The Road to College
By May S. Ruiz
Your children have been going through the greatest upheaval in their young lives. The coronavirus crisis has affected all of us in ways we’ve never before experienced. Among the biggest challenges for the adults in our household are concerns about our well-being, both physical and mental, and worries about our fiscal health. Our children sense our anxieties, adding to their own feeling of isolation from the world. Know that there are resources available, including the American Psychiatric Association and the Child Mind Institute, that can help adults and children cope at this difficult time.
As I touched on in last month’s College Guide, summer jobs will be hard to find in our current situation. Some of the retail stores and restaurants which, in years past, hired teenagers aren’t enjoying as much traffic because people aren’t confident about being out and about. News about resurging coronavirus cases are fueling trepidations about reopening the economy as our financial experts envisioned.
That said, there’s the reality that your children are facing – building impressive resumes to look attractive to admissions officers. Whether school campuses will be open in the fall or classes will continue to be held remotely, your children need to be up to speed and ready to tackle the rigors of high school. Guide them to find activities that make for a productive summer.
High School is going to be an exciting phase in your children’s academic life. Having completed middle school and their tween years where they found their identity, they are now ready to assert themselves in this new environment.
If your children have not shown much interest in reading during their elementary or middle school years, you need to encourage them to spend this month reading – just for the sheer pleasure of it. Persuade them to look for different authors and genres; familiarizing themselves with various styles and themes will help them find their own voice. Reading will expand their vocabulary as they gain maturity in their writing and that will prepare them for composing their personal statement.
As mentioned above, summer is an opportune time for reading. Encourage your children to spend part of their day on this pleasurable and educational pursuit.
Your children should find an enrichment program or perform community service work related to something they are passionate about. Sustained effort and interest in one particular cause show that your children are sincere, and not just padding their resumes.
If your children are so inclined, they can start researching colleges. Nowadays, they can go online and get virtual campus tours of most colleges or universities.
Your children should be preparing themselves for one of the busiest years of their high school career. They should be immersed in community service work, professional internships, and enrichment programs. They can likewise start researching colleges and going online to get virtual college campus tours. This will also give your children some idea about the college application process.
Summer is the perfect time for them to read extensively to expand their vocabulary and prepare them for writing their essay for the college application.
This is the year that will test your and your children’s mettle. Be prepared for the marathon (which actually started in the spring of their junior year). They should still be continuing the community service work they began back in their freshman year, getting an internship, or looking for avenues to use their talent.
If your children didn’t get the chance to visit the school prior to the coronavirus outbreak, they might want to do a virtual tour. It will help them narrow down their list to a more realistic number of applications.
They should also be thinking about their personal statement. Likewise, some universities require a supplementary essay specific to them, with topics that range from the practical to the philosophical. Admissions officers are constantly on the lookout for something fresh and original in applicants’ compositions. However, it requires a certain amount of creativity and proficient writing skill to come up with a treatise that will impress seasoned readers.
That said, your children might also find some time to actually enjoy this summer before they get swallowed up by the vortex of college applications.
Unless your children are spending this summer agonizing because they’re waitlisted at their first choice school, they must be very excited to have completed high school and are anxiously looking forward to the next phase of their education. By this time, they should have put in the deposit on the college they plan to attend. Some colleges will be sending out the procedures for class registrations, information on housing, meal specifics, and such other details to the incoming class.
Let your children take the lead on the college moving arrangements and only offer guidance when they ask for it. In all likelihood, your children will be moving away from home, maybe going to the other side of the country. They need to practice being on their own and the preparations for moving will be a good place to start.
If your children will be attending a university across the Atlantic, as my daughter did, there is a whole set of preparations you have to attend to. Applying for a student visa should be your priority as it could take a month to secure. You and your college-bound student need to communicate closely with the school as their requirements may differ greatly from those of American universities.
Email or call the university to know when to wire the tuition and other college fees. Make sure your student has the necessary information on how to register for classes, how to apply for housing, and what essentials to bring to school. Research where to find items – including bedding (sizes are different from what’s standard here) and small electric appliances (voltage and shape of plug are different) – that your student will need. Knowing beforehand what stores you have to visit saves time.
Make sure you have enough time to spend helping your children settle into their new environment. When my daughter left for college in the U.K., we arrived there three weeks prior to freshers’ week. We opened her bank accounts, shopped for household items, and familiarized ourselves with the area (nearest grocery stores and hospital to her housing, for instance).
For most parents, sending their children away to college across the country is difficult enough. Letting 18-year-olds live on their own 5,000 miles away for four years is almost unthinkable. It takes a great deal of courage, on your part and your children’s, to make that plunge. But you’ll find that they grow into confident, responsible, and self-reliant adults and it was the best decision you both made.
At this juncture, let me address another situation. If your children weren’t accepted to any school they applied to, then they have to decide if they want to attend a community college. Most of these institutions will accept new students close to enrollment time. Some of them have arrangements with the UC system so graduates can attend a UC school for their junior and senior year. This has the double advantage of ensuring your children get a college diploma from a four-year university and saving on the cost of their education.
There are some instances when your children might gain admission during the spring term to their first-choice school (this scenario happens if the university wants to keep their ranking and your children did not receive a perfect SAT score but they met all the other requirements for admission. If your children have highly desirable qualities that will enhance the university’s student body, admissions officers will wait until after their school has been ranked so your kids’ SAT scores will no longer affect their place). Confer with your children’s college counselor about how to accomplish this.
Some college applicants who are on the waitlist for their dream university ask to be deferred (this will only work if your children met all the academic qualifications for admission to the school with only the problem of the university not having the space for your student this year).
Of course, there is the option to take a gap year after high school. One of my daughter’s classmates used it doing humanitarian work in Africa. This alternative can help your children stand out in a sea of similar-looking applicants. Several universities consider this as a major boost in an applicant’s resume. Admissions officers tend to see the student in better light – this person has some tangible experience to bring in and, therefore, adds to the school make-up.
The gap year option has become front and center during the coronavirus crisis for those who feel paying a full tuition isn’t worth the price when schools may not reopen their campuses and classes may be held remotely. For other students, waiting until campuses reopen offers them the full experience of freshman year. Fortunately, there are companies and organizations out there offering life skill courses and useful seminars for gap year students, one of which is Mind the Gap’s LIFE READY. (Read related article here)
Whether your high school graduate is going directly to college, going by the community college route, or taking a gap year, recognize their decision as a first step towards their independence.