Keep Calm and FAFSA On, 2017

Editor’s note: I’ll acknowledge right here that FAFSA isn’t a verb, but neither are most of the other nouns that people will shoehorn into the “Keep Calm and [Something] On” meme to suit their purposes, much as I am here. (Thank you in advance for extending me some creative grammatical license.)

As if high school seniors don’t already have enough on their plates this fall, with…

  • the start of the school year and all the academic, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities that come with it (I’m looking at you, Homecoming);
  • the college admission process kicking into higher gear;
  • preparing for the next season of Stranger Things to drop on Netflix;

…we now have a bunch of emails and social media posts reminding us that October 1 is the go-live date for the 2018-19 FAFSA (which means that you can now file your FAFSA for the 2018-2019 college academic year starting on October 1 using your family’s tax returns from 2016).

Here’s the part where I refer again to the title of this blog, but this time with an addendum:

Keep calm and FAFSA on… when you are ready.

Here’s the thing… while the FAFSA is now live, that doesn’t mean you must drop everything and file for financial aid now—though you might hear some chatter from well-meaning and/or freaked out classmates, parents, neighbors, or random strangers who are jumping on their financial aid applications immediately.

This is not the same as concert tickets going on sale today. You won’t find yourself out of a seat if you file your FAFSA on October 15. Or November 15. Or January 15.

More to the point, two things generally have to happen in sequence before you will even receive a financial aid offer from a college:

  1. You have to apply to that college.
  2. You have to be admitted to that college.

And considering that colleges have many different application and financial aid deadlines, we encourage you to check the websites of each of the colleges you’re considering (like Lawrence, for example) to learn when all of their deadlines fall.

Then you can start prioritizing the steps you’ll need to take to move through your own college admission process. To help with that, here are a few College Applicant Power Tips (capitalizing them makes them seem more important, somehow)…

Tip #1: Build your own college admission calendar and plug in all the important deadlines for each of your colleges.

Tip #2: On that calendar, plug in your own dates where you will get things done (e.g., draft application essay, review application essay, file FAFSA, jump for joy with admission from Lawrence, etc.)

Tip #3: Do those things you scheduled using Tip #2.

As for the FAFSA, if you haven’t yet explored the FAFSA and you happen to find animations with a soothing voice-over and a calming piano to be a nice, inviting way to explore unfamiliar topics, we recommend this video, designed by the U.S. Department of Education.

When you’re ready to file your own FAFSA, visit the Department of Education’s FAFSA website where you can dive into way more detail about the FAFSA and, finally, file it.

You can do this.

If you run into questions, feel free to get in touch with us at Lawrence. We’re happy to help.

kcafo

What Batman can teach us about college success

Kate Zoromski is one of Lawrence’s Associate Deans of Academic Success. She works with students in a variety of capacities – from transitioning to college, to facing challenges, to life after Lawrence – to ensure their college experience is a meaningful and productive one. She wrote this post for us in 2014, but it has such good, timeless stuff in it that we want to share it with you again.

(You can learn more about the Center for Academic Success and other services it provides here.)

As I write this, I am preparing to send my second (and last) child off to college. Like so many parents, I am grappling with how quickly we got to this point. I recently came across a picture of her taken on the first day of kindergarten.  She was wearing a bright pink backpack that was nearly as big as she was. Her sweet little face reflected a complex combination of excitement and nervousness.  I remember thinking at the time that I was feeling much the same way! Was she ready? Was I ready?

No doubt, we’ve both learned a lot since then.  But it occurs to me as we get closer to freshman year that we’ve managed to circle around to that same place.  We shopped yesterday for a new backpack (more size-appropriate and not pink).  When she tried it on in the store and looked in the mirror our eyes met, and I know we were both thinking the same thing.  Are we ready for this?

As the parents of college students, we worry about whether or not our kids have what they need. Have we thought of everything they could possibly need for their dorm room? Do they have all their books and school supplies? Do they know where to get their meals or wash their clothes? Do they have enough money? But we also worry about less tangible things:  Are they ready to handle the challenges that come with being a college student? What happens when they need something and we’re not there?

I can’t help but feel that – at least in this one area – I have a slight advantage. I work with college students every day of my professional life. I have watched this journey unfold for thousands of freshmen over the years (including one of my own). And I have learned to trust in their capacity for change and growth, even when they doubt it themselves. I believe my kid can do this. And I believe your kid can, too.

Of course, we all hope our child’s journey will go smoothly. But in college, as in life, they will inevitably face challenges and disappointments. Those of us who work closely with transitioning students know well that how students view the challenges they face significantly impacts their success – in and out of the classroom. And there are simple, easy ways parents can positively impact their children’s ability to handle difficult times.

The research backs me up on this. As parents, we tend to think of our role in our child’s college experience in practical terms; it’s hard not to think of it that way when you’re on your fourth trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond!  But there are also some less concrete things we can do to set our students up for success during their college years.

Help your student understand that struggle and challenge are normal parts of a college experience (and life).

As seasoned adults, we understand struggle and growth go hand in hand. It’s a natural part of life. But, in my line of work, it is not uncommon to meet students who feel strongly that struggle means they simply do not have the ability to succeed. They feel it is a sign of failure, which they perceive as something very negative. And, worse, they feel they must hide the fact they are struggling so no one else discovers what they believe is a weakness. Understanding that challenge and failure are things we all face in times of growth will help students develop the resiliency they need to be successful. If your student knows that their experience is normal, they are more likely to press on.

You may remember this Michael Jordan commercial from a few years back.  He explains in clear terms that he has encountered more than his fair share of failures, but he believes those challenges are what made him so successful.  It is so hard for students to understand sometimes, but failure and success inextricably intertwined.

Encourage “interdependence.”

We spend much of parenthood preparing our students to be independent.  We work hard to make sure they can take care of themselves once they head off on their own. But I often find that students internalize our messages about independence as “if I ask for help when I need it, it means I’m weak.” In fact, they will actively resist seeking out the very resources that could help them overcome the challenges they face. I tell students that what we mean when we stress independence is not that we feel they need to handle everything on their own. We simply mean “we don’t want you to be dependent.” These are two very different ideas!

We want our kids to learn how to solve their own problems so they will be able to take care of themselves. But utilizing resources is one of the ways we build the skills we need to succeed. We learn from others – professors, academic advisors, housing professionals, tutors, peer leaders, counselors, and student success coordinators, for example. Talking with these folks provides a solid pathway to success and in no way signals weakness.

Did you see Batman Begins?  Remember the scene where Bruce Wayne consults with Fox about getting his Batman suit? Fox provides the information and the resources Bruce needs to become the superhero we all know and love. The funny thing is that no one thinks Bruce Wayne is a failure for using the resources available to him. In fact, we all think he’s a brilliant superhero for thinking of Fox and all the technology available in his department. Why is it, then, that our students hold themselves to a higher standard?  Why do they think that asking for help is a sign of weakness?

When we emphasize independence, we run the risk of being misunderstood, which means students don’t get the support they need and deserve. If you can help your child to understand that everyone uses resources to be successful, they will begin to develop the skills they need to face and overcome the obstacles they encounter during their years at Lawrence. Encourage them to be interdependent.

I know better than to tell you not to worry about your student.  I remember asking my mom shortly after my first child was born, “When do you stop worrying about them so much?” She chuckled knowingly and simply said “You don’t.” Will I worry about my own freshman in a few weeks? Absolutely. But it helps to know that she is capable of the kind of change and growth necessary to make it a successful year. Our students are headed into one of the most impactful experiences of their lives. Together, we can help them overcome the obstacles they will face and ultimately find success.

– Kate Zoromski, Associate Dean of Academic Success

The waiting… ugh, the WAITING!

You’ve probably caught on by now that there is a LOT of waiting in the college admission process:

  1. Colleges (and parents) waiting for students to submit applications.
  2. Students (and parents) waiting for schools to respond with offers of admission.
  3. And now, colleges (and parents) waiting for students to make a final college selection.

As impatiently as you may have been waiting for “the big envelope” from us, we now find ourselves on pins and needles (where does that oh-so-appropriate metaphor come from?) wondering which admitted students will respond with the great news that they will be enrolling at our schools.

If you’ve read the previous “Mom blogs” you know that I have three kids—all who have already gone through this process and found a happy home. As each of them approached their final college selection decisions in the spring of their senior years, I experienced some combination of the following, sometimes all at once:

Anxiety                                                              
Part of me was anxious to see what their final decision would be… their seeming lack of urgency with this decision helped stoke this particular fire. (See “impatience” below.)

Introspection
I found many moments (often while folding their laundry or tripping over sports equipment left in the middle of the hallway) when I wondered how much my heart would ache when they finally did leave. Didn’t I just read them bedtime stories last night?

Impatience
I also discovered that during spring of their senior years these wonderful budding adults became, I’ll admit, a bit insufferable. I knew—at least intellectually—their moodiness and/or ambivalence might have been a response to their own concern about their final college decisions and all the emotion wrapped up with high school ending. But, really, I think we all had short fuses in those last weeks leading up to decision day.

Worry

I worried – too much – about whether they would make the “wisest” decision possible. (Translation: would they make the decision I thought would be wisest for them?)

I also learned that I have to follow the same advice that I’ve been giving to parents of college-bound kids for years: it’s not all about you. (It sounds really nice when I give that advice, but it stinks when I have to follow it myself.) Although I knew each of my kids would ultimately make a selection, I quickly discovered that their decision-making methods were very different from each other—and certainly quite different from mine.

My oldest daughter? A methodical list-maker, she devised a 5-point, multiple-category rating system to score each of her schools. It made perfect sense to her, but she didn’t share the results with anyone in our family for several weeks. It needed to settle in her mind before she shared it with anybody else. I was standing in the grocery store checkout line when she called me to “reveal” her decision – I will never forget it, and I presume neither will the checkout clerk, who might have been a bit surprised when I burst into tears for no apparent reason.

My son? Where his older sister trusted “data,” he embraced his inner Obi-Wan Kenobi and trusted “his feelings.” We made return visits to his top three colleges. (This was, if I’m being honest, at my insistence). It was a less scientific process, and the factors he considered were far more superfluous than I thought appropriate:

  • One return visit involved a 5-hour drive (one way) and resulted in a 2-block walk, on our way to the admissions office, at which point he turned to me and said, “This isn’t the one, Mom.” (A FIVE-HOUR DRIVE… PLUS TWO BLOCKS?!) This may come as a shock, but I’m a bit stubborn, which is why I demanded that he go through all the activities the admissions office had so carefully planned for him. (In hindsight, we should have trusted his feelings and gotten back in the car. His feelings were right.)
  • Another visit revealed that the campus was really WAY too close to the stadiums of professional sports teams that were arch rivals of the Chicago sports teams he had grown up rooting for. “Mom, I don’t think I could spend 4 years surrounded by the crazies that cheer for these teams.” My head almost flew right off my body when I heard this one. But his feelings were right.
  • At last, it was the third visit (why couldn’t it have been the first one?) that confirmed itself as “the one.” (I’m resisting the urge to make a Goldilocks “just right” connection here.)

And child #3 was a blissful combination of the olders in that she had a “system” (although not one that she readily shared with us unless we happened to be listening close enough to catch a quick snippet here or there), she made visits – where she allowed herself to be “all in” in order to get the best sense she could for fit and potential. She often didn’t open physical mail but did a fair amount of electronic and social media investigating. Truth be told, she had the benefit of watching this process unfold with her siblings (and several older friends) and she was SO over-anxious to be done with high school and done with the college selection process that the evening the final financial aid award arrived, she sat my husband and I down and simply told us where she would be matriculating the next fall. Not much fanfare or hoopla, but what seemed to be a solid and well-thought-out decision.

Which bring us to what might be your family’s current experience. Whether your child is a list-maker, a dart-thrower, a gut-truster, or some other kind of decision-maker, remember that this process is ultimately about your child.

(OK, it’s about you, too… but I trust you know what I mean.)

The May 1 National Candidates Reply Date is approaching where students nationwide will deliver their “yays” and “nays.”

We’re waiting…

(Ugh, the WAITING!)

May the decision lead your children to colleges that fit them well, wherever that may be.

With 99% placement within six months of graduating, Lawrentians have been reporting good news for the past several years.

The better news is that Lawrentians do well in their careers long after that, by many measures:

But they didn’t just get there by themselves. Support, encouragement, and guidance by their professors is a major trajectory-changer.

(And there’s research to support it.)

In surveys of thousands of college graduates, Gallup finds that those who report “being emotionally supported during college are two times more likely to be engaged in their work and thriving in their well-being later in life.” This support comes from having a professor or a mentor who:

  1. makes students excited about learning;
  2. cares about me as a person;
  3. who encourages my goals and dreams.

With one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios in the country (8.5 to 1), average class sizes of 15, and hundreds of one-on-one courses available to you, Lawrence provides an environment where you will engage with your professors at a level few colleges in the world can offer.

From your first day of Freshman Studies through the completion of your Senior Experience—and long after you graduate—your Lawrence professors are deeply invested in your success, whatever form that might take for you as an individual.

Because of highly engaged professors, Lawrentians are “being well and doing well” in their lives. (It’s one of the reasons Lawrentians invite their professors to attend their alumni reunions every year as special guests.)

Just in Time for the Holidays: The Book of College Admission Spells

I wrote this for a column that appeared in the Post-Crescent, Appleton’s newspaper, in December 2015. Given that the holidays are once again upon us, the spells contained herein might prove handy.

As we approach the height of the holiday season—and all the gatherings and celebrations that accompany this magical time—we also enter the thick of the college admission season, where many high school seniors are in various stages of applying to colleges, or waiting to hear back from colleges to which they have applied.

The overlap of these two seasons often gives rise to a peculiar phenomenon for those high school seniors, especially at the aforementioned gatherings and celebrations.

Just a year ago, they may have been ordinary teenagers, small players in polite conversations with relatives and family friends:  How’s school? How is [insert activity here] going?

But now they are College Applicants, elevated to the leading role in conversations of a different sort from those same relatives and family friends:

You should apply to College A; I loved it.

I’ve never heard of College B.

How did you do on the SAT?

We applied to College X, Y, and Z.

I heard that [some shining star not in the room] just got into [name that evokes approving noises from everyone else in the room].

To the well-meaning folks asking questions or making observations, these may seem like friendly bits of conversation. But to the College Applicants in the room—for whom the college admission process can be an intensely personal choice—the public appraisal of that choice can create some challenging moments.

Luckily for those College Applicants, there is help from an unusual source: The Book of College Admission Spells. (We keep it in the Very Special Books section of the library at Lawrence University.)
magic book

The book is not available for check-out, but I have been authorized by our Very Special Librarian to share a handful of charms and hexes that can help College Applicants and their loved ones make it through the holiday season and beyond with their sanity and self-worth intact.

Perspectum Widensis – When cast by a College Applicant upon a person, this charm helps the spellbound become aware of colleges that don’t routinely appear on ESPN College Gameday. Useful for applicants to liberal arts colleges and other schools that may not be household names, this charm counters the effect of the Neverheardof Hex, a minor curse that causes one to think that not having heard of a college must mean it’s not worth considering.

Morthana Testscorus – A culturally subversive charm, it is best used upon students who have done very well in and out of school, but are suffering from the disappointment or anxiety that accompanies a low ACT or SAT score. When cast upon such students, it reminds them of their worth, and also opens their eyes to the more than 800 four-year colleges that do not require standardized test scores for admission (including the one where this spell book is housed).

MeNotWe – When around parents who use the first-person plural pronoun as the subjects in statements about their child’s college search (e.g., “We got into College A” or “We got a scholarship from B University,”), whisper this simple little spell, and the speaker will only be able to say the child’s name in place of “we”. (This is a diluted version of the more powerful charm, Notaboutyou, which prevents parents from holding up the College Applicant as proof of their own parental achievement.)

Non Overdoitum – When cast upon parents of middle schoolers and younger high schoolers, this charm enables the spellbound to encourage their children to challenge themselves in subjects they enjoy and excel in, but not to pressure them to take academic courses far beyond the child’s capacity. This charm counteracts the Youwontgetinunless Hex, which leads parents to believe that getting into college requires children to fill every slot on the class schedule with AP and honor classes, and to program every hour outside of class with activities carefully selected to impress admission officers.

I understand there may be other copies of The Book of College Admission Spells hidden throughout the world. I hope others with access feel free to share their favorite spells with those who might benefit from them.

Image credit: Magic Book by Nikita Kozin from the Noun Project