Thursday, September 29, 2011

Freshman Parent College Night Recap

Last night we had Freshman Parent College Night.

We had about 50 parents in attendance.

Our central message was this: don't forfeit your child's present for the future.

In addition, we oriented our parents to our program's purpose, process, and pieces.

We ended by giving parents a list of 10 things to do in regard to college planning.

Here they are.

1. Begin mapping out your curriculum plan for all four years in the Upper School.

2. Aim for Breath and Depth: four years in five core subjects, moving upward to the next level of rigor (English, math, science, history, and foreign language) [Selective colleges aren’t looking for passion on the transcript; they are looking for appropriate level of challenge + consistent performance)

3. Become involved in leadership roles in your activities; take advantage of leadership opportunities available to you. (“To whom much is given much is required”)

4. Work hard in all your courses. This will improve your ACT score. Read more. This will improve your PSAT and SAT scores.

5. Take the PSAT in October for experience with standardized testing and to evaluate your progress.

6. Make good use of your summer; get a summer job (responsibility), go to camp, travel, take a course, etc. (What do you do when you don’t have to do anything?)

7. Make use of family trips and vacations to take a first look at colleges. Aim for variety: small, liberal arts; mid-size private university; big, public university; specialty schools. (What did you learn about yourself while touring the school?)

8. Begin in the spring using Casady’s Naviance program to explore colleges, search for those that seem to match your interests and abilities. Do the Learning Style module. Begin building your resume. Keep “Journal” notes about your freshman experience.

9. Parents: begin financial planning for college now! Don’t wait! Investigate college costs, saving plans, etc. and begin saving now!

10. Parents: read from cover-to-cover the College Bound Field Guide located on our College Counseling web page

Friday, September 9, 2011

Junior College Night, Part 1

Wednesday night was Junior College Parent Night.

It was the first of two formal meetings with parents.

The next one is with students in January to kick off The College Seminar.

We had a full house on Wednesday and covered a number of topics related to the college process ahead for their student.

Perhaps you have a student starting their junior year, and you are a bit overwhelmed with where to start, what is ahead, what you should be doing, what your student should be doing.

Hopefully these next three posts will help allay mounting anxieties and provide some clearheaded direction.

So where did we start.

We started with first things.

If we keep first things first, second and third things will click into place.

So what comes first?


Your student.

It's one of our motto's: The student first; the school second.

When we think about your student, our overarching mission is to partner with families to discern the best college fit.

We like to think of "best fit" in terms of four broad categories.

The first category for fit involves learning style.

Here is a simple question you can ask your student to generate discussion about the style of instruction that best suits him or her:

If given a choice, would you

A) take a scantron test,

B) take an essay test,

or C) write a paper.

I didn't learn until my freshman year in Dr. Grady's American Literature II class that I was suited for the take home paper. I got a C in Macroeconomics. Every test was rife with bubbles to fill in. But in Dr. Grady's class there were no bubbles. Just two major papers. I got A's on both of them and loved the writing process. It only took one semester in college to switch from business to English as a major.

In addition, some students learn best in a lecture format. Other students thrive in a seminar format. Does your student retain ideas and information from listening and note taking? Or does your student retain through dialogue and conversation?

The answer to these questions can help identify the kind of learning style that best fits your student.

The second category for fit is passion.

Sometimes students develop a passion inside the classroom.

I think, for example, of Aly M who developed a passion for Manderine Chinese in Mr. Svaboda's class. After four years of Chinese and two trips to China, Aly's college search focused on unique programs in Chinese. She is now at the University of Rhode Island, a scholar in their Flagship Chinese Leadership program.

Other times students develop a passion for something outside the classroom. That's Ben M who back in the 7th grade starting studying films, watching Pulp Fiction every night, dissecting frame by frame. He's now at UT-Austin studying tv-film in the College of Communications.

And then there are students who develop a passion for something that overlaps both inside and outside the classroom. That's Nathan P. On Facebook last week, he posted that he had made the Duke Symphony Orchestra. Nathan's love for the bass violin was nurtured in the classroom at Casady, but now as a freshman, he's studying Biochemical Engineering. At Duke Nathan is able to pursue his passion for the bass violin, but not as a lover of music not as a pre-professional student.

So whether it is a subject in the classroom, or an extracurricular activity outside the classroom, students want to look for colleges where they can pursue their passions.

The third category for fit involves admissibility + competitiveness.

To be admissible means that you have the basics for what the school needs for their profile. Your grades and test scores fall in their median range.

To be competitive, though, means that you have something that the school wants to move their profile forward. Sometimes it involves high grades and test scores. But often it involves something else. This is where the "hook" comes into play. A hook, by definition, is a competitive credential that elevates you as an applicant. The ability to play a sport? The ability to pay full freight? The family's ability to build a new rec center on campus? The color of your skin? The bubble you fill in for gender? The part of the country you hale from? Whether or not your parent is an alumni of the school? The academic discipline you are interested in? These are the kinds of hooks that can move a student from admissible to competitive.

The goal is to find schools where you are both admissible and competitive.

The fourth and final category for fit involves affordability.

Simply put, you have to ask honestly if as a family you can afford the price tag. Now many schools, especially private institutions, will discount and remove most (but not all) of the sticker shock. Nevertheless, with rising tuition costs, and the depreciating value of certain college diplomas, you really have to look at whether or not paying X amount of dollars is worth it. That's where as a family you have to decide what you value.

It's important then as you move forward into the college process that you are constantly thinking about the kinds of schools that fit your student's learning style, their passions, their admissibility + competitiveness, and affordability.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Blog Post 100!!!!

This is my centennial blog post.

It's crazy that I'm now 100 posts in as a "blogger".

For this "milestone post" I want to wrap up my short series on the role of parents in the college process with their kids.

I want to a tell story to do this.

When I a senior, I felt immense self-inflicted pressure to become a third generation military man.

My Granddad graduated from West Point.

He went on to fly P-32's in WW II in the South Pacific.

Later in Vietnam, my Granddad flew F-105's and served as the youngest base commander (and colonel at age 26) in the Army.

My father followed in my Granddad's footsteps and matriculated to the Air Force Academy.

It wasn't though until I visited the Academy on my recruiting trip for basketball that I realized just how difficult this decision would be.

As I perused glass cases, filled with trophies, plaques, and recognitions from years past, I would stumble upon pictures like the one below.

There he was. My dad at age 21. Receiving award after award. As the top student-athlete of his class. And as the top engineering student.

The clincher for me came when I walked the long corridor to the Commander and Chief's office, and stopping at a life size portrait of the top graduate of the Class of 1969, I stood there and stared back at a picture of my dad shaking President Richard Nixon's hand.

Later that week, I went to lunch with dad at our favorite Chinese restaurant across from the Olympic Training facility in Colorado Springs.

It was there over our traditional cashew chicken dish that I told dad that I didn't want to go to the Academy. It was obviously a great college fit for him. It was not a great fit for me. I was a left handed and right brained kid who had a penchant for creativity and imagination. I was a metaphors and -isms kind of person. Not numbers and theories. I had struggled through calculus and physics, in particular, having to drop the latter after a semester because I was sinking so badly. I had had to take the ACT 5 times just to get the minimum score on the science and math sections to qualify for the academy. And the kicker was that the Academy could only offer me a spot at their prep school, which doesn't take someone who can cipher Morris Code to recognize I wasn't ready for the academic rigors of a cadet.

To put it another way: I was a "square-shaped" applicant trying desperately to squeeze into a "round-shaped" groove.

This was not a good fit for me.

Surprisingly, when I shared all this with my dad, he smiled warmly and responded in the most gracious and understanding way possible.

Dad said something like this.

"Josh, your Granddad was hard on me. You know this. But there were two things your Granddad never put pressure on me to do. One, he never pressured me to be rich. And two, he never pressured me to do what he did as a career. His only advice was this: Whatever you do, do it good."

Whatever you do, do it good.

A few months later I found myself at Trinity College outside of Chicago.

At Trinity I was able to study English, play basketball (in games not just practice), and eat the best deep-dish pizza in America!

It is some 20 years later now, and I am still eternally grateful for that moment with my dad.

It changed the course and trajectory of my life.

I tell parents that if it had not been for that conversation over Chinese food, I would not be teaching, coaching, and counseling your kids today.

Thanks, pop, for keeping first things first.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Parent's Role - Taking the Ride

This summer my wife and I took our son, Silas, to his first amusement park.

The Mall of America in Minneapolis.

Amy wanted to shop, so I got the task of going on all the rides with the S man.

And when I say all the rides, I mean I went on ALL the rides.

(What we won't do for our kids, right?)

You can see from Silas's facial expression, he's not so sure if he wants to go on this ride.

I remember telling him that when the chair lift launches us into the air, we both need to raise our arms up in the air and howl at the top of our lungs.

It took a few ups and downs. But it wasn't long before Silas's hand was semi-up in the air, and his mouth was filled with giddy laughter.

The college process with our kids many times involves a wild ride.

It has its ups and downs. Its emotional undulations.

Perhaps what our kids want from us more than anything during this process is simply to take the ride with them.

With them.

Not for them.