Aargh!

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Aargh! is a word I learned when watching Charlie Brown cartoons as a child. It is a word that encompasses the meaning of intense stress and frustration. It is a word that summarizes what I have endured over the past year as I went through the college application process with my son.

The intense stress of the last year was somewhat unexpected given that I have been through the college application with my oldest son and I actually assist teens with the application process for a living. However, this child is different. He is my middle child. This child is the one who has always approached life with intensity. He has always tried to live life on his own terms. This child is the one who hasn’t had the greatest outcomes all of the time. He is my child who forgot how to read between 1st and 2nd grade because he didn’t practice his reading enough. Despite my best efforts — he found it much more interesting to go outside to play or to build complicated structures with legos. He’s the child that had intense curiosity, who would like to explore on his own, to the point where he got lost on a trip to Disneyland. He’s the child who didn’t get credit for homework that he completed and forgot to turn in. In all cases, he eventually learned not by doing what he was told to do but by having natural consequences occur.

My stress over the college application process has occurred because this time the stakes are high and the consequences can truly impact the rest of his life. Given his missteps of the past, I have been holding on a little tighter.  I have been having a problem letting go and letting natural consequences occur. However, I have had to summon the courage and strength to do so.  After much contemplation and prayer for patience, I have had to let go. Of course, I haven’t left him fully on his own. I have made sure he is well informed on all of his options and have gone over the decision making process with him. But in the end, all final decisions have been his.

He has always had a different way of approaching things and somehow coming out okay in the end. I have not always agreed with his decisions and he sometimes has a different set of priorities than me. Yet I try to remember, he is also the child who amazed his math teachers by taking a totally different approach to problems and coming up with the right answer in the end. I have to step back and let him make his own mistakes and have faith that in the end everything will come out all right just as it has before.

Pathways 4 Teens offers services to help students determine the Right Fit College and for parents to help guide students in the process. Visit http://www.pathways4teens.com for more details! Also follow us on facebook and twitter for more great information and tips on the college application process! 

Dream College

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Well the waiting continues for some senior high school students, including my son. Many of the top private colleges are sending their acceptance letters out over the next week or so. My son applied to his dream school of Stanford University which also happens to be the Alma Mater of my husband and I. Stanford will have a 5.5% acceptance rate this year. It gets more competitive every year but you never know if you will get in, if you don’t apply.

I am concerned by how many students I talk to who don’t have a dream college that they apply to. They are concerned about how much the college costs to attend or worse than that, they don’t think that they are good enough because they don’t have a 5.0 GPA and perfect SAT scores. In both cases, you really don’t know the answer to these questions until after you apply. Many students make wrong assumptions. Let’s take these topics one at a time.

Of course everyone should be concerned about the cost of college, it is a big deal. The problem is that you never know the true cost of what it is going to cost you to attend until you apply, get accepted, get financial aid offers from schools, and any outside scholarship offers. Most college websites now have a net price calculator that gives a more realistic idea of overall costs including tuition, room and board, and internal scholarships. However, remember it doesn’t take everything into account and your cost may be even lower. Once again, you never know the true cost until after you apply.

The topic I have a bigger concern with is student’s who think that they are not good enough. You need to understand that many of the major private universities are looking for overall diversity in culture, thought, interests, etc. Many students with high GPA and test scores will not get accepted. College websites  list average test scores of accepted students. Hence, many students that were accepted have scores that are below the average for that school. Colleges are looking at your overall academic preparedness. Can you come to their school and complete the coursework successfully? They understand that students are human and are sometimes going to fumble. Perhaps as a Freshman, you got a “C” in a class that you didn’t have interest in or that was a lower level class that you went on to excel in at upper levels. In fact, figuring out what you don’t like to do can be just as important as discovering interests that you do have and recovery from failures is a good thing. It can prove that you are resilient.

So I encourage students to dream and parents to encourage your students to dream. A dream college should not be chosen based on rankings or where parents went. It should be based on a student’s interests and what they think the ideal academic, social, and physical environment is.

Pathways 4 Teens offers services to help students determine the Right Fit College and for parents to help guide students in the process. Visit http://www.pathways4teens.com for more details! Also follow us on facebook and twitter for more great information and tips on how to empower students to be successful in high school, college, and beyond!

Choosing the Right College Starts in Middle School/Junior High

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The New Year is the perfect time to set resolutions or goals for the upcoming year. In fact, it is a critical goal setting and transition time for teens choosing classes or a college for next school year. There is a study that shows overall only 30% of college students are satisfied with the college that they go to. As seniors begin to get acceptance letters and continue applying for colleges, it is important to take the time out to do research to determine whether the college you choose to attend is a good fit for you.

A good fit isn’t the college that has the highest ranking or the college that gives you the most scholarships. A good fit college provides the support systems that you need to be successful. Hence, the best way to determine if a college is a good fit, is to start with yourself.  Know your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, while at the same time being open to change and the exploration of new possibilities.

Only by trying new things do we know what we like. Likes and dislikes are a subjective thing that only students themselves can determine. In our era of specialization, with club sports where students play the same sport year-round and specialty high school programs that put students on a bio medical or engineering track of coursework, it is important to allow our students to explore and discover the whole of who they are. This process starts well before senior year in high school. Beginning with puberty, especially in middle school/junior high, it’s important for parents to give students the tools to discover their own uniqueness and start directing their own future

Common Mistake Middle Class Families Make is Not Applying For Financial Aid

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A few weeks ago my son who is a senior in high school came home and told me that he was asked by a counselor at his school whether he needed to apply for scholarships to attend college. Even though I have discussed with him the need to apply for scholarships, I was shocked by his sincere questioning of me as to whether he needed to do so. I have been very upfront with each of my children upon entering high school  that they are going to need to contribute to their college education. It is a conversation I urge each family to have with their high school student no matter what your financial circumstances. Many times there is a disconnect between what parents are willing or able to pay and what students think their parents will pay.

We don’t have that big college fund set aside capable of sending each our children to colleges with the price tags of  $50,000 per year per student once you take all expenses into account. In the past 15 years.we have started two businesses, had a downturn in the economy, been raising teenagers, sending our first child through college, and been saving for retirement. That has severely affected our capacity to set aside enough funds. Even if we did have the funds, I think it is important for students to take some personal responsibility for their college education and contribute.

I encourage all middle class families to apply for financial aid and not base the colleges that students apply to on the initial sticker price. There are scholarships available that are not based on financial need. Scholarships can be based on strong academics, community service, sports participation, area of study, etc. Why should you pay money for college that you don’t have to?  Furthermore, financial need is viewed differently by each college, especially private colleges. Things other than your income such as multiple students attending college,  parents attending college,  caring for an elderly parent, and having large medical expenses are things that colleges may consider when determining whether you  have financial need.

Pass this information along!

Note: To all high school seniors and current college students, The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) – fafsa.ed.gov –  for this upcoming fall is now available. Check with the colleges you are applying to or currently attend, it is usually a required step in applying for financial aid and you don’t want to miss any deadlines!

Pathways 4 Teens offers events on “How to Search Effectively for Scholarships” and “The True Cost of College and How to Pay for It”. Contact miriam@pathways4teen.com or go to our website http://www.pathways4teens.com for more information.

Changing Traditions

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Last  week it was my birthday and in the past I would never put up Christmas Decorations before my birthday. I am the type of person who likes to do one celebration as a time. However, this year I decided to be different and I started a few days before. Why? It’s simple. Our family is changing and  I want to really enjoy the moments of this Christmas.

Four years ago, my son went off to college. I don’t think I realized the impact on Family traditions fully until this year. There has been a slow transition to doing holiday traditions without him. The first year we managed to get it all in. He was here Thanksgiving. Followed a few weeks later by a trip home for Christmas, which was just in time to do the traditional Santa picture and to decorate the tree. During year two, the Santa picture didn’t happen and year three helping with the Christmas tree was abandoned. The last holdout was Thanksgiving, which for many is the first holiday to go. His actual presence was replaced with a laptop and dinner conversation via Skype.

My son replaced our family traditions with spending time with his friends. He now realizes that the time that you spend with friends is not limitless. When he comes home he juggles seeing us with seeing old friends, who all have the same challenge. I feel very fortunate that he has been able to stay in touch with the friends that mean so much to him especially due to technology like Facebook and Skype. However, there is this small longing for the past.

So this Christmas, I will truly cherish my son’s presence and soak it all in.  My son continues to mature and make his own place in the world. My other son will follow, and my daughter after that. So I will truly enjoy having all three of my children with me this year. I will take out the time from this hectic holiday to soak in who they are at this moment. It is amazing to me how they grow and change from year to year developing different interests. I encourage them to explore different things, stay true to themselves, and enjoy life.  For I know one day, Christmas itself will be a holiday that we won’t spend together and they will be creating new traditions of their own.

Why Grades of Athletes Can Go Down in Off Season?

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It is getting cooler and the seasons are changing from fall to winter so students are also transitioning in the activities that they do. My son plays football which everyone knows is an intense sport. What I have noticed with him, as well as with many of the student athletes that I have spoken to, is a drop in academic grades after the season is over.

Why? This seems to go against logic because they have more time on their hands. However, I believe this is exactly the problem, too much time. Too much time can lead to procrastination. You have the illusion of lots of time so you start to waste it on tasks such as video games, social media, etc., instead of getting homework done. Hence, the off season for athletes is when time management can be most challenging.

So what are students and parents to do? First, recognize what is happening and take proactive measures to change the situation. This is the perfect time to explore other interests. All athletes are just one injury away from no longer being able to do the sport that they love. Many times with the intensity of sports, athletes wrap their whole identity around their participation in sports. I have spoken to many athletes at the end of the senior year of high school who have no idea what their other interests are, not to mention what they want their college major to be.  It is important for athletes to take time out to try other things and discover the whole of who they are. Fill the extra time with exploration. Join a club or take a class in computer programming, art, or cooking. Taking as little as a few hours out of your week to explore something new, can help introduce a student to a life long passion and start them on the way to discovering who they are.

Side Bar: My intention is to do this blog weekly. However, we have been expanding our services to groups including sports teams, youth groups, and scout troops. Therefore, time has been at a premium. Check out our new group services, at http://pathways4teens.com/-Take_The_Time_Together.html . Plus come back and read our blog next week!

Growth Happens At Different Rates

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As I took my morning walk, I saw all the winter grass that was starting to grow (Arizona’s sign of fall). When I take a picture, I am reminded that growth happens at different rates.

Students just like the grass grow at different rates. Unfortunately, the standardized tests that our students take don’t take this into account. They are just a snapshot in time.

The best use of standardized tests is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses in the areas tested. Unfortunately, they have become used to pass judgement on who is “smart” and to place labels on our students.

Especially with standardized tests taken prior to senior year in high school, there are so many reasons that a student might not test well. Simple things like the material not being covered in any of the student’s classes, or that they didn’t have enough sleep. Sometimes, especially with writing assessments, it may be a matter of maturity and the ability to do well with subject matter that doesn’t interest you.

Over the next few weeks, students in my community will take national tests such as the Explore, PSAT, ACT,and SAT. I would like to say that a student’s worth is not reflected in their test score. It is just a snapshot in time of where the student currently is in that particular subject. It does not say definitely where they will be years (or even months) from now.

Use the information that you gather from the tests cautiously. Put the scores in perspective whether the scores are good or bad. Furthermore, don’t stereotype students and allow them to continue to grow.