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

Keep Calm and FAFSA On

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 revival of Gilmore Girls, the arrival of Luke Cage, or any of the other gifts Netflix will give us.

…we now have this:

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Yes for the first time ever, you can file your FAFSA for the 2017-2018 college academic year starting on October 1 using your family’s tax returns from 2015.

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 goes live on October 1, that doesn’t mean you must drop everything and file for financial aid on October 1— 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 tomorrow. 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 cartoons with semi-funky music to be a nice, inviting way to explore unfamiliar topics, this video, compiled by our friends at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, might be a helpful start.

When you’re done watching that, you can move on to this video designed by the U.S. Department of Education (complete with soothing voice-over and calming background piano music). It provides more detail about how the FAFSA works.

When you’re ready to level up, 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.

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Balance, love, sturdy winter boots, and other things you hope your new Lawrentian finds

Editor’s note: We enlisted the help of our student workers here in the Admissions office to write a blog post summarizing, curating and—as Lawrentians often do—putting their own whimsical take on the results of a survey we sent to parents and guardians of incoming Lawrentians, asking them questions about the college search process, their hopes for (and nerves on behalf of) their students, and a handful of other curiosities. Without further introduction, we’ll hand you off to our students and your responses.  (Thanks, Katie, John, Sophie, Joe, Suzanne, Hitkarsh, and Lauren.)

Now that move-in day is behind us and classes are underway, we wanted to get back in touch with all of our parents to let you know what we learned from the parents’ survey the admissions staff conducted earlier this summer.

We read every single response to the parent surveys, and we were struck with the sheer amount of optimism we saw. Yes, there were some nerves from parents about whether their kids could successfully navigate an unfamiliar place and wake up for class on time. But almost every single response we read was tinged with an extraordinary sense of pride and delight. Many of you touted not just your students’ accolades (first chair in the orchestra, 4.0 GPA, etc), but their strength as individuals. Lawrentians—your children included—are unique, compassionate, intellectual, and multi-talented. You might even describe them (and us) as ‘buoyant.’

College is going to be an experience like none before. Our ideas are challenged, life philosophies shifted, and self-perceptions altered. What defines us as both college students and Lawrentians is our ability to adjust, grow stronger, and continue on.

But from what we can tell about your enthusiastic responses, you already knew that.

So, here’s to an exciting and inspiring next four years. (Or five, for our parents five-year, double-degree students.)

Be well and do well,

Hitkarsh Chanana ‘18
Suzanne Hones ‘17
Joe Johnson ‘17
Lauren McLester-Davis ‘18
Katie Nelson ‘17
Sophie Penniman ‘19
John Perkins ‘18

 

We had a great time reading your responses to the survey, and we’ve compiled some of our favorites below. (We should note that some responses have been lightly edited for length/clarity/anonymity.)

What did you enjoy about the college search process?

  • I loved learning more about our daughter. I found out that she’s a listmaker, she’s an airline schedule-checker, a communicator, and that she really does a good job of managing her time.
  • I enjoyed watching my son get excited about his future, and watching as he imagined himself on campus. I will say that the football coaches at LU were top notch. They made my son feel so special, and I think they sealed the deal for him.
  • Watching him figure it out. We supported him in deciding what was important for him: small size/relationship with professors, strong sciences, rural/small town. It all came from his own sense of himself. That made me happy.
  • To be honest, the whole process lends itself to stress. Which college to pick, will they be accepted, monetary questions, etc. I think that getting accepted was the most enjoyable part. 🙂

What is your student’s biggest achievement so far?

  • [Our student] was chosen to represent [our] tribe at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference. 40 young people were chosen from over 500 different tribes to attend in Washington D.C.
  • She has been a terrific friend to others, honest and genuine and caring, and I am very proud of her for that achievement.
  • Besides getting into Lawrence and the Conservatory? I’d say it’s the fact that she’s pursuing her dream of being a professional musician.
  • The list is endless, but one big general achievement comes to mind: that she set her mind on college in the US when she was 11.
  • She has developed into a young adult who is empathetic, caring, and optimistic about her role in the world. Yes, she excelled in school, music, and speech–but her development as a human has been really cool to witness.

We all hope for the best… about what are you most hopeful for your student at Lawrence?

  • That he blossoms. That he tries new things. That he finds things to get passionate about. That he finds a supportive community to help him do these things.
  • That they will grow more as an individual and continue to strengthen their voice for advocacy. I would like them to find a place with like minds that support them, but also that push them to think beyond their current limits.
  • I hope that LU offers her an opportunity to do some dabbling and to develop into the full Renaissance woman I know she is….I hope it will help her see beyond herself.
  • I hope he finds a professor that will inspire and challenge him to maximize what he is capable of.
  • I hope she continues on her path of being a leader by example and learns from the people around her.
  • I hope Lawrence will draw out the best my child has to offer the world and that he will understand the rights and responsibilities that come with a degree from Lawrence.

What are you nervous about?

  • That he will love Wisconsin and never live close to us again!
  • I hope her physical and mental health stay strong, and that she finds balance.
  • I’m actually not nervous. I’m excited. Really. Truly. I think our daughter’s going to do cool and exciting things, stuff she’s never even thought of before! I cannot WAIT to see what she’ll do! Oh wait — I’m aleetle nervous about her Dad and I — we’re about to be empty nesters!
  • Letting go of my first born. I know LU is a rigorous program, and I want him to find balance and know that we love and support him every step of the way.

What is your favorite thing about Lawrence?

  • That you look at education in a holistic manner; not just regurgitating information and data, but teaching students how to think for themselves in an ever-evolving society.
  • We love LU.  The close-knit family atmosphere of the campus, the low student to teacher ratio, that individual attention, and the fact that everyone is extremely helpful.
  • The staff has been phenomenal.  From the staff in the admissions office to the LU football staff, I cannot say enough for how they have gone above and beyond.  I feel like my child is already part of the Lawrence University Family.
  • My favorite thing about Lawrence is my conservatory student can still get an outstanding liberal arts education. People often ask me what kind of living can he make if he majors in euphonium performance? The answer is simple – what kind of life will he have if he does not?
  • The community just feels right – smart, caring, interesting, engaged – all without being pretentious.
  • We all think Lawrence will give him the best opportunity to be the very best version of himself.

A new (and expanded) supporting cast for Lawrentians

It’s September again.

(As if you didn’t know that already.)

To get the year kicked off properly, we could playfully link to a certain Earth, Wind and Fire song like we did last year at this time (you’re welcome) before cutting to the chase of yet another ritual that seems to be the job of admissions folks: trumpeting the virtues of our class of newest students while slyly promoting the virtues of our own institution.

We’ll let our new student profile do that job for us. Suffice it to say, like generations of Lawrentians before them, they’re delightful, talented, driven, and eager to meet the challenges you would expect from one of the Colleges That Change Lives.

(See what we did there?)

Speaking of meeting challenges, our newest Lawrentians will have even more supporters than they usually do with the addition of four new colleagues, three of them in brand-new positions at Lawrence:

Kimberly Barrett, our new Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Dean of the Faculty (yes, she has one of the longest titles on campus), will be working “to promote learning, student development, social justice, and diversity” among students, faculty, and staff at Lawrence University as well as in the greater Appleton area.

Linda Morgan-Clement, our new Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, officially joins the Lawrence community this week to provide spiritual leadership, foster religious sensitivity, and connect the Lawrence community through campus ceremonies, religious traditions, interfaith services and celebrations.

Monita Mohammadian Gray, our new Dean for Academic Success, rejoins Lawrence to lead our brand-new Center for Academic Success, dedicated to helping Lawrentians thrive in their academic lives and reach their full potential in their lives at and after Lawrence. If her name looks familiar to you, it’s because she was an admission officer for Lawrence from 1996 through 2005. (We’re thrilled to have her back!)

Christyn Abaray, our Director of Athletics, has been at Lawrence since the spring term last year, so this is the start of her first full academic year in the role. A former D-III All-American student athlete herself, Christyn is working to ensure that our student athletes experience success in academics and competition.