I keep a box of tissues on the table where I tutor because, as an SAT tutor and college application consultant, I 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 their parents don't understand them. This time the students are right. Parents don't understand because the college admission process is so much more competitive than it was when most parents applied to college.
These are the ten things I wish I could tell parents:
1. I am convinced that parents have to walk a mile in the student's moccasins to gain some appreciation for the stress the students are under and to reverse the tension at home. If parents will take an SAT practice test they will feel some of the same anxiety, cringe at their results, and discover that the test is hard. Instead of piling 25 pounds of SAT study books on the desk, parents can commiserate with students over missed problems. Parents and students can become allies rather than adversaries as they face the college admission process.
2. Hire SAT prep tutors who focus on the applicable academic material rather than just the tricks. Increasing a student's academic preparation for the test in addition to teaching the tricks increases their confidence on the test and in the classroom; teaching only the tricks makes students more insecure because they are relying on tricks rather than on actual knowledge.
3. Have the tutors keep the parents informed about each session so that the parent tracks progress with the tutor rather than pestering the student for information.
4. Have the student try the ACT. All colleges accept it and some students do better on it than on the SAT.
5. Make learning fun. For example, have the students memorize vocabulary using the book Vocabulary Cartoons by Sam Burchers, et al. Also, have the student do the crossword and other word puzzles in SAT Vocabulary Express, the fun book of word puzzles that will increase SAT scores. I wrote it with Michael Ashley, a nationally known puzzler, so that our students would learn to play with words, an important skill for the new SAT.
6. Emphasize getting good grades rather than good SAT scores. Bs in honors classes are better than As in regular classes.
7. Hire an independent college counselor who will work with the family to create a realistic college list, brainstorm for essay topics, establish deadlines for the student, and check all college applications. High school college counselors are overworked and do not have the time to walk families through the process.
8. Realize that the schools parents attended may not be within reach for their child. The number of high school students planning to attend college has increased dramatically; the student may be well qualified for a particular college and may still not get in.
9. Look for colleges where the student will thrive academically and socially. Choosing colleges based on their name recognition and prestige value is a formula that will increase stress, not decrease it. Everyone else wants to go to those schools, too, making them even harder to get into; they are not necessarily the best place for the student. Loren Pope's book, Colleges That Change Lives, is a good place to start.
10. Support your child through a difficult process. Leave the prodding, nagging, and yelling to the tutors and college counselor. The independent college counselor will tell the student to work harder so the parent doesn't have to. Why ruin the student's last year at home?
Parents can make decisions so that senior year is not be so fraught with anxiety that family members begin to avoid each other. And, I hate it when my students cry.
Author, SAT Vocabulary Express (McGraw Hill, 10/04)
Partner, Ivy Educational Services, Scotch Plains, New Jersey
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