Looking for College Admissions Cracked?

How To Avoid Hellfire,
and Other College Admissions Advice

Hello fellow parents!

I hope this finds you enjoying the blooming daffodils and not knee deep in the muck of fending off interrogators asking “Where is your child applying to college?” if your kid is a junior, or “Where did your kid get in?” if your kid is a senior.

Please remember that the cardinal rule of the Chill Parents’ Revolution is forgiveness (of yourself and of other parents). Those who incessantly ask insensitive questions are not thinking about how their cross-examination might make you or your child feel. This is not their finest moment, but their reasons for their relentless assault have nothing to do with your child, you, or your parenting. Try to treat those inquisitors as kindly as you would treat an elderly, senile, slightly confused but sweet centenarian as you deftly change the subject.

High school juniors face a couple of challenges at this time of year that may force them out of their comfort zone. If your child has an interview scheduled during a college visit, this could be a source of anxiety. I’ve included an Interview Checklist on the Resources page of the website and a bonus Thank You Note Checklist that you can download, print out, and slip under your child’s locked bedroom door instead of nagging. (You’re welcome.)

Asking for recommendations is another task that can spark nerves in high school juniors. They have to decide which teachers to ask, and then there’s the possibility an authority figure they respect might say no. I can help with that.

Which teachers to ask for a rec: Many colleges require two academic recommendations, and your child should ask the two teachers who know her the best. Period. She may be advised to request recs from one STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teacher and one teacher representing humanities (English, social studies, foreign language). However, if none of the STEM teachers know your kid, she should choose the social studies and English teacher who do. The whole point of a recommendation is to provide insight into the student.

What if a teacher says no? Usually the reason a teacher says no is that he has already committed as much time as humanly possible to perform free labor on behalf of students (that’s what recommendations are for teachers, God bless). I want to reassure you that your child’s second choice teacher will give her a positive rec. I have read thousands of teacher recommendations as an application evaluator, and they have all ranged from kind to effusive—except one, upon which I elaborate in College Admissions Cracked.

High school seniors have a big decision to make this month: where they will go to college. Exciting! Also anxiety-provoking for some for a variety of reasons, but I’ll address two biggies.

First of all, financial aid packages arrive with acceptances. They can vary enormously and become a significant factor in the final decision for the 99% of us who cannot afford to bribe colleges and want to avoid hellfire. There are a few good reasons to try appealing an aid offer if it’s insufficient for your family:

  1. If the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) that you calculated on the college’s website before she applied significantly differs from the offer your child received
  2. If your financial circumstances have changed since applying
  3. If your kid got a better offer elsewhere, you can request that a stingier college match another college’s more generous offer.

Another stressor: Your child might have been waitlisted at one or more colleges. If your child was admitted to a college he’d rather attend, all he has to do is opt out of the waitlist, and he’s done. Congratulations! If he wants to remain on the waitlist, he should send the college a nice letter of continued interest, accept another college’s kind offer by May 1 (National College Decision Day), and then get excited about attending the college where you sent the deposit. Most students remain on the waitlist forever, so focus instead on supporting your child’s college choice.

Lisa has a son who’s a senior. She wrote, “My son fell in love with and then managed to get into a college we can’t afford. Now he’s not speaking to me. Do you have advice?”

Ugh, I am so sorry you’re going through this, Lisa. Just because he’s not speaking to you doesn’t mean you can’t speak to him. Here’s a plan for you:

  1. Prepare a written comparison of the price tags of the colleges where your son has been admitted. You can use Erika’s Financial Aid Calculator that I include on my website or your own form of this list.
  2. Cook comfort food (see recipe below), and sit your kid down for supper.
  3. Tell him how much you love him and how you’d give him the moon and the stars if you could.
  4. Calmly show him the comparison list. If it’s true, let him know that he can attend college anywhere he wants to go, as long as he understands the future financial consequences FOR HIM of attending some colleges over others. Make sure he’s clear that those loans in the financial aid package are in the student’s name, and the student is responsible for repaying them. Lay out the realities of how much debt he will carry with him after graduation if he wants to attend that dream school badly enough.
  5. By treating him like an adult, complicit in both the decision and its financial ramifications, my hope is that he will, at the very least, begin talking to you again.

Parents of juniors, you have a chance to preempt this situation by crunching the numbers right now. Additionally, double-down on discouraging your child from falling in love with any one college during your visits, as I advised in the March CPR Newsletter.

I want to reassure Lisa (and any parent in a similar predicament), YOU DID NOTHING WRONG. Sometimes you can’t stop a teenager from falling in love (think Romeo and Juliet), nor can you predict which colleges you can afford and which you can’t until the college notifications roll in with their aid packages. Do your best, as you’ve always done, and forgive yourself if you didn’t plan perfectly. There is no perfect parenting—good enough is what we’re going for in this community.

My old friend Julie (and by old I mean we have been friends for many years, not that other thing) recommends this No-Boil Mac and Cheese recipe, which I think would be appropriate comfort food for Lisa’s upcoming dinner with her son, or for any of us.

As another sanity saver, I’d like to point you in the direction of a different Julie, Julie Lythcott-Haims. Even if you only read the home page of her website, you will see that she is one of us. Her classic book How to Raise An Adult will solidify it. And she did a TED Talk on this topic too.

Oh, and you have got to read Caitlin Flanagan’s brilliant take on the college admissions scandal in The Atlantic. It will make you feel so good about your own parenting, and it will make you laugh—always helpful for sanity’s sake.

On a personal note, my son is a high school senior deciding among colleges right now. I’m doing my best to remain calm and stay out of it as he makes his decision. Sometimes I’m successful and say things like, “No college will have everything you want, but I know that whichever one you choose, you’ll make the most of it once you get there.” Sometimes I fail miserably and say things like, “Yes, that’s cool that they offer Brazilian jiu-jitsu at this college’s athletic center, but it does not seem like a compelling reason to take out a second mortgage on our house to pay for tuition here.”

Letting go of this decision is hard when it means letting go of a lot of money as well as your heart. Good luck with all of it, and please contact me to share your own stories or ask any questions that arise. We are all in this together.



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