Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Newsletter You Really Want to Send

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The start of the school year is rich with freshness and opportunity, yet this newness is too often derailed by well-meaning parents who are deathly afraid of the college application process.  What’s really discouraging is that most of these parents can’t identify the cause of their concern.  They’ve just “heard” so much about the perils of applying to college, they are convinced their child’s chances of finding a college right for them (that’s the student) are doomed by what they (that’s the parents) don’t know.

The best thing you could do for most of these parents is send the following newsletter.  It’s more than likely you won’t, or that you realize you shouldn’t, but there’s nothing like starting the school year off with a little self-honesty—and there may be a nugget or two you’ll end up sharing after you adjust the tone.

Here then, is the newsletter you really want to send, but won’t.

My client is the student. Yes, I also want to support and work with my students’ parents, since they are a big part of the team. But they aren’t going to college—the student is, and I have to help get them ready. Let’s work together to make sure that happens.

Let the student drive. This metaphor comes from an admissions officer at a highly selective college, who was asked for the best piece of advice to give parents. The college selection process is an opportunity for students to practice the leadership and autonomy skills they need to be successful in college. Parents don’t take their child’s turns at bat, or perform the bassoon solo for them at the state competition. That’s why the student calls the college with questions and writes their own essays, and parents don’t pretend to be the student when e-mailing questions.

Use college rankings sparingly. Unless your student was personally interviewed by a major magazine, published college rankings aren’t based on their particular interests, goals, and needs. The list we build together will do that, and it’s best to start that list from scratch.

A starter list is six to eight colleges long. This will vary greatly from student to student, but most of the time, students make great college choices if they walk into the first day of senior year with the names of two colleges they’ll get into for sure, two colleges where they won’t need significant financial aid, two colleges in their home state (just in case), and two dream schools. These can overlap, but that’s what works for many students.

Most colleges don’t like resumes. Believe me, if a college wants a piece of information about you, it will ask for it; if you give them too much of what they don’t want, that makes an impression you don’t want to give. All of the information on a resume is already in most college applications; if you have something else you want to tell the colleges, ask me about it.

Waive your FERPA rights. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act says, among other things, that you can see the teacher letters and counselor letters that are part of your college applications once they become part of your student record at the college you attend. FERPA does not require the high school to show them to you; the same is generally true for colleges that don’t admit you. That said, it’s best to waive your right; these letters are written about you, not to you, and not waiving your right leads some colleges to wonder why you don’t trust your letter writers.

Deadlines are real. Colleges want complete applications by the date on the form. The College Counseling Office needs one school week to send a transcript. Testing agencies need a month to send test scores, and letter writers need three weeks to write a good letter. I’m a great counselor, but I can’t move back the clock. Learn to plan ahead. 

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