Advice to Families

How to Raise a Healthy and Balanced College Applicant

As parents walk the daily gauntlet of homework battles and college applications, they often wonder how to best encourage achievement without pushing their children over the edge.

Successful Support from the Start

Motivation is internal – despite tiger mothers – and does not necessarily develop on the high school timetable. No amount of parental nagging can turn around an uninspired student. The great news is that once a student finds an interest, no nagging is needed! Here are a few points to consider:

  • Your child wants to have his own dreams – and he should. Trying to control your child’s interests usually backfires and causes the student to withdraw, both from the activity and from you.
  • Don’t do too much for your child. You could be setting him on a path to “learned helplessness,” where he will not have confidence that he can accomplish anything by himself.
  • Focus on what your child does well, and use those skills to help him survive the more challenging subjects. Very few students are talented and interested in every subject, and none of us does our best in an environment where loved ones express nothing but disappointment.
  • Your child should set up his own study plan and create limits for social media/screen time. If he doesn’t follow the plan and you add anger and anxiety to the daily homework standoff, you create a power struggle that is exhausting and toxic for all. Remove yourself from the situation. Some students are late bloomers, and fighting will not make them mature any faster.
  • Don’t forget to see the bigger picture. If your child is extremely unmotivated across the board, not just with schoolwork, there may be a bigger problem, like depression. Federal statistics show that about 14% of youths aged 12 to 17 have experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime and suicide is the third-leading cause of death between ages 10 and 24 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Getting to College

IVY ED Family Father Son books

Admissions officers favor students who are self-starting, take healthy risks, think independently, and show intellectual curiosity and creativity. What can you do to help your child?

  • Make learning come alive from an early age with multimedia and trips to educational and historical sites.
  • Discuss current events that are relevant to classroom lessons to encourage big-picture thinking. Students are more curious when what they are learning is relevant to the real world.
  • Have an honest conversation with your spouse and your child’s guidance counselor about your child’s ability and motivation. It is more important that he be a match for the college than it is that you have the enviable bumper sticker on the back of your car.
  • Sometimes children are not qualified to attend the same college you went to, and that’s OK: Getting out of college is more important than getting in. Only 40% of U.S. college students graduate from four-year college on time, and more than 20% wind up dropping out altogether (U.S. Department of Education). And many students – record numbers, in fact – struggle along the way with their emotional health (The Higher Education Research Institute).

Parents: Take the SAT/ACT Challenge!

We keep a box of tissues on the table where we tutor because, as a test prep tutor and college application consultant, we listen to high school juniors and seniors who are so overwhelmed by college pressure that they begin to cry. Not just girls. Not just Ivy League aspirants. High school students are always convinced that their parents don’t understand them. This time the students are right. We are certain that if parents were to walk a mile in their child’s moccasins they would gain some appreciation for the stress students feel, and reverse some of the tension at home. If parents would take an SAT and/or an ACT practice test they would feel some of the same anxiety, cringe at their results, and discover that the tests are hard. Instead of piling 25 pounds of test prep books on the desk, parents would commiserate with their child over missed problems.

Parents and students would become allies rather than adversaries as they face the college admission process. Support your child through this difficult process. Leave the prodding, nagging, and yelling to the tutors and college counselor. The independent college counselor will tell your child to work harder so you don’t have to. Why ruin your child’s last year at home? Parents can make decisions so that senior year is not so fraught with anxiety that family members begin to avoid each other. And, I hate it when my students cry.

What College Counselors & Test Prep Experts Know

Lesson Number 1: It’s not your grandparent’s Oldsmobile
Things have completely changed in the last twenty years, and students and parents must revise their thoughts about how competitive college admission is. Many schools that were thought of as party schools for less serious students have turned 180 degrees into academically selective institutions. It is imperative to look at the selectivity of a college in light of its present statistics and its current reputation. By the summer most colleges will have student profiles on their websites, and you’ll get more of a sense for how selective the admissions process was this year at a particular school. Don’t discount a school because “you have heard that it’s not a good school” or that “smart kids don’t go there.” An education should not be a status item; it should be about a match. Always look beyond the myths and really delve into the college and find out what programs it offers. Remember that every college experience is what the student makes of it, and there are plenty of CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies that attended lesser-known schools!
Lesson Number 2: It’s getting tougher to predict admissions 
This is because students are now applying to 20 plus colleges and this is throwing admissions offices into disarray. With so many students using the Common Application/Coalition Application/Universal Application, students can apply to more schools simply by clicking the “send” button. How do admissions folks know who to accept and how many when they don’t know who will accept them? So, they wait list. The wait list, by the way, is the school’s way of saying that you are completely a qualified candidate and admissible…but that we want to see how many accept our offer of admission before we go to the wait list.
How to deal with unpredictability?
1. Cast a wide net over your applications in terms of selectivity and categories
2. Apply to many tiers so you don’t have many tears
3. Think about the safer options. Visit and feel comfortable with these choices. Many students who have gone through the process will tell you that they wish they had considered their safer choices more seriously.
Lesson Number 3: Ignore the rankings 
I can’t say it enough: college admission is a match to be made and not a prize to be won! Again, your students should match themselves with colleges, not with bumper stickers!
Lesson Number 4: Don’t underestimate the value of your curriculum and doing well in your senior year!
While there were some exceptions, we generally noted that the more challenging curricula did help make a difference in admissions… as long as students maintained a decent GPA. The colleges are looking at senior year classes and grades. However, a competitive curriculum does not automatically guarantee admission into a competitive school. I have seen students who went for AP and honors level classes and were still wait listed or denied admission to their top choices. When students don’t get into their top choice, they wonder if it was worth all of the extra work. When students do challenge themselves and don’t get into their top school, I still firmly believe that it will have been worth the extra academic work…they will all be well prepared for the rigors of college—no matter where they go. It’s more important to get out of college than to get in — so academic preparedness is key! But more importantly, remember that balance is also important and that it’s not worth challenging yourself to the point where stress levels are unhealthy!
Lesson Number 5: There is more than one right college for everyone
You can receive a great education and a great college experience from many places. Much of the stress for college applicants today is because we have a choice. If you were mandated to only go to one college and you had to go, you would make the best of the experience! The number of choices is wonderful and stressful at the same time. So, if you don’t get into your first choice or two, you can still have a great college experience. Creating a growth mindset helps!
Lesson Number 6: High SATs and ACTs do not guarantee college admission
It’s great to have good scores, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. Everyone gets focused on test scores because they are so quantitative. In fact, admission to the colleges in the Ivy League continues to be increasingly competitive – and therefore less and less predictable. And as we so often tell students and families: it is easy to understand why these schools offer admission to the students they do, but it is not so easy to understand why a well-qualified student is not offered admission. Colleges are looking to build educational communities – and a community is comprised of students who bring with them not only competitive grades and test scores but also their less quantifiable qualities: unique talents, life experiences, perspectives, intellectual curiosity, generosity of spirit, leadership, passion and various other traits.
Lesson Number 7: The bark can be bigger than the bite!
As you attend information session after information session at various colleges, you will undoubtedly be bombarded with SAT averages, GPA averages, AP averages, acceptance rates, etc. Sometimes, the bark is much louder than the bite.  Admissions officers often describe high standards, but then they admit a larger range of students. So please, do not be scared to apply to a school that you presume is a bit of a reach.

SAT vs. ACT: How to Decide Which is Best for Your College-Bound Student

We like to think about the SAT and the ACT as representative of the states from which they come. The SAT is written in New Jersey, where people keep their guards up just in case someone tries to take advantage. The ACT comes from Iowa, where people are overly nice to everyone. There are students who naturally see through any SAT; there are very hard-working students who know the academic material but who find tricky questions difficult.

Each test has pluses and minuses.

  • Timing: the SAT has more time per question. Most students can finish the SAT sections in the allotted time, while many students struggle with timing on the ACT – the reading section in particular.
  • Straightforward vs. tricky questions: the SAT is notoriously trickier, with double negatives and paired questions dealing with evidence in the text. ACT questions are asked the same way a teacher would present the material on a test in school.
  • Science section: only the ACT has a science section, but there are ACT-science type questions on the verbal sections of the SAT. Students in an IB program have good experience with charts and graphs and that familiarity helps. Over 90% of the science questions do not test content (think: which system does the liver belong to?), but rather a student’s ability to interpret data and reason logically.

How does a student know which test he or she will do best on?

There are sample tests available at and By taking one of each, students will be able to compare scores and see which test they feel more comfortable with. Online diagnostic tests are not as helpful because a computer will not distinguish between a careless error and lack of knowledge. During the summers, we offer Diagnostic ACT Testing with written evaluations where our test prep experts compare a student’s PSAT results to the practice ACT results and write up recommendations based on those results.

There are several advantages to focusing on one test: less overall time, money, and effort expended for test prep and tests; lower stress on students already completing demanding IB or French Baccalaureate curricula; and increased confidence in students taking a test that is aligned with the way the student thinks naturally. International guidance counselors frequently suggest that students whose first language is not English would do better with the SAT, but in our experience, that has not necessarily been the case.

Seven Parenting Tips to Empower Your High School Junior

 In mid-December, high school juniors will receive their PSAT’s results from their guidance counselors. For many, these scores officially kick off the college search process. Given that junior year is an academically challenging year, this added intensity increases the stress and anxiety of students and their parents. We hope this advice about how to parent a high school junior will help maintain sanity in your house.

  1. In general, it’s best to let your student drive the discussion about his or her stress, grades, scores, and colleges. If parents harp on these things, they will only increase the student’s pressure.
  2. Support your child on a macro scale. Rather than asking your student if he or she has studied for the SAT/ACT, written the paper due in two days, or started studying for a Spanish exam, address the bigger picture. Does the student create a study strategy of when to study for what? Does the student study more effectively out of the house – at a library or even a local Starbucks? Help them to organize themselves but do not get involved in the actual tasks. Staying with the big picture will foster independence while focusing on the details will produce more anxiety for you as a parent and for your child as well.
  3. Take an SAT or an ACT yourself so that you understand how difficult they are, and so you can empathize with your child. Students are terribly afraid to let their parents down. Taking a test allows you to see the world from the same position as your child and sets you up as allies. If this request makes you anxious, think about how your child feels.
  4. Let your student know that it’s ok to trip up on an exam or an assignment – even junior year. Students are not robots! They are human. The key is to learn from the experience and to develop resiliency.
  5. Throw away passwords! Do not spend too much time on PowerSchool or other online grading assessments. Rather, encourage your student to be aware of his or her grades. Similarly, Naviance can be a great tool, but spending too much time analyzing the statistics will increase anxiety!
  6. Encourage students to enjoy the process of learning! They are learning some very exciting things in high school. Reading inspiring novels for class, learning about the Great Depression in history, acquiring a foreign language, and fostering analytical skills in science and math will all serve students well in their lives. Intellectual curiosity is what colleges are genuinely seeking, so encourage learning over grades!
  7. Visit colleges so that students will see how their hard work will lead to an exciting future! At the same time, it’s important to focus on the value of your student’s entire college list, not just the most selective colleges. If your student is in a position to apply to more selective schools that are fine, but the goal is to feel good about all choices. Sometimes a student will thrive as a bigger fish in a smaller pond or at the top of a class in a college that is not quite as selective…students have to find their comfort zone.