Monthly Archives: May 2013

No more Middle School, and a new High School, for the Mod Squad.


It’s not just the graduation that’s a blur. What the heck happened to the last fourteen years?

Last night Linc, the youngest member of our Mod Squad, graduated from 8th grade. Like his older siblings at the same age, he is more than ready to move on to high school.

While our oldest child, M.S. Pete, continues to push us into new realms of parenting (Hello, college — whoa, where did that first year go!), the third child closes doors on familiar territories.

Walking down the aisle, moving the tassle from one side of his cap to the other, Linc ushered us out of middle school. He will also usher us into a new high school experience, since Linc will attend a STEM-related academy in the fall. The Math, Engineering, and Science Academy is hosted by a high school in our division, just not the same HS Pete attended and Julie will be a senior at this August. Ahem. In June.

In preparation for an academic schedule we anticipate will be demanding, Linc will take a couple of courses this summer — PE via summer school and Health via an online course — and open up time in his schedule for study hall.

For now, though, we’ll celebrate rather than anticipate.

Congratulations, Linc!

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How to deal with college application deadlines, part one: 9 Tips

Our household dealt with a multitude of deadlines this winter. I wrote about it in How do you handle deadlines?, outlining our typical strategies, and threw out a query for any helpful ideas. Almost done with junior year, Mod Squad Julie is fast approaching college application-related deadlines.

Fortunately help came, via email, LinkedIn and comments here!

I planned to post a short list of tips, but the narrative responses I received, especially from the independent college counselors and one admissions advisor, are worth quoting in full. So, for your deadline-meeting pleasure, here’s part one with tips.

Our typical strategies for applications

  1. Print out the application form as soon as it’s available and complete the easy parts.
  2. Figure out what you need from others — transcript, recommendations, health forms — and get those requests out ASAP.
  3. Read through the essay questions and start thinking.
  4. Begin writing draft responses as soon as you can.
  5. Make a list of the points you want to share (from experiences, extra-curriculars, interests, goals, etc.) and divide them appropriately among the questions.
The door to our garage, the day the NHS application was due.

The door to our garage, the day the NHS application was due.

Digital Calendar

6.  HS Guidance Counselor, Stef: 

I have a desk calendar and I write everything work related on it. Then I also add to my Google calendar which syncs to my iPhone and iPad. It sends reminders! I highlight the major things… But in short, a visual big calendar. Weekly check in for important tasks. A set aside time each week for working on apps, scholarships.

Paper Calendar

7.  Parent, Robyn S.: 

…Put up a visual reminder indicating the timeline. Teens seem to think that time is limitless. I employ a calendar printout showing due dates, make my teen count back from the due date to see how much time is left, put the calendar in a place where it cannot be missed, and cross off the days as they progress, making the deadline loom ever closer. Has been known to work. And fail. I call it a “failure” when last minute high-stress antics are required in order to get the job done in time. The latter seems to be a prerequisite on the learning curve, sadly.

The Nudge

8.  Parent, Kim C.: 

I have not found that magic fairy dust yet, other than – umm – “nudging.”

9.  HS Guidance Counselor, Ellen: 

Nag, nag, nag.

Umm, yes, we’ve been known to use the nag/nudge devices here, too. Besides Post-It reminders on the garage door.

Coming next, part two with advice from the professional counselors’ comments, and part three with specific tools.

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Head’s up: Free webinars on how to pay for college.

I don’t often give over this space to promote something. Since I cannot remember if I ever have in the two years I’ve been writing here, this may be a first. All that simply to say, here is a great opportunity for any parents wondering about how college pricing works and how to pay.

Via The Atlantic.

Via The Atlantic.

Two college admissions and finance specialists, Lynn O’Shaughnessy and Michelle Kretzschmar, have joined together to develop a series of free live webinars this summer.

The first, to be held next Sunday, June 2nd at 7 pm EDT, will cover:

  • Why College Sticker Prices are Meaningless. It’s a lot like airline prices or buying a car but not as transparent and no Priceline equivalent.
  • The Real Story Behind College Scholarships. There really aren’t millions of dollars of scholarship money out there that goes unclaimed. But there is money if you know where to look.

You can read more about it on Lynn’s College Solution website and on Michelle’s DIY College Rankings website here. No registration is required, simply go to The College Solution Webinar page.

I’ll be there.

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What were they thinking? A few crazy college stories.

Bronze tiger sculptures by Alexander Phimister...

Nassau Hall; Princeton University; Princeton, NJ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This seemed to be the spring for craziness on the college newsfeed. If you happen to follow loads of college stories, you’ve likely seen one or two of these, but just in case…

Find a husband.

One of Princeton’s first female attendees, Susan Patton, class of ’77, participated in a Women and Leadership conference on campus and, in the breakout discussion afterwards, saw current Princetonian “girls glazed over at preliminary comments about our professional accomplishments and the importance of networking,” yet who “asked about the value of our friendship, about our husbands and children.”

Ms. Patton took this opportunity to write a letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian, Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had. In short, “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.”

My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless. Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.


My favorite response, by Maureen O’Connor in NY Magazine, Princeton Mom to All Female Students: ‘Find a Husband’, includes this,

What an excruciatingly retro understanding of relationships she has. If men are happy with bimbos, but women aren’t happy with “men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal,” then the conclusion is that a successful heterosexual relationship requires the man to be smarter than the woman. This is the same logic used by teen girls who feign stupidity to attract dates for the homecoming dance.

Suzy Lee Weiss.

SLW on the Today Show.

SLW on the Today Show.

There are any number of steps a high school student can take in response to college application rejections, and if one’s older sister used to develop features for the Wall Street Journal, the student can even get an essay to leap into the college admission zeitgeist of the moment.

First, the essay: To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me

Second, the media tour: Rejected high school senior: colleges lied to me

Note:  it’s easy to spot a well-coached media guest when her very first response is not to the question asked, but to thank the interviewer for inviting her on.

Third, cue the backlash: simply Google her name and dip in.

One of my favorite admissions bloggers (Jon Boeckenstedt, DePaul) followed up his initial post about Weiss with this one: Let’s agree to knock it off, already, reminding us,

In short, it reads like it was written by a 17-year old kid whose cerebral cortex is not yet fully developed. Which, I’ll remind you, is perfectly normal.

Yet, I really liked this response from Seth Taylor, who blogs as Dad Overboard, An Open Letter to my 11-Year-Old Daugher in the Hope that She Never Becomes Suzy Lee Weiss.

1)  No one in this world owes you anything.  Sure, I think you’re smart, creative, talented, and unique. I think you’re a sparkling unicorn in a world of plain ol’ ponies, and I think any Smarty-Pants college would be lucky to have you. But if you ever, ever feel entitled to something just because you really want it, think again.

And this, a bit of a poem posted by Christoper Lee-Rodriguez on his NothingIsNeverGood Tumblr:

Your rejection from opportunity
Has blinded you from the millions of opportunity
Already in front of you

Mocking applicant essays.

Penn had to let go one of their admission officers, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, in Former admissions officer mocked applicant essays:

In the posts, which were made available through a collection of Facebook screenshots sent anonymously to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda and The Daily Pennsylvanian on Dec. 3, Foley mocked a number of student essays she had come across in her work.

. . .

In another excerpt, she quoted an essay in which an applicant had described the experience of overcoming his fear of using the bathroom outdoors while camping in the wilderness.

“Another gem,” Foley wrote of the student’s topic choice.

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, here,

Surely it’s not uncommon for admissions officers, who may read thousands of such essays, to poke some gentle fun in the privacy of a cubicle or a bar booth. However, copies of Ms. Foley’s excerpts, along with her snide comments, made it as far as the College Confidential Web site, where students find and share information about institutions they may apply to.

Which brings me to finally share a blog that could help provide a reality check for students and parents across the land. Admissions Problems offers admissions officers an online outlet to poke some gentle fun — without calling attention to specific students or mocking specific their essays. See, especially, the tagline:


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The debates on AP courses. Yes, No, Maybe, and How Many?

Every year the Higher Ed newsfeed fills with debates about AP courses, and this year is no different.

AP US History, decade notes.

AP US History, decade notes.

It’s up to each family to understand the issues involved and figure out the appropriate number for each student to take (if any). For background:

  • Last year the College Board administered more than 3.2 million AP exams. See College Board’s Who We Serve. This year the AP exam costs $89 per. (College Board is a non-profit organization, but more than half of their revenue comes from AP exam fees.) Factor that exam cost against the cost of taking a three or four credit hour course at a college.
  • Thanks to APs, many students now begin their first year of college with a semester or two of credits already earned. Yet, some colleges require a major to be declared when a certain number of credits have been achieved, sometimes leading to a first year student needing to declare prior to his or her second year.

Much of the recent debate includes discussion of a recent report from the Stanford University Education Grad School program, Challenge Success. Start with that fifteen page report, The Advanced Placement Program: Living Up To Its Promise? The authors set up a few claims and tackle a lot of issues as they pull them apart. Don’t miss the recommendations for students on page ten.

Here’s the thing: every student will have reasons to take — or not take — APs. Do not take them because everyone else is.

  • Do take them if your are interested in the subject and willing and able to put in the extra time and effort.
  • Do not compete to take the most APs of everyone you know.
  • Do focus on learning how to take an AP. Many high schools use the AP Euro class, typically taken by sophomores, as an intro to taking APs, spending time on the prccess as well as the content.
  • Consider starting slow and building through high school. Starting with one sophomore year, two junior, and three senior year shows increased effort and rigor and makes a lot more sense for most students than jumping in with two or three sophomore year.

More to read on APs:

Two perspectives from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

NO:  Stop Letting High-School Courses Count for College Credit, by Michael Mendillo.

The end result is that in many introductory college courses, the top students are simply not in the classrooms. For them, faculty-student interactions are not possible and the overall value of a university education is diminished. All of these aspects of educational disservice are due to the existence of the AP system.

The solution is simple: All the things a student accomplishes in high school—grades, extracurricular activities, sports, volunteering—are application credentials for college. There should be no carry-over of high-school accomplishments into the collegiate transcript.

YES:  Give AP credit where credit is due, by Mark Bauerlein.

We may ask, though, about the impact of refusing to give AP credit upon enrollments and test scores in high-school AP courses­—or other advanced offerings­. What’s the incentive for 16-year-olds to take a course with a stiffer workload, competitive fellow students, and the chance of a lower grade?

College credit means savings in time and money once they matriculate. Take it away, and students may wonder about the advantages. Yes, AP courses accustom them to college-level labor, and admissions offices favor AP as a sign that an applicant seeks a school’s best resources (this is Dartmouth’s policy). But those are somewhat fuzzy promises to a high-school junior.

NO:  AP classes are a scam, by John Tierney, writing in The Atlantic.

Many critics lay the blame on the College Board itself, a huge “non-profit” organization that operates like a big business. The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from its Advanced Placement program — more than all its other revenue streams (SATs, SAT subject tests, PSATs) combined. The College Board’s profits for 2009, the most recent year for which records were available, were 8.6 percent of revenue, which would be respectable even for a for-profit corporation. “When a non-profit company is earning those profits, something is wrong,” says Americans for Educational Testing Reform. (The AETR’s “report card” on the College Board awards a grade of D and cites numerous “areas of misconduct” by the College Board.)

Finally, here’s one high school teacher’s response to the Stanford report.

YES:  The Oft Understated Truth of AP Coursework, by John Blase, on his blog, Striving for Better.

Having taught an AP course for several years in the classroom (AP English Language & Composition, to be exact) I find that most of the arguments in this article and others purporting to say that AP coursework isn’t worth its weight miss one key important piece: Many students who are enrolled in AP courses are bored out of their skulls in regular classes.

. . .

As department lead, I made many observations of the teachers and students in their English coursework.  Every spring, I would ask the seniors in AP English Literature and Composition (the senior level AP English course at our school) one question:

“Now that you have taken the test, what could we, as an English department, have done better from day one of your freshman year to better prepare you for this course?”

The answers always came back the same: more of the stuff that made AP English what it is.  These students weren’t concerned with the college credit or the scores on the AP test.  They were concerned with not being bored out of their minds in their other classes.

Finding the delicate balance between enough challenge and too much, providing an overload of stress, is where an excellent guidance counselor or independent college counselor can truly help families. And the mix of courses, including how many APs, to reach that balance will be different for every student.

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Sending emails to strangers. At colleges. Asking for appointments.

Here’s one more reason why the college admissions process is so complicated for high school students:  at some point, after years of only emailing friends, family, and familiar teachers, your parents may insist that you sit down right now and send an email to strangers.

Right now, because this has likely been discussed a number of times over the past few weeks.

Mod Squad Mia, glad she doesn't have to write emails.

Mod Squad Mia, glad she doesn’t have to write emails.

Right now, because you need to request an appointment with someone in the department of interest while you’re visiting the college.

Right now, because the college visit is next week.

Yes, I know it would have been better if you had written last week, but it will be better if you write tonight instead of putting it off any longer.

No, you don’t know the specific person to ask — you need to look up the department and make your best guess.

Yes, it may be a different title in each department.

Yes, you may send a similar email to any number of people, but each needs to be sent to an individual, not to a group list.

Yes, it may happen that you don’t end up with any meetings.

Yes, you may end up meeting with someone in a department that ends up not being of interest to you.

Yes, you do need to write a few good things about yourself and what sort of student you are.

Yes, I do think you can figure out a way to say those good things without sounding like a braggart.

No, we will not write these for you, but we will read your drafts.

Yes, you can copy these and edit them to use again.

Yes, you do need also to write the Dean of Admissions who has sent you multiple emails, even though she has sent those emails to thousands of students. You can let her know you will be visiting and ask her advice about how best to spend your time while on campus.

Yes, you will have to do this again.

Yes, it gets easier with every email you write.

Just like this college thing gets a bit easier the second time around.

Why are college and scholarship applications so complicated?


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It’s testing season: AP Exam weeks.

All high school students in the US taking an Advanced Placement [AP] course will be taking the College Board AP Exam for that course sometime this week or next. Right now, when this is scheduled to post, thousands of students across the country are working their way through the AP Chem exam.

The 2013 AP Exam schedule.

The 2013 AP Exam schedule.

In our household, AP exams mean the past few weeks have been filled with drills (notes painstakingly detailed by Mod Squad Julie, drilled by M.S. Dad*), mock exams, and study sessions with classmates.

Many of the AP teachers have offered review sessions on Saturdays, giving away their own weekend time to help their students.

High school students and their parents tend to have a love-hate (or even hate-hate) relationship with APs. For students aiming for a selective college, if their high school offers AP courses, they’re a necessity. Most admissions officers will cite the importance of students taking the toughest course load available to them.

Students and their parents may stress about how well the student will do.  Students and their parents may stress about how many AP courses the student needs to take.

This year, for the first time, our high school’s guidance department offered an introductory session on APs for parents, providing an opportunity for questions prior to next year’s course registrations. Kudos to the counselors for that.

There’s much more to be said about APs, the cost, the opportunity cost, whether credit should be provided — more on all of that to come.

For now, good luck to the students taking APs this week and next. M.S. Julie has two exams this week and one next Wednesday. And with that, the highest stress points of her junior year will be behind her. I think.

* Note added to clarify:  any and all drilling for these and other exams is instigated by M.S. Julie, not either of her parents! We have been known to recommend reviewing to her brothers, but Julie is the one, so far, who takes advantage of the opportunity.

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