Monday, August 30, 2010

September 2010: Back to School for Students

Do you dread the fall?
Too many students do. After all, fall means no more sun, surf, unlimited TV and Internet and hanging with friends. Some students, however, are anxious for school to begin. They delight in having a routine, regular interaction with friends, fun extracurriculars and perhaps new teachers and more inviting courses than the previous year.

For juniors and seniors, however, the start of school may be particularly unsettling. Will the course load be overbearing? Will the studying be unmanageable? Will the social pressures be too distracting? More importantly, will there ever be time for college visits, interviews or the Common App?

If those challenges seem insurmountable, listen up! You can take some important steps to take charge of your year:

Develop a good relationship with your guidance counselor
. Like it or not, this professional will be very important in the year ahead. After all, he or she will be writing your college recommendation. Do you want someone to write about you if he or she hardly knows you? So stop by and see your counselor. Make a point of telling him or her how you feel about your courses, what you did over the summer or where you’re thinking of applying.

Maximize your time on the road
. Group college visits geographically to avoid making extra trips. If you’re applying to schools that offer onsite interviews, take full advantage of the opportunity while you’re there. (Just be sure you have written down what you find attractive about that particular college community and what you’d like to ask the interviewer.) Bring along homework or reading for long rides or overnight stays.

Be proactive with your studying. Don’t just do your homework or study the night before a quiz or a test. Instead, do practice tests at the end of your chapters. If you’re in AP courses, go online and look at previous exams to understand the scope of your course. Get used to how you’ll be tested, for example with document-based questions (DBQs).

See your teachers! Going to see a teacher can be particularly anxiety laden for many students. However, it is a crucial behavior to develop now. Here are some situations that might warrant a teacher visit: clarifying a thesis statement for an essay or research paper; asking advice about what to study before a test; or showing the teacher writing in progress. As I always tell students, the visit to a teacher can make the difference in borderline situations.

Fall is new, fresh and crisp. Breathe deeply; positive change is in the air!

September 2010: For Parents

The Weather: Lovely, With Change in the Air

What time of year do you view as a fresh start? For some, it is the beginning of a calendar year. For others, it may be an anniversary or family celebration. For me, that time has always been early September which means back to school. I smell the air for signs of dropping temperatures. I look through stores, catalogs and websites to see the new sweaters, boots and slacks. But mostly, I wait to see children walking to school, lining up at the bus, and sharing their nervous energy with others.

This year, I have a special challenge: the transition not only from summer to fall, but from having one child at home to becoming an empty nester. So far, it’s been a mix of disbelief, excitement and anxiety. I watch young children at the pool or in town and want to “borrow” them. I wonder what their parents are doing in terms of their education. Are they making sure the teachers meet their needs? Are they finding out what teachers are doing to sharpen math and language arts skills? When I see teenagers, I wonder if what they are doing at home and school to be better and, yes, more marketable students. Are they selecting the appropriate extracurricular activities? Are they allotting the appropriate amount of time for studying, college visits and applications? Are they using technology productively?

This fall, I’m continuing my own studies by taking my third course with UCLA Extension. The topic is Financial Aid Fundamentals, my third in a series of courses that will enable me to have another certification. Online learning doesn’t always satisfy my cravings for desks, whiteboards and teachers, but it can be incredibly stimulating, not to mention wonderful for “meeting” other motivated professionals. I recommend it!

Fall. It’s exciting for some, dreaded by others. I can’t get enough of it. The challenge will be keeping the motivation high enough to accomplish so many objectives before the leaves are off the trees.