Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Making a Splash This Summer: Parent Edition

Many of us associate summer with a carefree childhood. Others think back fondly on summer positions such as camp counselor or cashier. If your son or daughter is a rising junior or senior, you know that summers aren’t as easy as they used to be. You’re likely asking yourself some important questions about the summer of 2010: Is it too late to enroll my son or daughter in a summer program? Should I restrict privileges so he works on his college essay? Will it “look bad” if she works at a minimum-wage job? How much of a tyrant do I need to be to make sure my child focuses on college? Here are some reflections and suggestions . . .

Enrolling in Summer Programs. Many colleges and universities offer summer programs, but are they worth it? Summer programs taught on-site at so many colleges and universities can be quite costly. They play to students’ emotions with comments like, “Can you make it in the Ivy League?”
College admissions officers tell us that students should not have an unfair advantage because their families can afford a fancy summer program, especially one at an elite university. Moreover, it’s nearly June. We’re still in a recession. So don’t try to force-fit a program. If you can’t find the right one, you’re better off filing away the idea for next summer or for a sibling and instead have your student focus on other activities. If your child wants to supplement his or her learning, however, don’t overlook online programs from a credible institutions. Sometimes lower cost options are the best.
(That didn’t deter me from planning four busy summers for my own son, each one more demanding than the previous. I really think my son learned more about taking responsibility, such as commuting, than he did about product design and architecture.)

Starting College Applications. If you had intended to force your senior to work on his Common App, be warned that the site won’t go live until August 1, 2010 – one month later than last year. That doesn’t mean your son or daughter is off the hook, however. The Common App has posted a preview of the 2010-2011 application on its website. Encourage your rising senior to read this preview and brainstorm ideas for the Personal Essay. Consider a reward (iTunes gift card? A free pass on household chores?) for drafting the essay before school starts. If your child’s high school counselor has posted models for athletic and academic resumes (also known as “brag sheets”), ask your son or daughter to complete them and offer to proofread.

Remember, application process is not yours. Don’t make the mistake of writing your senior’s essay. Last summer, I gave my son a deadline: Labor Day. He submitted his last few applications on December 30, but when he did they were his essays in his voice (based on some guidance from Mom).

Taking Stress-free College Trips. Not all campuses are in full swing during the summer months. However, the summer might be the only time you have to visit colleges. Of course, you’re bound to have less stress associated with this activity if your son or daughter is a rising sophomore or junior rather than a senior, since you’re still primarily shopping around and eliminating choices.
Consider integrating some summer fun along with the trip. Stop and see a local attraction, explore a downtown, or see a historic site. One summer, my son followed a visit to a school in Vermont with a trip to the Ben & Jerry’s factory! Depending on family dynamics, you’ll know which to schedule first: the college or the area attraction.**

For those who absolutely cannot get away, check out CampusTours, Inc.,, which showcases the power of the Internet by bringing select campuses to your laptop. Look for CampusTours to make its mark in the not-so-distant future!

**Warning: Everyone who has gone through the college process can tell you: there is guaranteed to be one time the student will not get out of the car! During the spring of 2009, my son and I spent a delightful day at my alma mater in New England. While we were on our way home, I signaled and took a right off the Interstate. My son figured I had to make a rest stop. Then it dawned on him: I was driving toward another school – a school that wasn’t one of his choices! We got there and drove through the campus. He wouldn’t get out.

Using the Time Productively. If your household is like many others, there may be school year restrictions on Internet or television that are lifted during the summer. That doesn’t mean you should stop keeping watch over your child’s activities. If your son or daughter isn’t successful at finding a job in the tough economy, perhaps he or she can learn website design or polish other software skills. A blog is another possibility. There are bound to be volunteer activities in the community. Students can be very enterprising when motivated.

Enjoy the summer. The fall semester isn't far away!

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