APPROXIMATELY A YEAR AGO TODAY, I sent out a post on my Facebook page titled: “Test Prep is a Process”. After months of “on and off” test prep practice and exams, my daughter, Kaleigh, at the time a rising senior, was in a good place with respect to testing. She had a combined SAT math and reading score of 1400 out of 1600. She was officially done with standardized testing and was heading into her senior year well positioned to finalize her college list, prepare her applications, and write her personal and supplemental essays. The point of my post was to remind parents and students that test prep is not a sprint – it is a marathon: so start early and get testing finished so that (like Kaleigh) your teen could be well positioned for the next step of the college process. As a parent and an SAT Tutor – I was pretty darn proud.
But like any Greek tragedy in which the hero has too much false pride – my smugness did not last long. Two weeks into the fall of Kaleigh’s senior year, things started to unravel. On September 14th, Kaleigh came home in a panic! She literally needed her recommendation letters finalized, her personal essay and supplementary essays completed and extensive application paperwork done ASAP! I was in shock. I thought that we had at least three months to prepare – but if Kaleigh wanted to apply Early Action, she needed everything into guidance by October 15th. How the heck did this happen? Kaleigh was top 10% in her class; I was a test prep tutor and teacher; we had one of the best guidance counselor at PHS and, yet, things still went awry.
Ultimately, Kaleigh did successfully get into the college and the program of her dreams, but the first and second quarter of her senior year were hell.
The result of this blood, sweat and tears is my new blog titled: The COLLEGE PROCESS IN REAL TIME! My purpose in writing this is to alert parents of rising juniors and seniors to what you REALLY NEED TO KNOW about the COLLEGE PROCESS IN REAL TIME so that you are not caught unaware like I was about when and how things should get done.
I am excited to introduce my new website: www.performance-prep-and-college-admissions-counseling.com and blog. I can’t promise that I will send you an update every week, but my goal is to try – starting with today. I begin with the first lesson learned about the college process.
Lesson #1: STUDENTS, DO NOT WAIT FOR YOUR SENIOR ENGLISH CLASS TO START YOUR PERSONAL ESSAY
Last summer, July 2015, and very last minute, I decided to apply for the Independent Education Consulting’s SUMMER TRAINING INSTITUTE (STI) for College Consulting. I was fortunate enough to be accepted. I decided to attend because parents (my clients) often asked for advice on colleges. But, I was a test prep tutor, not a college consultant. Realizing that the two go hand-in-hand and having a rising senior made this the next logical step for me.
Anyway, I came back from the Institute in August with a sense of urgency about getting the personal essay done among other things. Here was my conversation with Kaleigh:
Me: “At STI, the presenter mentioned getting the personal essay completed over the summer before your senior year.”
Kaleigh (who responds with firm conviction): “Oh no, Mom. We do that in Senior English.”
Because my daughter had always been a self-regulator and overachiever, I didn’t question her response. I trusted that she knew best.
Lesson Learned: Your teen’s understanding of the college process is only as good as the information that he or she is given. Timing is everything and by the time the high school guidance department tells you that something is due – it is already too late. Students DO work on the personal essay in Senior English for about 5 minutes (okay two weeks). That is not enough time to do a well-crafted personal essay.
Now, if your rising junior or senior is your oldest, you might be asking: What is the personal essay and why is it important? And, what the heck is Early Action? These are important questions. (Veteran parents can skip this part.)
Early Action: For students who are prepared (meaning test scores, essays, and the common application are complete), Early Action is a non-binding agreement (Unlike Early Decision) in which you are considered as an applicant for colleges of interest early in the process, receive a decision and an award letter by November of your senior year. This gives your teen a foundation (and peace of mind) for rounding out a college list. Regular Action is January 1st. Not every school offers EA, but if it does and your teen is interested, it definitely helps to apply EA to understand where he or she stands. Also, there are certain schools that only offer certain scholarship opportunities to EA students (like James Madison University).
Example: Kaleigh applied EA to Loyola, Boston College, Northeastern, James Madison and Elon University. She received a generous scholarship to Loyola, a Presidential Scholarship to Elon and a Merit scholarship to Northeastern. JMU is a public school. They accepted Kaleigh and offered her entry into their Honors program, but she received no money. And, she was waitlisted for BC. So in mid-November, Kaleigh, at least, had a sense of where she stood with certain schools versus waiting until April 1st for regular decisions to be made. Her other schools: Bucknell, Lehigh, Wake Forest, and Richmond, did not offer EA – only ED.
Early Decision (ED): Early Decision is when your teen totally loves a school and is willing to forfeit any scholarship money. Many of our friends from Weston, CT (where we use to live before moving to Southbury) had their teen apply Early Decision because even if your teen is the “low hanging fruit,” chances are that he or she will get in. Let me be clear: your teen will not get into a school ED if he or she does not meet the academic criteria, but if he or she is in the ballpark – applying ED almost ensures entry because the student has made a commitment and is willing to pay full price.
The Personal Essay: This essay is the one true opportunity for a student to share his or herself with admissions officers. Many admissions officers consider this to be the most important part of the college application. It is an opportunity for students to introduce themselves to the school and tell admissions officers about themselves. If a student is using the Common Application, the 2016-2017 essays are already up on the website, but you don’t need the essay questions to begin reflection; whatever a student decides to write about can usually fit any of the generally open-ended questions.
Comment: Working with Kaleigh on her personal essay was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a tutor and as a parent. (I just wish that we had started in August versus September.) One of the typical Common App questions asks about a problem that you overcame (or are attempting to overcome). Kaleigh decided to talk about her inability to fall asleep at night. The opportunity to discuss and assist her to craft this essay created a bonding experience for us and made me see her difficulty through a new lens. It also allowed us to get to the heart of her issue, which was her attempt always to want to control things. It was a pretty cool experience: the personal essay as therapy. But, as much as a student may want to share his or her authentic self with college admissions officers, the essay also needs to be written with a fair amount of maturation. It is imperative that students receive guidance from a parent, teacher or professional who can make sure that the essay accomplishes the goal set forth.
HOW CAN MY TEEN PREPARE FOR COLLEGE THIS SUMMER?
For Rising Seniors
This August, I am offering WORKSHOPS in the personal essay, the student resume, and the recommendation letter. I (along with my colleague Josh) will also be offering SAT/ACT small group instruction classes.
I have a lot of rising seniors preparing for standardized tests using the hybrid method of prep. They are preparing for the ACT for September with the understanding that they will also take the October SAT. The tests are similar – so this works effectively.
For Rising Juniors:
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be prepared for the PSAT. If you go in clueless – you will miss a major opportunity to understand your strengths and challenges. Guidance suggests that it is a pre-assessment. It is not. Know everything about the PSAT going into the test and then use the PSAT as a “pre-assessment” for the SAT. You will be so much more ahead of the game when preparing for your SAT in the winter and spring of your junior year if you already have a sense of your error patterns. I (and my colleague, Josh) will be offering PSAT workshops this August.
I will post info about my classes later this week and include them on my website. Don’t hesitate to contact me on my cell: 203-313-2739 or my email: firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!