Advice to Families
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
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
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 www.collegeboard.com and www.act.org. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.