College Admission and Toxic Questions

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.

Practically from the delivery room, we begin to imagine our child’s future. As they grow up, kids take custody of their own hopes and dreams leaving parents to find a balance between being supportive and overbearing.  Too many questions, dictates or unsolicited advice and we risk watching our kids flee, slamming the bedroom doors behind them.

teenage avoidance

Unfortunately, even the most well-meaning adults fail to appreciate how intrusive it can feel to be bombarded with questions about college admission. Even perfect strangers glibly offer unsolicited advice on college and career.  Who can ever forget this scene from The Graduate:

So here is our plea to you should you encounter an 11th grader: offer your college opinions only if asked and avoid these ten toxic questions:

1.     How was the SAT?
2.     Are you taking any AP classes?
3.     How’s your GPA?
4.     What schools have you visited?
5.     What colleges are you applying to?
6.     What do you want to major in?
7.     Are you going to the school where your sister goes?
8.     When will you find out?
9.     Have you gained admission anywhere, yet?
10.   Did you find a summer job?

Alternatives? Fall back on sports, current events, movies/music/tv, the family dog – none of these should make your young friend excuse herself to avoid you and your curiosity –  a much happier outcome for all.

12 Best Ways to Help Your Teen Through Junior Year

Lisa writes: I am going through Junior year for the fourth time.

high school, eleventh grade, teenage girl, sunset

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 Junior year 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.


College Admissions: Then and Now

With two high school juniors, college admissions is a hot topic at both our houses.  We all agree that it was much easier when we applied to school and wish it wasn’t so brutally competitive for our kids’ generation. To try to understand why things have changed so much, we did a little digging and here are the facts: [Read more…]

Oh, to be Our Children…

Lisa writes: So we didn’t have the depression or World War II, like our parents, and we missed huge swaths of the Vietnam War.  Any credibility on how tough life was in the 1970s might be hard to come by.  But just because we didn’t have it bad, doesn’t mean that we don’t think our kids have it better, much, much better.  Here are some of the reasons we wish we could be our children:

Empty Nest, Facebook, SAT, spoiled children, privileged children,

1. Facebook

We may have  Facebook pages but our friends never seem to post embarrassing and deeply compromising photos of what they do when they are drunk. When we look on Facebook we see family photos, sunsets and graduations and find that we have little to ridicule our friends with the next morning. (At first we thought that maybe our friends don’t get tipsy often enough, but now we realize it is more likely that when they have been badly over served they can no longer operate or perhaps even remember that there is a camera on their cell phones.)

2. SAT tutoring

While it doesn’t look like fun, it sure beats going into the test cold and realizing that you do not even understand the first question.

3. Unpaid summer internships

We would have liked to help research the cure for cancer or shadow a CEO that our parents knew, jobs that no one in their right mind would pay us for.  We had boring summer jobs – we babysat, we waited tables, we folded and refolded clothes at local department stores that no longer exist.  You worked, you got paid.  No one ever considered giving you a job for which you were patently unqualified.

4. Us, at their fingertips

They had us at birth and nothing they have ever said or done has changed that. We acted like they were the greatest thing that had ever happened, and who were they to question us?  We call, we text, we send money.  We act like their in-house permanent cheer squad that they can call on at a moments notice.  And they can always reach us. Unless we are driving a busload of children, in the middle of performing an operation or conducting a symphony, we jump when they call and none of our colleagues or friends thinks there is anything strange about our behavior.

5. Fluoride

Trips to the dentist for painful shots of novocaine- “just a little pinch”- and the sound, smell and taste of the dentist drills still fill our nightmares.  Regardless of the mountains of candy they’ve ingested, they have been largely spared that childhood ordeal.

6. Around the world

We took trips to see our grandparents twice a year and that was the extent of our childhood travel. It was by car, not plane, and we bunked with our family. They had frequent flyer numbers before they could walk and passports filled with the stamps of countries in multiple continents.  For our kids, Walt Disney nailed it – it is a small world after all.

7. Whole Foods

Just think of the copious amounts of preservatives, red dye #2, pesticides, high fructose corn syrup, white flour, white sugar, white everything! Its no wonder our kids were taller than we are, by the time they were twelve.

8. First day of school

The first day of kindergarten was a rude awakening. It might have been nice to have five years of nursery school to help prepare us.

9. Friends of the opposite sex

When Harry met Sally had a point about this, not a popular idea before 1995.  Most male friends were exs.  Our kids’ friendships have permanently altered the relationships between the sexes—all for the better.

10. Facebook, again

The Internet is a game changer and our kids know how to exploit it to the fullest.  Not just ipods, ipads, laptops, smart phones, Facebook and Twitter, but all of the yet to be identified Facebooks and iphones of the future. Remember pen pals? Our kids’ friends number close to 1000 and there are no signs of stopping. Maybe they will even even friend their parents, someday.

Please add to the list of ways our kids have it MUCH better than we did!