You know, I am always thinking. Here are the top questions from the workshop with some elaborations. If you did not attend the workshop, you can always download the manual.

1) We don’t want our daughter to move far away. What do you think about schools nearby?

I do believe maintaining a support network with your family is super important but be sure to live in the dorms and take advantage of study abroad opportunities. Fortunately we live in a place with A LOT of great colleges nearby: Stanford, St. Mary’s, Santa Clara University, USF, Dominican, Mills. Notice I didn’t mention any UC or CSUs. Great schools for the most part but not so much if you are trying to graduate in four years with little debt. The private schools in our area have really great funding opportunities for students in need (and likely for those who have less need especially compared to the public universities in our area). I do also suggest expanding what local means to Seattle/Portland to Los Angeles. Reed, USC, Redlands, the Claremont McKenna colleges, USD, Pepperdine…I could really keep going…again, a ton of great schools with great funding options. In terms of getting into as selective a school as possible, of the schools I listed, we are looking at a good comfort level for students between 3.2 and well above 4.0, so there is a good range of Reach, Probable, and Safety in that list.

2) What should we do now if our student is not in the 11th grade?

Two things: visit and enrichment. When you visit colleges, you are normalizing that experience just as you would by just talking about college over dinner at home. When you visit, you want to know that school and sort of what that school represents. In other words, St. Mary’s has a feel of many East Coast small liberal arts colleges. So if that feel is your thing, you might want to add Vassar or Mt. Holyoke to your list, for example. As soon as you can, make the visits official, meaning through the Admissions Office. Schools are looking for demonstrated interest and they keep names on file, so it doesn’t hurt to knock that item off the list. I would also say to be mindful of what you are getting a feel for: library, student union, outdoor spaces, for example. Students who are hanging out in the quad in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday may not be the best representation of the school or vibe; neither is that one class you decided to pop into that allowed you to wander in. If I kept my opinion of schools based on who I saw wandering around, UC Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Harvard, and Yale would have a much different place in my mind (I have called “The Social Network” a horror movie). At NYU, I remember seeing one actual tour and maybe two families sort of wandering around looking like they were giving themselves a tour. In all my four years! Between classes, practice, student teaching, and the library, I wasn’t hanging out too much on weekday afternoons. I saw fewer at UCLA and Cal. For this reason, I don’t put too much emphasis on when a student visits, as in when the school is on break or not.

Other than normalizing college, you can do a lot to get students in a position to get into and graduate from school by taking enrichment courses during the summer and on weekends. Enrichment is very different from tutoring because it is also focused on the next subject the student is intending to take. By continuing with studies in that way, students can qualify for the AP or honors courses later AND save time at the CSUs by not needing to be remediated. If you can not find enrichment courses in your area, this is the main portion of the work that I do with younger clients.

3) He is more artistic but we’re worried he won’t earn a worthwhile degree. Should he just earn something and do art on the side?

We always want to tap into a student’s passion so if that is what he is into, go with that. There are a lot of for-profit colleges that appeal to students because it is a quick version of schooling. But it’s all bad. I should call it quick and dirty. Worthless degrees that are super expensive. Because art has been introduced to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to make it STEAM, there are a lot of Bachelor degree programs for artists including BFAs. That Bachelor’s degree is important in the event that the student changes his mind or wants to go to graduate school or just wants a more general experience in college to enhance their arts. NYU, Academy of Arts San Francisco, and most any liberal arts college is a great place to start looking.

4) Who should write letters of recommendation?

Most schools and the Common Application will ask for an academic teacher to write at least the first one. I recommend that if you know an academic teacher who was also your coach, club advisor, or class advisor, get that person. The Common Application will also ask for a letter from the school counselor in the school report. The counselor has the option of completing a form or writing a letter. If you are asking in October, that person is going to just complete the form because half the senior class is asking for that information for the school report. If you ask the counselor in spring, or perhaps the vice principal or principal, you are giving them enough time to write the letter and you are giving your application an additional boost with that extra letter. The Common Application, and most schools, will not take another letter otherwise. Many times I make a quick call about a college list based on who can write a student a letter. If a student has the grades, but doesn’t have a good letter coming because no one really knows that student, then I take schools off the list.

5) If the counselor or school administrator doesn’t really know the student, how do they write a letter?

You may be surprised about what the administrators know. When I was a dean, since the potential was there, I had to know students quite well, even if they never came into my office. But you need to make sure. This is another reason to ask in spring. You may approach the administrator by asking about a letter and talking about some of the things you are doing that summer. Maybe you can offer to help with something the principal is working on that summer. Either way, you are demonstrating honesty, resilience, and humility just by asking; all of which are huge character traits that are great in a letter.

6) At what part of the application are extra-curriculars important?

Students will submit a resume or at least a list of things they have done while in high school. Because schools are looking for leadership and responsibility, be sure to frame your extra curriculars in that way. I have a template that I use with clients. Your extra-curriculars are also a place that you can find good letter-writers (keeping in mind what I said earlier about letter-writers).

7) What happens to the courses outside the A-G requirements?

Colleges are going to calculate your GPA according to their requirements and recommendations. This is why the first thing that I usually do is recalculate the GPA. If two years of math are required, I look at what the two worst grades in math are, the two best grades, and then the weighted version of those and provide a range. And then I’ll do the same if three years are recommended. When I make college lists, I use the worst-case scenario to determine Reach, Probable, and Safety. Just in that way, some of the courses students are taking will not count in the GPA calculation, but they will count in other places: Does the student take risks? Does the student manage time well? Is the student resilient? Remember your application is intended to show more about you then if you are good at high school Calculus so taking more than what is recommended says quite a bit about you outside of your GPA.

The next workshop is the College List workshop. But I am coming to you for this one. The college list is super personal so it is difficult to do in a group. When you register, indicate a good date and your location and I will schedule it accordingly.