Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tips for a Successful College Visit-Look at The Community

When visiting a college it’s also a good idea to explore is the surrounding town and what it offers to students. For example is the campus located in the country or a city? Is there a local public transportation system or do many students bring cars? Are there movie theaters, museums, restaurants, and sports arenas close by or is it mostly bars and bowling alleys and which would your teen prefer?

When it comes time for break how close is the university close to a bus or train station or an airport? For events like Parent’s Weekend or special performances are there hotels or other accommodations nearby for families to stay in?

Don’t be afraid to ask college staff or tour guides how they’d classify the relationship is between “town and gown”. For example do the college students volunteer in the local community organizations or is there a tension between the locals and the fraternity members over underage drinking parties?

Hopefully my three posts will give you and your prospective freshmen some good ideas. Please feel free to comment if you notice anything I've forgotten or find one of the tips especially helpful.

And remember, above all:

Keep a Positive Attitude!
Don’t stress out over the logistics of college visits or the thought of your “baby” leaving home. It’s not a disaster if everything doesn’t go exactly as planned, its life, and soon your teen will be experiencing that on their own, without you by their side. Traveling to different campuses together offers you a wonderful opportunity to get to know your teen better as a person and to share some of your own college memories with them.

Along the way you’ll discover that high school students are more than ready to enter this next stage of their life and, trust me, by the time you drop them off at their new dorm room you will be too!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Following a few tips that have helped make our numerous college visits positive and successful:

Let Your Teen set the Pace
Once you get to campus, take a back seat. Under no circumstances should you act like the infamous helicopter parent! The experts say, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the best way you can help your teen is by staying quiet and taking notes. The exception to this is if you hear about or see something that your child may not have noticed that you feel would really enhance their visit, like the opportunity to sit in on an academic class or watch an Aeronautics Club fly their model plane. That’s your chance to speak up!

Be Prepared
Paying attention to little details like getting accurate directions and finding out where to park ahead of time make a big difference.

Dress in layers with the weather in mind. Wear comfortable walking shoes and don’t forget an umbrella or sun hat, depending on the time of year.

My boys and I like to carry a backpack with water bottles, a few healthy snacks, a little cash and a credit card, pens, and a notebook in it. This also gives you a place to store the information folders and handouts you pick up along the way.

Look at Everything
Taking a guided tour will give you the opportunity to learn a lot about the campus. However if your prospective freshman has a specific interest (like my music major did) than it’s important to see if there are facilities like a music library and what the performance hall and practice rooms look like. You’ll also want to use the bathrooms, eat the food, check out the laundry facilities, and look at the student lounges, all important places that may not be included on a regular tour.

Picking up both a campus and a local newspaper to read along with any free publications that are available will give you all a good feel for the area culture and how your son or daughter might fit in there. I also take a few minutes to read the fliers on the bulletin boards as we walk around campus to see what kind of club, activities, and special events are available for students.

Ask Questions
Most colleges are very welcoming to their high school visitors and parents. No question is too “silly”; admissions staff and tour guides have heard it all! If your teen thinks of something after they return home, encourage them to follow up by emailing or phoning the school .

Last stop-check out the surrounding community.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


After three years of exploring numerous college and universities with my two teenage sons, I’ve gradually developed a formula for getting the most out of our time on campus. Here are some of the tips that have helped to make our visits less of a chore and more of an adventure:

Plan Ahead
Based on conversations with the experts, including high school guidance counselors, college admissions staff, student tour guides, and college admissions consultants, the ideal time to begin visiting campuses is in the sophomore and junior years of high school. Freshman year most kids aren’t ready developmentally and senior year is cutting it a little close for both parents and teens.

There are two ways to experience a college visit, either at an Open House, an all-day event where everything is planned for you, or a more informal visit where you take part in a scheduled admissions meeting and campus tour but you’re on your own for the rest of the day. We’ve done it both ways and each has its own merits.

It’s also important to plan your visit when “real” students are on campus going about their normal routines. Visiting during summer vacation or exam time isn’t likely to give you a realistic look at the school. Our family has found Columbus Day weekend, February break, and the April vacation week to be the best times to plan our trips.

If you’re able to coordinate visits to several colleges and universities in the same geographical area you can save both time and money. A word of warning though, more than one or two visits a day will send you all into information overload and make everyone cranky so don’t over schedule yourselves.

Let Your Teen Lead
Have your son or daughter research the college ahead of time to see what the school offers visitors, including any special opportunities in their intended major. They can also be in charge of registering or signing you all up for the Open House or tours.
Once this is done, something I found helpful was to sit down with my sons a day or two ahead of the visit and make a tentative outline for the day that includes time for both scheduled and unscheduled activities (like meals).

Next up-What to do once you arrive on campus!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Recovery from Common Application Mistakes

Visit my web site

The world is far from perfect and this extends to the college admissions process. A major mistake is not the end of the world. In order to move forward, it is best not to obsess over the mistake. Responding depends upon the nature of the mistake.

Top 5 Application Mistakes and what to do about them.

1) Late application submission- If you submit your Common Application after the deadline, you may be out of luck at very selective colleges. Still, it is worth a call to admissions to see if you have a chance. You may need to apply to some additional colleges so that you have options at the end of the process.

2) Late fee submission- This is less serious than late application submission but it still may knock you out of contention at the most selective colleges. Submit the money as soon as possible and write a note of apology.

3) Mixing up the name of the college you are applying to- Some college names are just similar enough to be confusing. In fact, I didn't have Dickinson, Davidson, and Denison straight in my mind until I visited all three liberal arts colleges in person. This mistake can really hurt you because colleges do have pride in their name. This mistake is most common in college supplements because they often ask you , "What attracted you to apply to this college?" You need to answer this with specific names and programs which can easily be confused. You may discover this type of mistake if you re-read your application after submission. You should consider applying to a few more colleges.

4) Incomplete application- You will only discover this mistake if you check with each college to make sure they have everything. Don't expect them to contact you. You should send an e-mail ASAP to every college admissions office on your list to make sure they have received your test scores, recommendations etc....

5) Failure to Visit- If you have not visited a selective college that is less than two hours from your home, you are putting yourself at risk for rejection. Why? Because many admission offices figure that you do not really want to attend if you don't visit and are only applying because the common application makes it so easy. The remedy for this is to visit right away before your application is considered. Even if you have to take a bus to get there, it is important to make the effort if you want your application to be taken seriously.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Playlist for Completing College Applications

Visit my web site

Plugging into some music can help drain away stress while putting those final touches on college applications. The routine of filling out forms online can be made tolerable with some good tunes. I have asked a few students what music they like for focus and de-stressing. Those ideas helped me form the playlist below which is certainly open to additions.

The list is pretty eclectic because some people focus better with high energy music while others like a calm mood. I should mention that a few students said they like white noise either from a machine or a fan.



Bare Naked Ladies: Who Needs Sleep?
Eric Clapton: Layla (long version)
Led Zeppelin: Heartbreaker
M.I.A.: Galang
Green Day: Holiday
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Snow
ZZ Top: Sharp Dressed Man


Enya: The Celts
Loreena McKennitt: Mummer's Dance
Kamal: Song of the Deep (whale song)
Sim Redmond Band: Life is Water
Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells
Chopin: Nocturne in E flat Major

For songs of encouragement you could play Dar Williams' "Better Things" or Frank Sinatra's "High Hopes".

The song "Scream" By Zac Efron just may sum up the whole application madness. What do you listen to?

Monday, December 13, 2010


This time of year, many families find themselves eagerly anticipating having their college freshman return home for the holidays. Having everyone under one roof again is exciting; however, like many things associated with this festive season, their homecoming often results in a whole new set of challenges. Teens that have become used to being independent and making their own decisions while at college may chafe at what they view as unreasonable parental rules and restrictions and scoff at family traditions that their parents and younger siblings still cherish. Here are some tips that can help make your reunion more enjoyable and less stressful:

Expect change
Be forewarned, having your son or daughter at home won’t automatically return your family to its “pre-college” dynamic. Family members have all had several months to realign themselves and take on new roles. Your college student is now a young adult and should be treated as such instead of like a wayward teen or a guest in your house. Failing to recognize and acknowledge that key fact is bound to result in a very unpleasant winter break for all of you.

Be consistent with rules
It’s helpful if parents can sit down together before their freshman arrives and develop a list of rules that will be nonnegotiable while your teen is home. Making your expectations clear right from the start of the December break will alleviate any confusion or uncertainty about what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t. You can also use this time to talk about how you’ll handle things like borrowing the car, requests for money, and unexpected outings or impulsive road trips with friends you’ve never met.

Don’t compromise family values for the sake of peace
College students often find it surprisingly easy to forget basic family courtesies like picking up after themselves, using appropriate language and good manners, and helping out with daily chores like emptying the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, and caring for family pets.

Of course the returning college student shouldn’t be required to do extra work to make up for all the chores they’ve missed while they’ve been away (as my son’s brothers suggested!) but they should be expected to do their fair share.

Offer “quality” time together

Most returning teenagers will be excited to reconnect with old high school friends, teachers, or neighbors but that doesn’t mean that they won’t welcome some uninterrupted quality time with you.

Phone calls, emails, or texts can’t take the place of good, old-fashioned “face time”. Put the holiday chaos on hold for a few hours, sit back, and really listen to what your son or daughter is saying; you’ll learn a lot!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Crunch Time in College Admissions

Visit my web site

AAURGH! The primal scream (outdoors of course) is sometimes a good stress release for seniors in the final stages of applying to college. Aaron (a senior I know) runs up and down the stairs as fast as he can to try and relax. Why is it so bad? For one thing students now apply on average to 7 colleges which complicates the process. Heavy competition also translates into stress with over 1 million more applicants than a decade ago. So how to release stress? Squeezing a funky shaped stress ball (like my penguin) can help with typing fatigue. Many students de-stress by exercising prior to returning to their applications. Rocking out to music also helps get the kinks out.

Parents need to be supportive at this crunch time. What does that mean? In this case, it means offering to help the student as needed (except in writing essays). Offering is the key word. Forcing unwanted help on the student can result in blow-ups. Reminding students of things they need to do without nagging is an art and a necessary art for parents at this stage of the admissions process. Using a mode of communication that is least annoying for the student is best whether this is post-it notes or text messages. Comfort food can also help. Favorite foods like warm chocolate chip cookies can definitely improve the whole mood around the application activity. Contacting guidance about missing pieces of the application can also relieve some of the pressure on students.

College applications are due when they are due. This is a shock to many high school students who have easily received extensions on high school work. The consequences of a late or incomplete application are quite harsh. Most college admissions offices are too swamped to let students know personally that their application is incomplete. Generally, when other students are getting acceptance letters, those who have missed deadlines or failed to check on their applications will just receive a rejection letter from the colleges stating either that the application was too late to be processed or that parts of the application were missing.

Buckling down and finishing the applications can be hard for some procrastinators. Mary is an self-acknowledged procrastintor and she deals with it by giving herself a small reward for every section of the common application that she completes. I say whatever it takes, students need to get those applications complete at least a week before the deadlines. Josh (and others) waited until the night before the applications were do to send them out. AAURGH! An inside primal scream this time. "The server is down due to unsccheduled maintenance." Avoid the indoor primal scream. Submit early!