I don’t know about you, but I love that 80’s song “We are Family.” Perhaps it’s because I’m visiting my family in Wisconsin that has me thinking of it.
I am a lucky person – I am close to my family, my parents and my sister, which is my immediate family. I even have a great relationship with my brother-in-law and the kids. (My nephew actually asked me for advice on what classes to take in high school. And he listened!)
I wanted to talk about the powerful impact adults have, and especially family members on college aspirations. I’m not going to quote studies and research, but just what I know. I know my parents made it clear early (like 7th grade) that I was going to go to college and that my grades in high school were important. They also made it clear they would have a say in where I went to college based on the financial aid package offered to me and what they could afford. Then they pushed and prodded me to get good grades, get my college applications completed (especially the essays) and get them in on time.
Recently I did a small study of students on my campus who were formerly in foster care. Now you may think, “but foster youth don’t have family by definition!?” Suprisingly, the nine youth who responded to the survey indicated that family support was one of the MOST important factors in their success - success in getting into college and in persisting to graduation. Who are their families? They identified their families as their foster parents, social workers, their grandparents, relatives, siblings, and other positive and caring adults in their lives. The older adults they trusted and who were consistently there for them were the ones to whom they listened and turned to for support. These folks were their families.
So, if you are an adult reading this, especially a parent, know that your support has a huge impact on your kids and their college and career goals. You can make their life hard by choosing for them where they should go (and what they should study) or you can help them figure out what’s best for them and talk honestly about the places you can afford once you see the financial aid packages. Practice your relentless optimism with a little badgering thrown in to motivate them.
If you’re a student reading this, know that there are many adults in the world who are positive and ready and willing to listen and give you advice about college and careers. You have a lot of support if you ask around and connect to people around you. Sometimes, you may just connect with one person; other students may find many willing helpers. If you look, you can find them. Ask for their help, listen to what they say, and then filter it through the question “What’s best for me and for my future?”
In my 23 years of working with college students from a wide variety of backgrounds, I have heard many stories of positive adults, or just that one person who believed in the student. And that made all the difference in the world.
Be positive and surround yourself with positive people.
March Madness of a different variety is taking place in college admissions offices and for students applying to colleges around the country.
For most people, March Madness is all about the NCAA tournament, filling out your bracket and then talking about how all the upsets ruined your chance to win the office pool.
In admissions offices, March Madness means finishing up admissions selections and sending out both acceptance and denial letters. As you might imagine, the “madness” comes in when students get denial letters and admissions counselors get phone calls from students and parents about the fact the student’s been denied.
I know what it’s like to be denied admission to a program you wanted to get into (I was recently sent a denial email about getting into a doctoral program I really wanted). I moped for the weekend. Then I wanted to know why – why wasn’t I selected? I had great credentials, great scores, fantastic and well proofread essays, and killer letters of recommendation. I was mad.
So it’s not surprising if you feel mad that you’ve been denied admission to a college you really want to attend. No doubt you want to know why. It’s perfectly okay to call the admissions office and ask, but here are some things to think about.
First, be considerate when you call. No one likes getting yelled at and it really doesn’t get you any information or make anyone want to help you. Ask the questions you have and make sure you listen and understand what the admissions folks are telling you. It’s highly unlikely that an admissions counselor will say “We’ve made a terrible mistake. We’ll admit you immediately.” Yet is seems that’s what all callers (especially parents!) are expecting to hear.
Ask if there’s a process to appeal the decision if you really think a mistake was made. Not a mistake along the lines of “my neighbor down the street was admitted and she has a lower GPA than I do.” And it’s unlikely you can add new information to your application after the denial (and after the application deadline) so “but my SAT scores went up when I retook them in February” won’t help much either. Ask what can be included in an appeal and ask, too, what the chances are you’ll be admitted through an appeal. Where I work, less than 2% of appeals are admitted.
After you gather information, consider if it’s really worth it to appeal. If not, then make your plans to attend one of the other great schools you’ve been admitted to. And if you go through the appeals process and it’s going to take a long time, consider putting your enrollment deposit down at another institution. Another option is to ask what you need to do to transfer to the school that you can’t get into at this time.
Don’t let “madness” ruin your future plans to get a college education. One school’s loss for not admitting you is another college’s gain. And they’ll be lucky to have you.
I had the opportunity today to moderate a student panel of first-generation college-bound students, current college students and an alumna. They were sharing their experiences about preparing for and getting into college.
Here’s what I learned, in a nutshell:
You can’t tell young people that you care about them enough and that you care about their future, especially about going to college. When you show them you are sincere – that you believe in them, they here you.
You must be a relentless optimist with young people. There are so many people, events, and messages that beat students down and are full of negativity, that you need to be the one person that lifts them up. You can’t underestimate the power of being one positive person, every day, consistently.
Students really don’t mind if you nag them about their future plans if you’ve shown you care about them. Nagging another sign that you care and it sends the message “you can do this – you can go to college.”
As a parent, teacher, librarian, janitor, principal, guidance counselor, supervisor, or friend, you have an incredible impact on students. Let’s all use our power for good!
I have been watching a lot of Olympic coverage these past two weeks and thought of a comparison between the athletes and the high school students getting ready for college. You can tell me if the analogy works.
As I was watching so many of the events, speed skating, skiing, snowboarding, sliding sports, I realized that these athletes train for years in order to compete in an event that takes all of 2 to maybe 10 minutes depending on the distance and event. What kind of ratio is that? Eight hours a day of sweating, four years recording your every workout, watching everything you eat so that you can compete in the downhill skiing event that lasts less than 2 minutes! Now that’s amazing dedication to a goal.
As a high school student who wants to get to college, you are also asked to put in a lot of time sweating over math problems, proofreading papers, researching topics for social studies, nevermind all the hours you spend in the classroom. It may seem like you work hard for just that short amount of time you spend completing your college application and then waiting to hear if you’ve been accepted. When you get on the podium, it not to receive flowers and a medal, but to get your acceptance letter. But admission to college is just the first step.
My analogy ends here as your college application should not take under 2 minutes to complete. Really. And your acceptance letter to college is only one event. For you, life is more like a decathlon – acceptance letter, high school graduation and diploma, college degree, job offer, and on it goes. There’s no 2 minutes of glory and a medal for you. There’s college: four more years of sweating over your studies, discovering who you are as a person, learning to think and write critically, and hopefully, having a lot of fun.
As a matter of fact, your high school education is the foundation of your training, similar to the training of the Olympians. Without it, you can’t get to the highest level and get the gold medal – or that college degree and what lies beyond.
So keep training and your hard work now will pay off later. Education will help you reach your goals, even if they might not be gold medals.