Archive for the ‘College’ Category

Lighten up a bit

Lighten UpImage © Nagy-bagoly Ilona |

I talk to so many parents every day. The other day a delightful dad shared about his truly brilliant daughter who is taking the ACT and SAT tests right now. He wants her score to improve on the essay portion. (She’s already got a good score, actually.) So that’s when I know. I know there’s pressure in that family for this kid to do exceptionally well, not just really well.

We had a wonderful conversation and I gave him all kinds of advice about how to help her in her specific case. (She sounds like such a smartie!)

Right at the end, though, a thought occurred to me. Here’s what I told him:

“As you work with your daughter on these ideas, do them at Barnes and Noble or over ice cream. Get a latte, bring your laptop, sit close to your daughter and enjoy the time you have together. Begin by telling her how amazing she is, how proud of her you already are, and let her know that if her score doesn’t go up even a point, or if she draws a blank or regresses, you are perfectly okay with that—that she’s already proven herself to you and her mom and you are thrilled with who she is becoming. Make sure she knows that the pressure is off—that she’s already done enough, and that this additional test is just one more try. No one can write well when they feel pressure to perform. They need to be relaxed.”

I hadn’t expected the reply that came through the phone. This dad suddenly became animated:

“Have you been a fly on the wall of our house?” He chuckled but with a wince of pain behind it.

“Our daughter is having GI issues; has had to go to the doctor to have treatments all this year. She has had to leave the SAT test twice to throw up. I hadn’t considered that I might be part of the problem, pushing her too hard. But I think you must be right that I am putting pressure on her. And you are right, too, that she has already done a good job. I will take what you said to heart. I don’t want to make things worse for her.”

We continued to talk for a bit about the role of pressure, the colleges he hopes she’ll attend (she’ll have no trouble getting in the ones he shared with me based on the scores she’s already got!), and his dreams for her. I know that some families put a lot of weight on scores, independent of what they achieve.

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to put this out there to all of you: a score is just a measure on that day of your child’s work in that context. It’s not a verdict on whether or not your child is smart, worthy, or even educated. It can point to a few things (it is an indicator). But it isn’t a measure of who your child is or whether or not you should be overly proud or ashamed.

So lighten up. This child of yours is an independent being from you. This is his or her life. You get to cheerlead, support, and guide, but you can’t make your child perform. That’s up to the individual.

Go get Cokes, take the pressure off, provide support and help, see what happens. You might be surprised.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Tips for the College Application Essay

College Essay Notes

From How to Write a Winning College Essay Application
By, Michael James Mason

(Highly recommend buying a copy of this book)

Five elements of a good college essay:

1. Something to grab the reader’s attention
2. Simplicity
3. Realism
4. Sincerity
5. Surprise

As you craft your personal essay, think about the questions and statements below to prompt you. Fit the content to the question your chosen university asks you.

1. Who are the five people who have most influenced you?

2. What do you read?

3. List three virtues that you admire and respect.

4. Discuss three significant lessons you have learned.

5. Tell us about three memorable experiences you have had.

6. Discuss a failure that taught you something.

7. Respond to three quotes that mean something to you.

8. Remember your greatest success.

9. Name five things that you know.

10. Discuss your definition of happiness.

11. What do your parents remember about you?

12. What are your earliest memories?

13. What is an education supposed to provide?

14. List and describe five special things about you.

15. What is your “one sentence philosophy of life”?

16. What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

17. What makes the world go round?

18. Picture five places you’ve been that impressed you the most.

19. What is your favorite social activity?

20. What is your favorite intellectual or artistic activity?

21. Describe yourself to a stranger.

22. Tell the story of a fear you conquered.

23. Discuss three goals that you have in life.

24. List ten things you like and ten things you don’t like at all.

25. What do your friends say that they like most about you?

26. What question have you always wanted answered and why?

Thoughts on the morning of my flight to Paris

My daughter, Johannah, lives in Paris right now. She’s an exchange student. She’s 20. When I was 20, I spent a year at a university in southern France. My mother came to visit me. Full circle.

I give a graduation speech in a couple of weeks to the local homeschool kids from our co-op. I’ve known these kids for ten years and have taught many of them in numerous classes now. What would I speak about? All the years I’ve known them? The various challenges they’ve overcome? Their collective adorableness?

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that what I wanted to tell them had to do with the future, not the past. I want them to risk. Home education is often as much shelter as anything else. Parents want their children to make fewer mistakes than they made. We want them to be free of the oppression of bad choices, and danger, and the regrets many of us harbor. So we keep them home, we guide their education, we supervise their friendships, we are selective about their extra-curricular activities.

And then we send them out into the world of college and adult life… and hope for the best. What is that ‘best’? It seems to me that the young 20’s are a rare moment in a lifetime. Big enough to drive, fly, drink in Europe, vote in America, volunteer in orphanages; unfettered by spouses or babies or home mortgages or careers or health problems. These “big kids, now grown-ups” can do stuff that they will never forget, that will shape their values for the rest of their lives.

Spending a year in France as an exchange student changed the course of my life. Not only did I learn to speak a foreign language fluently, but I was drawn to French speaking Africa for my early career. I’ve had an interest in and heart for the developing world ever since. I feel a kinship with issues and revolutions worlds away from Ohio just because I spent time living first in France and then in Central Africa, followed by time in Morocco.

I discovered the difference between first world “take it for granted” infrastructure and developing world hardships. I learned how to rely on myself in sticky situations without a mommy or daddy to bail me out. I found out that there are many ways to eat breakfast, or drink coffee, or flush toilets, or shower, or shop for vegetables, or dress modestly. I realized that my way (my familiar, seems-right-to-me way) wasn’t the only way, wasn’t the “morally clear, ethically superior, most efficient” way just because I am American.

Spending time in the Peace Corps or living in a foreign country as a volunteer, or student gives your young adults a view of the world that can’t be gotten from TV, newspaper articles, big budget movies or National Geographic, no matter how open minded. The best teacher isn’t information, it’s encounter. Once your kids are old enough to drive, they are old enough to begin that journey toward risk and adventure that will shape them for the rest of their lives.

Encourage them to dream of bigger vistas, send them to places they have never been, trust them to discover riches and ideas and empathies that you can’t yet imagine. This is the objective of home education: give them a firm foundation to stand on, and wings for flight.

I’ll be out of town traipsing up the steps of the Notre Dame, eating almond croissants and hanging around the Universite Catholique (where Johannah attends) over the weekend. See you on the flip!

Fabulous article on form vs. freedom at college level

Listening to College Writers

What has stayed with me most strongly from the past two semesters has been students’ remarks that the most important thing they will take with them from English classes into the rest of their lives is the ability to bring out what is deepest in themselves with clarity, to take that terrible risk, and to be heard and understood by someone, whether a teacher, their classmates, or an even broader audience.