says

    What we didn’t realize is that the PSATs are also used for determining the pool for National Merit Finalists. Our three kids happen to be really great test takers and qualified. What we didn’t know was the tips and tricks of the National Merit process which awards millions of dollars of scholarships. My mistake cost us a full ride to my son’s university. Fortunately, I was smarter the second time around and even smarter the 3rd time. I would be happy to share my experiences with anyone who finds themselves in this fortunate position.

    • says

      Debbie, what a very generous offer you have made to share your experiences with others. Thank you! Is there a post on your blog that you could link here that might be a good place to start? With three kids who were all successful with the PSAT it sounds like you applied your hard earned knowledge increasingly well to secure scholarship funds. Lisa and I have gone down the learning curve with our older kids so I can understand that you became a master of the subtleties.

  11. says

    The junior (and senior) years of high school were so incredibly stressful with my three daughters. You’ve hit it right on the head with this post. And this—”We were not on the guest list, did not drive a single girl, just waited up to hear about it.”—that touched my heart so. I remember well how odd it felt to no longer be part of the main birthday celebration, only getting to hear about it afterward.

    • says

      Lisa, it was so odd to be left out of the birthday party this year…While I was happy that I didn’t have to get involved, it seemed so sudden, after all these year of organizing parties for both kids, that it ended….just like that.

  12. says

    I can feel my muscles tighten and my stomach clench just thinking about Junior year and test after test after test. My best advice is to have faith, it does end and we all get through it! There are great things to come…

  13. says

    The nightmare of junior year – AP classes, PSATs, the thrill of senior year a few months away – it does seem barbaric for our children to have to deal with all that, even as they are a bundle of raging hormones and distracted by a zillion things around them. I do not miss that at all!

    • says

      Really wish that the adults who created such pressure could find a way to ease up on, especially, 11th graders. As you say, the thrill of 12th grade awaits.

  14. Alan Sheptin says

    The flag actually goes down on July 1 before 11th grade and thus commenceth the frenzy. As a consultant, I try to take as much of the stress out of the child and the family. In high-achieving communities such as mine, the parents and students talk about college starting in the 9th grade. However, here is my advice:
    1. Keep your cool. Yes, this is an important test but it is only a test. Yes, my goal is to help my students reach their maximum best. Remember: if a school rejects your child, it is not because of one test score. And if it is, then that school does not deserve to have your child (or your money!).
    2. Don’t compare children. If this is your second, third, or tenth child going through the “process,” avoid telling your child that sibling #1 scored this and you are just as smart. Parents do slip, from time to time. Try to hold your tongue.
    3. Find a good, sympathetic tutor. I try to be that person, and I think I am. Too many SAT and ACT consultants drive the kids nuts, telling them that their scores are not good enough, or comparing them to other students they have. First of all, the fact that I am working with your child is confidential. If you want to tell your friends I am working with you, fine. My lips are sealed. Yes, I may goad you into doing work, and being a bit of a nag, but my intent is for you to do as best as you can. And parents, if you want to talk to the tutor about your child’s progress, make a phone appointment. Oftentimes, I have four or five students in one day, and I need to keep on schedule, otherwise, I won’t get home until 11:00 – and I’m totally wired by then!

    Lastly, enjoy the process. Visit schools and make a mini-vacation out of them. Going to look at Boston schools? Why not walk the Freedom Trail? In NYC? Walk the High Line, wander around the Village, go to the Met. Make the process fun. It does not have to be painful!

    • says

      Alan, you have such good suggestions here – keep your cool (a challenge to me with my first child,) don’t compare kids, find a good tutor and enjoy the process. Thanks for weighing in at Grown and Flown with expert advice.


  1. […] Mary Dell writes: Once our children become teenagers, there is one big question that looms large over their four years of high school – where will they gain college admission. Lisa and I both have 11th graders who are taking the SAT, visiting schools and, along with three million other kids, seeking the answer. […]