Archive | December, 2010

A Word of Thanks

23 Dec

On January 1, this blog will be six months old.  When I started, I didn’t know how long I could sustain the blog, whether I would find enough to write about, or even if anyone was interested in reading it.  So this seems as good a time as any to say thank you to those of you who read this blog regularly.  It is your responses, both in private emails and public comments, that encourage and inspire me to be a better writer/blogger, a better parent, and to offer thoughtful, meaningful material.  I will return in early January with more about a parent’s perspective of the college search and admissions process.  Then in February we plan to visit more colleges on the East Coast so stay tuned for more road trip reports.  In the meantime, I wish you all

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays!

Happy New Year!

 

Some Links to Interesting Articles

16 Dec

Just a short post today – the holiday busyness is ratcheting up.  Recently I read a couple of articles in the New York Times that gave me much food – the no calorie type, perfect for this time of year – for thought, and I trust that readers may also find intriguing.

The first article “Parents Embrace Documentary on Pressures of School” by Trip Gabriel published on December 8 concerns a documentary about school pressures that has been making the rounds through various school districts in private screenings.  The documentary called “Race to Nowhere,” was created by Ms. Abeles, a mother and novice filmmaker, and shows how the demands of homework and sports and high expectations combine to exert enormous pressure on teens, so much so that some of them become physically ill.  The article describes the reaction of parents and school officials to the film and much of what is discussed resonated with me.  It might be a film worth bringing to your local school district.

The second article “The Case for Early Decision” by Dr. Robert Massa of Lafayette College, and published on December 13, seeks to set straight some media misperceptions about early decision.  According to him, no college will hold a student to an early decision commitment if the family determines that a financial aid package is insufficient.  He confirms that the chances of being admitted through early decision are better because colleges want the most qualified students.  He also writes that it’s easier to get financial aid during early decision because colleges have not depleted their financial aid budgets yet.  His article is worth reading if only to get a different perspective on early admission.

 

An Early Decision Acceptance

9 Dec

The phone rang, shattering the quiet air.  I picked it up.  It was my mother-in-law.

“Katy got into Brown!”  She announced excitedly.  Katy (not her real name) is my niece, who had applied early decision to Brown University.

“That’s great!  Wow!” I exclaimed and covering the mouthpiece, I turned to my daughter and told her the news.  She nodded and went back to her homework on the computer.  Something flitted across her face but as quickly as it appeared it was gone.

After I hung up the phone, I couldn’t stop marveling about my niece’s accomplishment.  She is the first in my daughter’s generation in my husband’s family to apply to college and she had done very well for herself.

“Isn’t that fantastic that Katy got into Brown?”  I gushed to my daughter.  She turned to me and said,

“I’m very happy for her, Mom, but now the pressure is on.”  I frowned a little, uncertain of what she meant until the import of her words dawned on me.  My daughter is the next to go to college and now her cousin had set a very high bar.

“You don’t have to go to Brown, you know, or an Ivy League school,” I tried to assure her.  She nodded and said,

“I know.  But still…” Her voice trailed off and she continued working on the computer.  I fell silent, not knowing what else to say.  (I’m finding that more often than not these days, I don’t have an adequate response).

Several days later, I was with another sister-in-law who had a daughter in middle school at the time (I’ll call the daughter Emily) and the subject of conversation turned to Katy’s acceptance at Brown.  I casually mentioned my own daughter’s response and she immediately said that Emily had reacted similarly.  Both girls apparently felt the pressure to have to live up to the standard that their cousin Katy had set.

Some of the pressure is self-imposed and personality-driven; both girls want to do well in school because that’s who they are.  But I strongly suspect some of the pressure comes from family, however subtle or unintentional.  My mother-in-law once remarked that among her children, their spouses and now the grandchildren, we had collectively attended all the Ivy League schools except for Dartmouth College and Yale University.  And however much has been written about rebellious teens, most teens still seek their family’s approval.  For my daughter’s generation to get into the Ivy League is pressure indeed, especially since these schools are more competitive than 30 years ago.

Of course, this kind of familial pressure is not unique.  My husband can still recall growing up in the shadow of his brilliant older sister who, incidentally, is Katy’s mother.  His teachers often reminded him that they had taught his sister and he inevitably felt himself being compared to her.  It wasn’t until he realized that as much as he admired his sister’s accomplishments, he didn’t want to be her, that he felt free to chart his own course in life.

It’s been two years since Katy got into Brown and my daughter is now looking at colleges, trying to figure out what she wants.  While life is never without pressure, my hope as a parent is that she, like her father before her, will eventually find her own way.  Isn’t that what we all want for our children?

Early Admissions

1 Dec

Just when I thought I had gotten a handle on the college search and admissions process, early admissions has reared up to puncture my heretofore Zen-like well-being.

December is the time of year when high school seniors who have applied for early admission to their first choice colleges anxiously wait to hear about their application.  In two weeks, there will either be much rejoicing or gnashing of teeth in these homes.

A quick primer on early admissions: students can apply early, usually by November, and colleges will decide by mid-December whether to admit or deny.  Many early admissions programs are “binding early decision” which requires the student to commit to attending the institution if accepted.  Some schools have “non-binding early action” programs that allow students to apply to other schools.

Just to confuse things further, there are variations, like single choice early action (non-binding but a student may only apply to one school) and rolling admissions (applications are reviewed as they come in until the class fills up).  Most schools have one round of early admissions but some schools like Tufts University, Hamilton College and Connecticut College offer two rounds of early decision.  If your head is not spinning yet, don’t worry, it will by the end of this post.

There are advantages to applying early, especially if a student is convinced that a particular school is the top choice.  If admitted by mid-December, that student is done with the college application process; no more applications to fill out, no more waiting until spring to hear.

Another advantage is that the chances of being admitted are higher.  The National Association for College Admission Counseling confirmed this recently in a report: nearly three out of four early admissions applicants last year were admitted as compared with just over half who applied to the same colleges in the regular decision process.  According to the colleges this is because candidates in the early admissions pool are stronger.

Colleges like early admissions, particularly binding early decision, because it gives them a higher enrollment yield and a lock on the most competitive candidates.  At an information session we attended, the University of Pennsylvania admissions officer said that the University admits half its freshman class through early decision.

Binding early decision programs have come under fire from critics who assert that it favors students from wealthier backgrounds who do not need to compare financial aid offers.  At a financial aid workshop I attended, they advised against applying early for exactly that reason.  But the popularity of these programs continues to grow as the number of students applying early has exploded. Moreover, universities that did away with early admissions are reconsidering their decisions, like Harvard University, or have re-introduced them, like the University of Virginia.

If all this weren’t complicated enough, at our high school, many seniors apply early. Anecdotally, it seems that every senior that my daughter knows is applying early, and every parent of a senior that I know tells me their child is applying early.  So I wonder about this trend towards early admission, whether this creates peer pressure and of course, how this will affect my daughter and her decision-making.  I imagine it would be tough to have to wait until the spring to find out where you’ll be going to college if many of your friends will already know by mid-December.

There’s no way to know until next year and I’m just taking it one day at a time.  But I’m finding that when it comes to college admissions, there’s always something new to think about.

%d bloggers like this: