Elizabeth Frederick


Spring Break, On Campus



True to the right of passage, we will spend the 10 days of John’s junior year spring break touring college campuses.  We have a list blending the suggestions of our private counselors, and a few that we have added.  Yesterday, we toured the first university on the itinerary.

College Counseling 

I am so grateful for the questionnaire that we were asked to complete by the private college counselors we have engaged to help us build John’s college list for applications. It asks questions like: “How would you describe your son’s or daughter’s personality and values?” and “What is his or her greatest achievement?”

The SAT Name Game



Mastering the SAT takes ingenuity and a little luck is necessary. Elizabeth Frederick’s son John found this to be the case, even in getting the correct name on her son’s test.

So often in life, it is the little things that totally screw us.  Take, for example, John’s SAT registration process. 

John is on the Grid


More from our writer, Elizabeth Frederick, who takes us on her third journey through the college application process in her column Getting In. This time she chronicles the experience with her son, a sophomore at a local all-boys school. Names have been changed to prevent her kids from killing her protect her children’s privacy. -The Eds.

Our high school sophomore son, John, is officially on the college admissions grid.  He has taken his first set of PSATs, and has a score report to compare with all other 10th graders in the country who have taken the PSAT.  In addition to being a predictor of SAT performance, a tool for rising juniors who will be thinking more seriously about college admissions, the PSAT is combined with the NMSQT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  The NMSC (National Merit Scholarship Corporation) offers scholarship programs for qualifying juniors in the very top percentiles.

Parents’ Weekend: All Major Credit Cards Accepted


Parents’ Weekend.  A trip to the grocery store for healthy snacks to keep in the dorm room.  A trip to the local Mall for new fall clothes.  Nice meals out with roommates and new friends.  A pitch from the university to join the “Parents’ Committee” or “Parents’ Club” or whatever your child’s school calls its volunteer fundraisers (which they charge you to join).  We’ve just finished two parents’ weekends, back to back, and we’re broke!

I mean, it was so great to see the girls.  Emily is making the transition to her “new” school as a sophomore transfer, and Grace has hit the ground running, facing all the freshman thrills.  Seeing them doing well, growing where they are planted — that part is priceless.  But the rest of it has a slightly insidious feel, like we are not even conscious of the up-sell.  Their friends all seem more sophisticated, and better dressed, with better hair care products.  It’s so tempting to change to make new friends.  Alas, it never worked for me, and my guess is, wouldn’t work for them, either.

To Grace, From Mom – A Love Letter


Dear Grace,

I miss you.  I know it hasn’t been a whole week yet, but I do.  I miss you like the sun would miss the moon, or the waves would miss the shore.  For 18 years, we have been companion forces of the universe, rising and falling in time, coming and going together.  But now, you are moving in your own direction, in your own time, as you should; and I miss you.

This morning, the house is quiet.  I passed your empty room, and my heart got heavy.  It will be months before you sleep here again.  You will be so busy making friends, navigating roommate issues, adjusting to college classes, learning how to eat from a cafeteria every day (and possibly learning how to drink shots).  I know you will do great – we have watched you conquer obstacles your whole life, and there is nothing you can’t do.

I will miss your beautiful face, and the radiance that surrounds you wherever you are.  I will miss your sparkling eyes, wide open to the world of possibilities that lie in your future.  I will miss your laughter – crazy, loud, quirky, and totally joy-filled.

Proof of a Happy Childhood


Happy child with red paper heart. Image shot 03/2012. Exact date unknown.

How is it over?  I don’t think I looked away, but somehow I didn’t see it happening right now.  Her childhood is over.  Grace has grown up.  And Monday, she leaves.  I am stunned by the truth I have always known, and at this minute it is raw, and painful.  I will miss my little girl.

I spent the evening putting together a collage of Grace’s childhood – proof for her future roommates that it was a happy one, and that she comes from a loving family.  I dug through boxes of old photos – remember when we had boxes and envelopes of photos?  Duplicates of everything so we could send them to grandparents?  Well, all the old photos are in the basement, in dusty under-the-bed storage containers.  I sat on the floor, sifting through the years, staggered by the speed of life.

There are almost two decades of sheer beauty in there.  A life time, our life times.  Birthday parties with homemade Barbie cakes, pony rides, Halloween costumes, Christmas stockings, so many summers at the beach and lake, years when she lived in dress ups.  Pictures of family trips, and of the everyday – baking cookies with big-girl aprons and baker’s hats, and flour all over the kitchen.  How is that all in our past?

Walking Forward, Looking Back


Graduation was more than a month ago, even though it feels like we’ve just stopped celebrating.  Grace didn’t want it all to end – the parties, the excitement, friends all talking about the fun they were planning for beach week (thank God that is over!).  But it did end, and summer jobs and internships began, then the air-traffic-control-like coordination of who needs to be where when, and what vehicle they will use to get there.  (With four teenagers under our roof, the exercise requires an advanced skill set of diplomacy, flexibility, ingenuity, and a thick skin, so you can ignore all the insults and whining.)  Like other summers, we are all busy.  We work. We make plans with friends. We prepare for our next steps.  But the summer, too, will end, and with it, a precious time for our family.

When Grace leaves for college, right before her big sister, I will have to work hard to stay focused on the joy of her journey.  She is in one of the most growth-filled times of her life, and is bursting as a human being.  It’s sort of like that magic moment in the science class movie about mitosis, where you say to yourself, “Wow!  How does it grow so fast?”  She is a human example of cell division – doubling every second.  She has registered for classes, and at this moment, plans to double major in neuroscience and biology (thus, the science metaphors).  She reads the course descriptions out loud before dinner when we are all in the kitchen with the enthusiasm that, if you are lucky, you can remember having had once in life.  She wants to take every class, right away.  She can’t wait for all that lies ahead.  

A Season of Lasts: Waxing Sentimental As High School Senior Heads Toward Graduation


Her last spring concert.  There she stands, on the stepped up bleachers, facing the darkened auditorium, so many spring concerts behind her.  She is beautiful.  Radiant.  With the light of possibility streaming from her.  Standing in heels she could not have balanced in a few short years ago.  Her heart sings in tune with the other young women in her a cappella group. Sweet harmony among friends made through the sometime painful years of growing up.  We stare at Grace, our own hearts so full of love, and hope, and the melancholy acceptance of the passage of time.

This is her season of lasts.  The last gym class, the last day of high school, the last AP test, the last spring concert.  The seniors are excited.  They all know where they are going in the fall, and their only thought now is to celebrate their friendships, and the accomplishments of their high school careers.  They are focused on being together, creating those final memories of this time of growth and learning, in the classroom and out, knowing that everything is about to change.  They are excited, but they are also a little nervous.  At least Grace is.

Victory Lap!


She’s in!  And has had a few days to celebrate with the victory lap.  Grace got in to her first-choice college.  Honestly, I don’t think she absolutely knew it was her first-choice until after she received word of acceptance, but the essential, visceral, uncontrollable happiness that came rushing out from her when she read the email told it all.

We are so happy for Grace.  She has worked really hard for so long, with the goal of making choices; being in the driver’s seat in terms of where to go to college; picking them, not having them pick her.  Now, she has the steering wheel firmly in her grasp.  What we have observed, though, is something a little more complicated than the experience of the little girl who gets the present she really wants for Christmas.  The options have dimensions.  She has to deliberate.  There is her first-choice school – an excellent, mid-sized, competitive liberal arts college with a great athletic program, in a cool city.  Then, there is the uber-academic choice – probably the highest ranked of her acceptances, in a less desirable location (it’s COLD there, from October through April), with a questionable reputation for being a no-fun destination.  Finally, there is our fine state school, to which she has received a full scholarship, and admission to the Honors College and Gemstone Program, an elite living and learning curriculum centered around a group research project.  Each of the options has strong appeal.  So, how to decide?

Getting In: The Ivy League

Nassau Hall, Princeton University. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Nassau Hall, Princeton University. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Most of the Ivies will release regular admissions news this Thursday, March 28. Brown, Columbia, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale will let nervous seniors know that day.  (Cornell, Dartmouth, and Harvard will release in early April.)  There were, needless to say, a number of high school seniors pacing in their dreams this past weekend.

Last year, these most selective universities accepted less than 10 percent, collectively, of the students who applied to them.  Of the 242,621 applications submitted to the eight schools in the Ivy League, only 23,374 were successful, with the lowest percentage for acceptances at Harvard, scraping at a low 5.9% for overall acceptances, and an even lower 4.2% for regular decision acceptances.  If only six out of a hundred kids get in, I sure hope those applicants have a favored runner-up.

To Transfer or Not to Transfer? That is the Question for Unhappy College Co-ed


It is hard for any of us, much less a confused, unhappy nineteen year old, to sift through the many truths of life for clarity.  Such is the challenge for Emily, who thinks she wants to transfer.  She knows that she is not a happy college freshman, but can’t say for sure why.  Is it her college?  The program?  The size of the school (small)?  The other kids who go there?  The distance from home?  The distance from her boyfriend?  Or is she just in a personal valley?

Emily is trying to parse out the elements, separate one fact (she doesn’t like the intensity of the business focus) from another (she finds the social life boring).  But things are complicated – and even from a distance, and being inclined to strong opinions, we can’t help her distill the one factor to hang her unhappy hat on.

With One College Acceptance in Her Pocket, Should Student Withdraw from Some of the Rest?


Halleluiah!  Grace got into college!  It is not her first choice school, but it is an excellent option that delivers peace of mind.  I can’t tell if she is happy or just relieved.  My reaction to her news held both of those emotions.

So, it will be easier to settle into the long winter of waiting now.  Like a hunter with a catch already in his pouch, she is no longer desperate.  She knows she will not go hungry.  But what does it mean for the rest of the process?

Deferred: The Nice No


Poor, sweet Grace.  She got deferred by her early action school yesterday.  Results were posted electronically at 4pm, and students were able to log on to a secure website, and learn what fates the admissions gods had dispensed.  Rather than rush home, Grace decided in advance that this one decision from this one school would not rule her life, and she would be no slave to it, so she went to her after-school activities, and came home in due course.  Such courage.  Such strength.  My husband, in contrast, was calling me from work every 15 minutes to see if she was home, and what the news was, but not Grace.  She would not hurry.

Just Older, No Wiser: College Admissions the Second Time Around


As it turns out, we learned nothing last year.  I was hoping we would have gained some insights from having watched our oldest trudge through Senior year, trying to figure out where to apply, how to position herself, which side to feature, to get into the school of her choice.  Unfortunately, it seems, we are just a year older.  No wiser.