Tag: college admissions

What’s the Budget for College Touring Travel?


Is there a budget for college touring travel? 

I often wonder how the rest of the world seems to cruise through these expensive times, seemingly without a care.  How is it everyone else appears to have so much more money?  We work hard at professional jobs, and are pretty conservative with saving and planning.  But, I’ll say it, there is still a budget!  So, when I listen to the really sweet, intelligent father whom I’m speaking with at a cocktail party, and he is describing the next three summer weekends with his rising senior daughter — one to Miami, one to Colorado, and one to New Orleans — I think, “Jeez, I wish I were your daughter!”

It begs the question, is there a budget for college touring travel, or should there be?  Is the college investment just so huge that a few grand on the front end for sightseeing trips is just insignificant?  Nothing more than a rounding error?  Will we take our children wherever they want to go, no matter how far or how many schools are on the list?  Truth is, I just don’t know.  So far, we have taken two road trips to New England.  And stayed with family at most of our stops.  Cheap.  But this is our first child, and she is making it easy.  No interest in the West Coast, or the deep South.  Her first filter for the college search is geography – “New England, please.”

So, even though we know we’ll travel a relatively easy road with this child in terms of college touring, we can still find something to worry about.  She has siblings!  What makes sense?  What is reasonable?  Should we refuse to fly or drive to the really unlikely “reach” schools?  Or does that telegraph that we don’t have any confidence in our child’s ability to get in there?  Should we tell him/her it doesn’t make sense to spend time and money (both finite resources in our lives) going to the schools that are utter “safeties”, where they are unlikely to attend?  Or does that telegraph the message that that school isn’t good enough?

I’m working myself into a pitch!  Perhaps I should just take a deep breath, and remember it will all be okay.  Perhaps I should accept that there need not be a formula for everything in life, and maybe we’ll wing it, child by child.  Perhaps the answer will be driven by the disposable income at any given time.  If you have an answer, please, comment.    

Public v. private school: which has the advantage?


Public school or private school? Do you think it matters? Do you think one or the other will help your child get into a better college?  Having conducted a very scientific study, I can report here which school system parents think is better, and better at getting their kids into top-notch colleges:  neither.  I interviewed eight families, four who have sent their children to public school from K-12, and four who have sent their children to private school from K-12.  I asked each family (in the person of my girlfriends) five questions, designed to elicit their opinions about the public/private distinction, or whether there is one, in terms of getting into college.  I expected families to embrace their own choices, and celebrate the value of the school system their child attends.  Here is what I learned:  

  1. If money were no object, would you send your child/ren to public or private school? Explain.

To generalize, the families with children in private schools said they would (as they do) send their kids to private school.  The reasons?  Smaller class sizes, greater individual attention, perception that teachers are better, and environment is more controlled.  One said their kids went to private school because her husband and she had gone to private schools.  It’s what they know.  There was an expectation that academics are more rigorous, and a sense that the course offerings are broader in range.  

Again, to generalize, the families with children in public schools said they would probably send their children to public school, even if money were no object, because “public elementary schools are better equipped to meet a vast range of needs.  Public schools can accommodate the range of students from gifted to challenged.”  Some of the public school parents said they might consider private schools for their children if money were no object, because they like the idea of the smaller class sizes, but one of the families expressed concern that exposure to high levels of privilege might warp their children’s assumptions about the world in general, and might impact their ability to adapt to a larger student body in college. 

A point of interest:  the two places where both sets of parents found common ground in preferring private school were in class size and guidance/college counseling. 

  1. Do you think sending your child to public/private school will affect his/her ability to get into college (any college)? Explain.

Private school families:  I got a mixed bag of yes’s and no’s – some thought private school will better prepare their children for standardized testing and resume building; some thought the academics would prepare their children better for the college application process.  But two families thought it would “not necessarily” make any difference. 

Thoughts from the public school families:  No difference – “I think a good student is a good student no matter where they go.”  Based on what these families have seen in their public schools, the competitive students are taking challenging courses and doing well. “Colleges seem to look at the GPA, class ranking, AP classes, and SAT/ACT scores pretty closely,” and if a student thrives at public school, it seems to these parents to put them in the same place as a good student in a private school.  

  1. Do you think sending your child to public/private school will affect the caliber of college your child will be accepted to?  Explain.

The answers to this question were more consistent between the two groups – both generally thought the public/private choice would not necessarily affect the caliber of college their child would be eligible for, except for the perception that “colleges are actively pursuing public school students.”  One parent mentioned that the quality of the public school system really matters, and one parent held strong that private school is better for preparing their child, so it might make a difference.  Again, one factor favoring private: “the opportunity for college counseling might help with the higher caliber schools,” and if you are looking at the Ivys, private school pedigree might help.  But, one public school parent, whose son is going to Princeton in the fall, said “I think your kid is going to do what your kid is going to do wherever he or she is.”

  1. Do you think your child has better opportunities in the school system you have chosen over the school system you did not choose? Explain.

Parents agreed that the opportunities varied between public and private, but both had strong positives in their own camp.  For the privates, that individual attention, and ability to create relationships with teachers, was special – the personal experience.  For the publics, athletics were a clear plus.  Privates have study abroad, but clubs, music and drama, were diverse and numerous at the publics. 

  1. Do you think your child is happier having gone through the school system you have chosen over the school system you did not choose?  Explain.

All the parents I spoke with, save one, said their children are happy where they are and would not change systems.  There were some particular reasons (e.g., more attention at private school, local public school is not good, more teams to try out for), but the reason that grabbed my attention was from a public school friend.  She said her kids are happy because they know when it comes time to choose colleges, they will have enough money to pay for any school they want.

So, ignoring flaws in methodology, it is still interesting to hear how parents feel at this pivotal time – at the end of the elementary/high school era, where the rubber hits the road in college admissions.  I am always happy when my friends celebrate their choices and for the families I spoke to there are no regrets.

Que Sera, Sera. Test Results Will Be What they Will Be…

When the PSAT scores came home earlier this year that envelope was opened as fast as any birthday present. I’m not sure, really, what the results actually mean. They say the scores are rough predictors of future SAT scores. So, for instance, if you earn a 200 on your combined PSAT, you can expect to earn about a 2000 on your combined SATs. 2400 is the Holy Grail.
There are, however, some variables, they say. Your student will be months older when he or she takes the actual SAT (for the first time). He or she will have had those additional months of substantive instruction. And, very importantly, he or she might have taken an SAT prep course. Omni Test, Horizons, Kaplan, Sylvan, you name it. We willingly pay the small fortune for these courses, in hopes of helping our children improve their SAT scores by 100, 200, some say even as much as 400 points. These can be life-changing numbers for a kid whose GPA alone won’t earn that letter of admission. Or so we believe.
Oddly, we heard no comparisons. There was no chat about who in the class had done well and who had not. Something good has happened with our children, and they have learned to respect each other’s privacy. Or, perhaps they have learned to protect themselves. If you are not asking, then you are also not telling. Maybe they have begun to mature or evolve to that place where we adults now stand, where your position relative to others in the professional world is not something you talk about with polite company—it is a subject reserved for you and your supervisor, or you and your spouse or partner or closest friend.
For most of us, our kids have also taken the SAT by now…  Scores are in, and I can tell you the numbers do not always go up from PSAT to SAT.  I think the truth is, “test day” may be as important as the number of prep classes your child has taken.  Our daughter took SATs on the Saturday following mid-term exams.  She was fried.  No matter she had learned all the tricks for easy elimination on the multiple choice format, no matter that she understands the quadratic equation.  She was tired, and a tired kid is not a good test taker.  They don’t really focus on these common sense pieces to test prep at the fee-for-service operations.  We know she will take the SAT again – most kids do.  But now we know it is not all about the prep course (although we remain hopeful that our investment is not a waste!).  Tests are tests are tests, and sometimes your teenager performs to ability, and sometimes not.  
So, congratulations, I say! Whatever that PSAT or SAT score was, I say “good job!” As we do for ourselves in real life, I will encourage our kids to try harder, do better if they can the next time, and learn something. But, as in real life, we must acknowledge where we stand right now. Not everyone will get that 2400 on the SAT, and not everyone can be the MVP at work. For all you overachievers out there, a disappointing score might spur you to action. But for the regular kids, I say love yourself. The world will meet you where you are.    

Can a Good Slap Shot Pave the Way to a Good College?


I feel stupidly naïve.  I didn’t understand about the slap shot.  To explain…

We had our meeting last week with Emily’s college counselor at school.  It progressed as we expected… introductions, expectations, process. Emily is our oldest child, so some of this seems new.  Yes, my husband and I both attended college, and even law school after that, but we’ve never been PARENTS to someone applying to college.  Point of view is everything sometimes.  The same experience can feel so different depending on your role in the events.  So, we went to the meeting with an open mind, interested in the advice the college counselor might share.

Emily is a very strong student.  She attends an academically rigorous college preparatory high school, and her peers are very accomplished young women.  When looking at colleges, though, it is hard to know where she will get in, and where she will not be accepted.  One of the tools the college counseling office shares with the students, and their parents, is a software program called Naviance.  This program allows college juniors and seniors to compare their position, and likelihood for acceptance to any given college or university, to the position of graduates of their high school – an “apples to apples” comparison.  These earlier students have taken the same courses from the same teachers with the same standards for grading.  Just as this helps colleges and universities compare the girls, it also helps the girls predict where they will be successful in the application process.

Example:  In 2010, 13 girls from Emily’s school applied to Boston College, and three were admitted.  In 2009, eight girls applied to BC, and two were admitted.  In 2008, six applied and two were admitted.  And so on…  On Naviance, we can see what their SAT scores and GPAs were, and extrapolate what Emily’s chances for admission at that school might be.  

The information about these girls is delivered in a few different formats, and the one I like the best is a graph, called a “scattergram.”  The axes of the graph are GPAs and SAT scores, and the acceptances are charted with a green square, while rejections are marked with a red x.  Our daughter’s point on the graph is marked with a circle, showing where she falls based on her current GPA and first set of SAT scores.  In general, the scores don’t lie.  Kids don’t get into colleges where they can’t succeed.  

But, sometimes there are outliers – green squares representing students whose grades and scores are not in the heat of the commonly accepted students, falling below the averages for acceptance at the school in consideration.  Foolishly, I allowed myself to think that some outliers were getting green squares because of exceptional character, extra-curriculars, leadership qualities, and overall wonderfulness.  But I wasn’t thinking about the slap shot!

So, I asked the college counselor about my “outlier” theory.  Were those other girls from our school whose grades didn’t fit the profile also young leaders, like Emily?  Well-rounded, hard-working girls who would be an asset wherever they landed, even if their grades were not top 5%?  Did she have a chance at the schools where her numbers did not match the averages?  His response, delivered with an apologetic expression hanging on his face, was “No.  Those girls mostly have an amazing slap shot.”  I felt so foolish – I just hadn’t seen it coming.