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

Waiting for college admissions decisions to arrive

This one’s for all of us who are parents.

think I might know what you may be thinking…

As an experienced Parent of a College-Bound Student (it’s a real title, kind of like “Queen of England”), I’ve been where you are right now.

Three times. (And, yes, I’m happy to say that with my youngest now a college freshman, I am officially done!)

Eight years ago (with my oldest daughter), six years ago (with my son), and then again, just last year at this time, I found myself anxiously sitting in the when-will-those-college-admissions-envelopes–finally-arrive-and-what-news-will-they-bring? seat. (If the truth be told, I wasn’t really doing much sitting. Rather, I was running around getting ready for the holidays, reading the Lawrence applications assigned to me, and listening for the mail truck to roll down my street.)

Even though college admission is my profession—which means I’m supposed to have a pretty firm handle on “how this process works”—we’re talking about  MY OWN CHILDREN going through this process, which means that most of my professional perspective sits on the sidelines while the mother in me takes center stage. I’m excited and proud of my kids, but If I’m being honest, I was nervous for all three of them (as the well-worn path from my pacing would suggest).

What if they didn’t get in?

What if they did?

I know that the size of the envelope matters. Big ones mean good news. Small ones… well, I try not to go there, but I wanted to be prepared for it.

For those of you going through this for the second or third or seventh (whew!) time, you already know what I’m talking about. For those of you who are newcomers to this process, here is a quick intro to the three types of letters colleges generally send—presuming the college still uses some paper and stamps:

The “Congratulations, you’re in!” letter. Hooray! The letter we usually* want our children to get. It’s an opportunity to put a school in the “this might be my new home next fall” pile… and start a whole different kind of planning.

*I say “usually” because sometimes—for various reasons that we might never say out loud—we may hope our children don’t get into a particular college. (For example, it might be really really far away… like anywhere farther away than the home in which we have raised them…)

The “Not quite yet” letter, which usually says something like, “The Admissions Committee has decided not to make a decision on your application at this time,” and then describes their process about how they are deferring their decision so they can consider the application along with a different pool of candidates.

This piece of news is neither good nor bad; it’s procedural. It usually means that the Admissions Committee wants to get some more information (fall semester grades, an interview, a box of chocolate chip cookies, etc.) from the applicant. (I’m kidding about the cookies.) Some deferred students will ultimately get the good news letter. Some will not. Some will take themselves out of the running before that college ever re-visits their application. A deferral is not a time to panic, but a time for students to reach out to the admissions office to see what else they might want to provide in order to help that admission committee come to a decision that delivers the desired results. It’s also a great time for students to reassess for themselves how big a priority this particular school really is on their often shifting list of #1’s.

The “We regret to inform you…” letter. We don’t even need to read the rest of the letter, because we know what it’s going to say: Ugh. But it doesn’t mean that we parents won’t find our blood temperatures rising to a simmer or boil, because—really?—how could they not see the good qualities and potential in my child? Who do they think they are?

“They” are my colleagues (and me). I have been on that admissions staff, and I can tell you that most of us did not get into this profession because we like saying “no” to people. We agonize about these decisions each year. In the case of Lawrence, I know that the reason we choose not to offer admission to particular students almost always lies in our collective belief (and it is a group of people who must share the belief) that the students, for reasons as unique as each of them, are not likely to be successful in our academic environment, no matter how much we may like them as people and want them at our university. To knowingly put students into situations where they are highly unlikely to be successful would be irresponsible on our part.

I can tell you, after all the waiting, those letters will finally arrive at your house (and with a couple, involving each of my children, I know I hugged my mailman). Most of them elicit happy dancing in my kitchen, phone calls to relatives—and, at least for me, because I am a crier—tears of joy (with some of the letters) and tears of frustration with some of the others. As a family, we have learned a lot about each other during the college search months and before I can blink an eye, I was crying (again), this time as we drove away after dropping our last off at her freshman dorm. which, whether our children are in the same city or a time zone or two away, will likely feel too far away from our own homes for our taste. I am so proud of all three of my children who have already completed this process. They are thriving… despite my inability to nag them on a regular basis in person.

There I go again. (Did I mention that I am a crier?)

This is an exciting time for you and your child. I encourage you to take several deep breaths, embrace each step of the process (even the tough ones), enjoy these last few high school months, and feel free to contact me (or any of my colleagues in the Lawrence Admissions Office) if we can be of assistance to you.

Carin Smith
Lawrence University Regional Admission Director

What to do about those looming deadlines?

As someone who has been working in admissions for nearly three decades, I have noticed a steady change in the way students perceive deadlines—especially these days. “Apply by November 1” did not used to mean “wait until 11:55 PM on October 31 to hit the magic submit button.”

But oh, the times they are a-changin’ (I’ll save my theories on this for another day). For many students, deadlines are not the last day to submit the application—they are the only day to submit the application. Not a minute, or hour, or day before. (Let’s not even go down the road of a week or month before).

I lived this phenomenon not too long ago with my middle child. For the most part, he had embraced the process. He spent some time investigating “good fit” schools, visiting campuses, listening to admissions officers extol the virtues of the school they represent, and pared his list to those he felt were worthy of an application.

And then…
And then…
And then…

Well that’s when rubber hit the road in my mom world.

I frequently found myself asking – usually as he was watching Sunday football or late-night SportsCenter – “When do you think you might want to start working on your college applications?” This question usually elicited one of the following (wonderfully verbose) responses:

“When they’re due.”

“Soon.”

“When I’m ready.”

I countered with some award-winning questions myself:

“Do you know when they’re due?”

“What does ‘soon’ mean?”

“When do you think you will be ready?”

The conversation usually ended there. So, I spent weeks encouraging, cajoling, nagging and yes, at times, raising my voice (OK, yelling); still no movement toward the college application websites. I went through ALL my “internal mom rationalizations.”

Maybe if I stop asking, he’ll actually work on them. (Reverse psychology)

Maybe he’s silently trying to tell us he’s not ready to go to college. (Oh, really?!)

Maybe I just need to be patient and let him figure this out for himself. (But this might bring about my early retirement from motherhood, if you know what I mean.).

In the end, this is how it unfolded in my house with my middle child:

The primary application deadline happened to be on a Saturday (not great timing, in my opinion). My son played his final high school football game on Friday night. Sadly, it was a colossal play-off loss for my son’s team. At noon on Saturday, he was still sleeping. At 2 PM, his bedroom door opened and he found his way to the family room and SportsCenter. It really was more than I could take. And so, at this critical juncture, I left the house – just walked away.

I spent the next several hours walking the dog, running every errand I could think of, and pruning bushes in my yard–and then my neighbor’s.

When I finally did come home, the applications had been submitted.

“What?! You mean you actually submitted them? Who proofed your essay? Who double checked your work?”

His answer shocked me: “No one; this is my process. Haven’t I often overheard you say to the prospective parents you work with that this needs to be their child’s journey?! You’re certainly welcome to read my essay now if you’d like.”

I nearly knocked him over getting to the computer. I tried to remember if there was any way to un-submit, fix errors, and then re-submit a college application.

Until I read it.

And he took my breath away… and—yes—brought me to tears. (Full disclosure: tears come easy for me, but these were legit.) His essay almost caused me to ask, “Who wrote this for you?”

The topic was simple: his last high school football game. The content was spot-on and moving. As an admissions officer, I would have loved reading this essay! As a mom, I couldn’t have been prouder.

While I (like many parents) might have some micro-managing tendencies when it comes to my children, I had to take a big step back and realize that possibly, that football game had to happen, and the application deadline had to be looming for the submission to actually (finally!) happen.

Knowing what I know now, would I have handled this any differently?

I like to think I would nag less, trust more, and embrace the “last minute” for the good work it can often produce. I would encourage parents new to this process to do the same—including walking dogs, running errands and pruning bushes (your own and your neighbors’). The deadlines will come and they will pass, and in all likelihood, students will submit their applications.

Happy Deadline Days!

Carin Smith
Lawrence University Regional Admission Director