Tag Archives: Mod Squad Julie

Two notes on colleges, from way, way, behind the front lines

This blog is currently on hiatus. I have a demanding day job, and our family is enjoying a welcome two-year respite between application years. (Quick personal update on our pseudonymous students: Mod Squad Pete is in his fourth year at U.Va., M.S. Julie is in her second year at U.Va., and M.S. Linc is a high school junior.)

However. Every now and then I see something I want to share and today is one of those days.Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 1.24.41 PM

Something current. In today’s New York Times Frank Bruni wrote How to Measure a College’s Value. I encourage you to read the column, which includes this result from an ongoing research project:

What else augurs well for success after college? Graduates fared better if, during college, they did any one of these: developed a relationship with a mentor; took on a project that lasted a semester or more; did a job or internship directly connected to their chosen field; or became deeply involved in a campus organization or activity (as opposed to minimally involved in a range of things).

Bruni’s conclusion could be my mantra:

What college gives you hinges almost entirely on what you give it.

Something older. Also from the NYT, here’s a November 2014 Q&A from the Social Qs advice column, written by Philip Galanes:

Admissions Gantlet

Our son is in the throes of college applications. Well-meaning family and friends ask us where he is applying. But no matter how comprehensive a list we give them, they invariably say: “Yale? What a terrible place. Don’t let him apply there.” Or: “Why not Duke?” Our son’s list was developed in consultation with his school counselors, who know his interests and scores, and we all feel good about it. Still, people are very strident and opinionated. How can we respond politely? Sonja, San Francisco

Nearly everyone (including me) supports the idea of personal autonomy — right up to the moment when the other guy is about to do something we wouldn’t. It’s a world of busybodies, Sonja. Surely this can’t be your first encounter with us? Still, college admissions are a sensitive area for many families, especially the competitive and lovers of status. (Again, pretty much all of us, no?)

The next time someone butts into your son’s college plans, just say: “What an interesting perspective. We’ll be sure to let Jake’s college adviser know.” No further words required — except maybe “plastics.” (Note to readers under 40: watch “The Graduate.”)

For any parents and students new to this game, consider carefully whose process this is and who should hear about the details. Many parents I know have had experiences similar to Sonja’s.

If you’re not comfortable just saying, “plastics,” try this from the first season of Gotham. In response to an unwelcome recommendation from James Gordon, the mayor said, “Thank you, my friend. Valuable input. Most refreshing.”

Good luck to all the students and families on the front lines this year.

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The girl is going to college.

There came a day in mid April when I stopped our daughter, known here as Mod Squad Julie, on her way out the door and said, “You haven’t sent in your commitment yet, have you?” She shook her head and left.

A day or so later, Julie said, “Right. College. What is it exactly that I need to do?” I was distracted by work, she was starting a new internship. We let a few more days go by.

Julie may not know all the words to "The Good Old Song," but she's knows the choreography for the chant at the end.

Julie may not know all the words to UVa’s “The Good Old Song,” but she knows the choreography for the chant at the end. (Click to enlarge)

By the last week of April, Julie had chosen her college, attended the admitted students day, chatted (face to face) with future classmates, and chatted (via messages and texts) with many more, and found a roommate. She just hadn’t gotten around to passing on the news to the school.

The Lawn at night

The Lawn at night, via Cavalier Daily (click to enlarge)

One night last week, Julie logged on to the SIS, clicked the “Accept” button, and paid her deposit to the University of Virginia, which had offered her a place in its Echols Scholars Program.

Halloween, 1999

Halloween, 1999

Julie’s excited and her older brother Pete is thrilled that she will join him there; her younger brother Linc just surfaced from the spring high school musical, so I’m not sure he’s even paying attention yet.

She also registered for orientation this summer before turning back to the high school assignments at hand. Soon (read:  after AP exams), she will start digging through the course selections for the fall semester.

The girl’s got wings.

 

 

 

 

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Yes, she’s going to college.

On a cold winter’s night in January… I returned home from the basketball game while Mod Squad Julie and her dad went out for a meal.

First one, then the other called me. Julie had heard during the school day that application statuses would be posted that night, but with a team meal after school, then the game, there had been no opportunity to check.

Happy Mia, unaware she will be losing her best buddy in a few months

Happy Mia, unaware she will be losing her best buddy in a few months

Now, though, with the game behind her and me near a computer, could I check?

Yes, I could. She waited impatiently, worrying that it was bad news when it took longer than expected to navigate through the college’s interface.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Congratulations, it said.

We both shouted long and loud, laughing and exulting. Her younger brother called upstairs to see what the uproar was all about, then cheered in response. Julie asked me to text her older brother right away, who promptly shouted it out to his friends.

Then we all calmed down and moved on.

Financial aid applications demand our attention. There are more basketball games, scholarship applications, and the wait for regular admission results.

For now, though:  one’s first college acceptance is an awesome event.

If you have a high school senior in the house, I hope there has been plenty of good news coming your way.

 

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After college applications are done: 5 things to do now.

After your student’s (or your) college applications are done–and even if they’re not–January brings a new set of deadlines with it. These tasks need to be done now, or as soon as possible.

1. Request a PIN for the FAFSA (the student and the parent each need one). The student will use the same PIN each year; the parent can use one PIN for more than one child’s FAFSA. The PIN acts as an electronic signature for on-line submission.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 9.22.52 PM

2.  Start the FAFSA. Financial aid starts here; every college requires the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Information you will need on hand:

    • Student Social Security Number
    • Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of income.
    • Bank statements and records of investments.
    • Records of untaxed income.
    • And that PIN to sign electronically.

Make sure you select the correct form (2014-2015) and submit as promptly as possible. (See more about deadlines below.)

3.  Start your tax return. If this process is new to you, now is the time to internalize the financial aid calendar. The FAFSA, the CSS Profile (used by most private colleges), and other college-specific applications require information now (or very soon) from the tax return you have not yet completed. Specifically, financial aid applications for the 2014-2015 college year require 2013 income tax return details in January 2014.

In many instances you are allowed to make estimations for 2013 using the previous year’s returns (and you will be asked to make projections for 2014); however, there’s at least one college on Mod Squad Julie’s list that requires signed, completed 2013 income tax returns by February 15, 2014.

4.  Know your deadlines. Create a spreadsheet with the name of each pending college application. Find and note each college’s financial aid requirements and deadlines. I started looking at one of these for our household on January 1st and learned my first deadline is January 15. Yikes.

Screen shot of our sign in and financial aid spreadsheet.

Screen shot of our sign in and financial aid spreadsheet.

For a fast search:  enter “college.edu” [use your college name] and “financial aid” into Google. For the next college, just change the college name. Most college financial aid sites have a page about how to apply; most of those “how to apply” pages provide specific needs and deadlines.

5.  Track each college’s Student Information System (SIS) instructions. Most colleges acknowledge receipt of applications with instructions on how to sign in to their Student Information System (SIS). Make sure your student follows the instructions, signs in now, and keeps track of the sign-in information. This seems simple enough, but it is even easier to overlook.

The college will post important notifications on the SIS, including:

  • missing application elements,
  • missing financial aid forms, and
  • application decisions.

The college will send an email when decisions are posted, but the college may or may not notify the student of missing information. It’s the student’s responsibility to check the SIS.

6.  Take a deep breath. Actually, I may need that advice more than any of this blog’s readers. Perhaps things were calm in your house in the run-up to the college application deadlines. Maybe it feels like there has been a nice, lazy break between the final submission and now. Or, was your experience anything like ours, with an application submitted early evening on December 31st, followed by perusing financial aid deadlines within twenty-four hours? If that’s the case:  take a deep breath.

Here we are, less than four months away from sending a deposit to a college. I expect this time to simultaneously drag (as Julie awaits decisions) and fly (as I face financial aid deadlines).

Fasten your seat-belts; we’re still in for a long ride.

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How close to home is too close?

How close is too close when it comes to choosing a college–for students and parents?

My husband drove our son, Mod Squad Pete—a second-year UVa student—back to college Sunday evening after Thanksgiving. The drive takes between ten and fifteen minutes, depending upon traffic. Meanwhile a Midwestern nephew drove a couple of hours back to his college in St. Louis, and our niece flew back to her college in Los Angeles from her home near Boston.

Screenshot of The Chronicle of Higher Education graph. Follow the link for the interactive graph.

Screenshot from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Follow the article link for an interactive graph.

Distance was just one of many factors involved in their college choices. Our nephew looked at a number of pre-engineering programs and selected a college that offered him a chance to play baseball, a President’s scholarship, and proximity for easy home visits. Our niece only applied to film schools—she’s majoring in production—and all but one were in California, prime location for access to the movie and television industry. At 3,000 miles from home, she’s one of the consistent twelve to fifteen percent of students who travel more than 500 miles for college. (See the graph accompanying Libby Sander’s Ties to Home in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

When Pete was in high school, we spent a couple of years expecting him to go to college 700 miles away. As it turned out, he chose a college seven miles away. Many students in our area either dream of attending UVa or want to avoid attending a college so close to home. Our son was in the latter group, yet changed his mind over the span of his senior year. Pete now will attest to what local UVa students had said to him:  there’s an entirely different and new world to explore on grounds, and it feels much further away from home than it is.

Making it work. When considering being that close to home, much depends upon the student-parent relationship (like most everything related to college).

Some parents have a hard time letting go. As Bella English wrote recently for the Boston Globe, in ‘Snowplow parents’ overly involved in college students’ lives,

In one extreme case of parental over-involvement, a college senior in December 2012 won a protective order against her parents for stalking and harassing her. Aubrey Ireland, 21, told a Cincinnati judge that her parents often drove 600 miles from their Kansas home to the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, unannounced, to meet with college officials, and falsely accused her of promiscuity, drug use, and mental problems.

Other parents–most I suspect–have raised their children with an eye toward both the increased freedom and responsibilities the students gain when leaving home.

Jennifer Conlin captured a sense of appropriate limits, writing for The New York Times, in When college is close to home, what are the boundaries?

“It was hard at first because I wanted Laura to immerse herself completely on campus, but I also wanted her to come home for family birthdays,” Ms. Wirth-Johnson said.
Leslie Gardner, who lives in Brooklyn and whose daughter, Rebecca Glanzer, is a sophomore at Columbia University, echoed the same sentiment.
“I worried that it would be too easy for me to access her,” she said. “But I also worried that she might access me too much.”
Both mothers said they waited patiently the first few weeks of college for their daughters to reach out to them.

Up to each family. Navigating a comfortable path for visits and phone calls is up to each family to figure out. We said something like this to Pete:  We won’t show up without calling first. We won’t bug you to come home often, but we’ll let you know what’s going on here, and we will want to hear what’s going on in your life.

We’ve enjoyed the benefits of his being nearby. We get to attend performances by his student jazz ensemble. We’ve had opportunities to meet and host his friends. Pete dropped by unexpectedly on a fall Sunday; he had to drive past our house on the way to set up an event at a local vineyard. Naturally, we don’t care if he shows up without calling first.

We don’t know where our daughter, M.S. Julie, will be next year. Near or far, we want her to establish independence and then share her stories with us as we watch her grow. We won’t hover, or smooth the path for our college students; we’ll just be right here when they need us.

This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.

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Common App problems: she got it done [but it wasn’t easy]

Allow me to lead with the best part of this story:  Mod Squad Julie successfully submitted one early college application around midnight, October 26.

Getting ready to submit. The past couple of weeks had been stressful–Julie tried to complete final edits of multiple essays and short answer prompts, working around all the other stuff going on in her life. Around the 19th or 20th she thought she had completed all the writing. We spent part of a Sunday afternoon reading the app, page by page. Julie double-checked everything.

Just after she breathed a sigh of relief that the main part of the application was done, Julie ran into one more short answer prompt on the writing supplement, one that she had either missed or forgotten. We reacted like mother, like daughter: !%#&*@!

The Fusco Brothers by J. C. Duffy, via gocomics.com

The Fusco Brothers by J. C. Duffy, via gocomics.com

The prompt offered a great question, providing her an opportunity to write about another aspect of herself and her interests that hadn’t been covered elsewhere. But the timing was lousy.

While another few days flew by, drafting and editing that final one hundred and fifty word essay crawled. Nothing like thinking you’re done and finding out you aren’t.

Getting the app to work. By Saturday, the final essay was done–and Julie had re-checked the college requirements to avoid any new, nasty surprises. After a full day of gym workout, homework, soccer game, and work, she was ready to get this thing one.

The only part left:  copying and pasting the essays into the application interface.

We had both read a number of articles about the problems with this part and how to deal with them. And guess what:  it still was completely stupid and problematic.

We read this, by Nancy Griesemar, including:

Any formatting (italics, bold, underline only) should be done on the document and not in the box. Once you are satisfied with the document, then copy-and-paste it directly into the box. Don’t touch the box. Yes, it may look funny and a warning may appear. Simply hit continue and work toward producing a Print Preview.

And it didn’t work. The main common app essay, around 550 words, showed up on-screen and in the printed preview in one very long paragraph with no edits, no line breaks.

We read this, by Rebecca Joseph, including:

4. She copied it from TextEdit into the Common Application.

5. She fixed spacing issues but made no text or formatting changes.

6. When she went to the Preview page, it was double spaced between paragraphs as she wanted.

It that didn’t work, you unintentionally made a change in TextEdit. Go back and follow these steps again.

And it didn’t work. Oh, yes, Julie went back and followed those steps again. And again. She restarted the computer, she cleared the cache, she tried it on another computer.

Did I mention that, as much as I love Julie and wanted her to get this thing done, what I really wanted to be doing at 11 pm on that Saturday night was watching the World Series? In which my two favorite teams were battling it out?

And somewhere along then we read this by Zach Schonfeld, including:

Relax: if your application glitch is the fault of a Common Application error and not your own procrastinatory negligence, the office of admissions will almost certainly understand. They’ve dealt with this before, and you are clearly not the only one facing these hurdles. Just have your guidance counselor write a polite letter or email.

You don’t need to apply anywhere for Early Decision. In fact, for financial aid reasons, many (smart, successful) students don’t.

Safety schools are your friend. Find several you could actually see yourself attending.

If you are a parent, step away from the laptop. Let your student do the heavy lifting—they’re going to college, not you.

Oh, yes, that’s helpful. Effectively: “Chillax, dude! No big deal!”

Fortunately, when I was ready to give up and suggest submitting a 550-word block paragraph, Julie kept plugging away. What worked:  using Safari instead of Foxfire. The formatting provided in TextEdit didn’t show up on the screen, but it did show up in the print preview. Done.

Huge disclaimer: if you are reading this because you are having trouble with the Common App, I can only offer sympathy. Try the suggestions offered by Nancy Greisemar in the link cited above and here. Try restarting, clearing your cache, using a different computer, using a different browser. Keep trying.

"We've successfully processed your application payment." NOT your application.

“We’ve successfully processed your application payment.” NOT your application.

Not done yet. The actual submission requires a number of steps. The first, not surprisingly, is the credit card payment, which requires a second step to submit a signature (by typing your name into a window). [Note that it may take up to 24 hours for the signature request to appear. Meanwhile, the application is not yet submitted.] The third step: submit the Common Application. The fourth:  submit the college’s supplement.

When do you know you’re done? I would say when you receive an email from the college acknowledging receipt. Oh, and save that email, since that’s where the college explains the procedure for finding out their decision.

I wish it were easier. I wish it were less stressful, since every other part of applying to college is already stressful enough.

Good luck.

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What we talk about when we talk about college: an early decision.

“Do we talk about anything other than college these days?”

Our daughter, Mod Squad Julie, asked me that over dinner last weekend, before adding, “It’s okay, that’s about all I’m thinking about anyway.”

Alarm Clock

Is it too early?

Early in the morning, two days before that dinner, Julie and I set out on one more college visit. I cannot say that will be our last campus visit, but it is the last we will undertake before she submits her first application.

Julie wanted to revisit this campus with a number of questions in mind:

  • Could she see herself there as a student?
  • Did she feel comfortable in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus?
  • Where do first year students live?
  • How close is that to the center of campus?
  • Does she like the dorms?
  • What does the student body look like, in terms of diversity, dress, attitude?
  • How studious are they? Or, do they seem to be?
  • How does that fit with what she is looking for?
  • Was this college still her first choice?
  • Does she still love it enough to apply Early Decision?

My task was straightforward:  help her find the answers to her questions.

Our job as parents isn’t to make this decision for her.  But we want to help make sure she has asked enough questions of the school and of her own reactions to the school so that she can make an informed decision. That’s not to say we don’t have any input, but our input on the decision was provided long ago when we three–parents and daughter–discussed the characteristics of her list of colleges and what made the most sense to all of us. We’ve agreed on the short list; this is about the shortest list, a list of one.

“Do you like it? What do you think? Look what I see when I step out of the dorm!”

Campus tours weren’t offered during Julie’s initial visit due to our timing–we visited immediately before commencement weekend. We had listened to the admissions information session, Julie met with a department chair, and then a 2013 graduate showed us around another department’s facilities. There was more than enough to snare Julie’s interest. Now, five months later–a long time in the life of a teenager–was she still that interested?

This visit, we walked the neighborhood in all directions, located the first year dorms, peeked into the dining hall, sat in on a class, and took the official tour.

“I’m looking for where I could hang out on my own. If I need space, where would I go?”

Is it too early to decide?  Last year, I offered a nephew three reasons to apply early:

  1. Gain a huge sense of accomplishment by seeing one application through to the end,
  2. Get the Common App interface figured out by seeing one application through to the end, and
  3. Receive an early response.

This year’s Common App, with its numerous glitches for both students and colleges, could make the application completion feel even sweeter. But there are a few other considerations for applying early:  Do the student’s grades and accomplishments through junior year support a strong application? Is the student’s SAT or ACT testing complete? Does the student have time to complete applications by, well, right about now?

Many colleges offer either Early Action or Early Decision, not both. Early Decision adds more heft to the question, since that application requires the student, parent, and guidance counselor to commit that, if offered admission, the student will accept, and there are significant financial aid considerations. Since Julie’s college of choice only offers Early Decision, her follow-up questions boil down to:  Am I ready to commit now?

A couple of  years ago Julie loved a different college and talking of applying there Early Decision, but her interest stemmed mainly from attending a musical theatre camp there in seventh grade.

This time is different. Almost every aspect of this school offers a strong connection to her interests. While still on campus during the first visit she drafted a list of why she wanted to attend. Julie’s visit last week confirmed and strengthened her choice. The academics, the campus, advising, class sizes, location, challenge:  they are what she wants.

Now we walk a fine line together, of loving a college yet trying not to love it too much, because no matter how strong the student, how compelling the application, there are no guarantees. While she awaits the outcome, I’ll try to help her stay away from College Confidential, and I’ll try to stop myself from reminding her she’ll thrive wherever she ends up.

This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.

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