Whether attempting to figure out how I can magically convince the Common Application to delay their 2014 launch until September, when I might feel ready to meet with my students again after giving birth, or determining how I will be able navigate my annual journey to the NACAC conference with a two month old baby in tow, I find it is hard not to think about college admissions right now. The juniors I am working with are clamoring for college visits tips and my seniors are seeking essay topic brainstorming sessions. The college admissions world has played an active role in my life for the past nine years and I apologize to my daughter in advance, it will be part of her life as well.
I have watched plenty of parents push their children toward fulfilling their own college dreams, pressure and persuasion launching their students into directions that may not be the path they should or need to take. While some may have quickly dismissed this article based on the title, figuring it yet another pushy parent starting the college journey far too early, may I counter and instead say that I hope to offer some general educational advice (yes, much of it related to college planning) for all of those soon to be born babies, including my own, that I hope will actually be helpful and realistic.
While I fully agree that it is far too early to talk standardized tests and college lists, I do believe there are some early educational lessons that can be learned and passed along to my baby girl to help her prepare for the crazy college admissions journey she will likely face 17 years from now. While it is hard to predict how the process may change before she is even in high school, I hope that she carries these valuable lessons with her.
Dearest Baby Ray:
We are so excited to welcome you into this world in a matter of days. While we may not have a name picked out quite yet, your nursery is decorated, your clothes are washed, toys sanitized and we are anxiously awaiting your arrival!
As I plan to do mostly online Skype/Facetime appointments during your first few weeks on earth you will likely be spending a lot of time next to my desk while I help students prepare for their college admissions process. Helping them identify colleges that might be a good fit, practicing for interviews, brainstorming essay topics, developing resumes, etc. While you may soak in some of that college admissions knowledge while napping in your bassinet, here are a few additional pieces of advice for your own educational and college admissions journey.
Form good relationships with your teachers. While it may be way too early to think about letters of recommendation, it is not too early to think about how you treat and interact with your teachers. Whether you are in preschool or a junior in high school, your teachers are important so treat them as such. They are not only educators but often mentors as well. Your teachers will play a significant role in your life. Be kind to them. Ask lots of questions. Listen to them and of course learn from them.
Find and develop deep interests. Yes, college admissions books will tell you that you need to show depth and passion and have that “x factor.” You may find all of these things along the way but I truly just want you to explore your interests. Try it all. Music, art, sports (ok, mom and dad may or may not have already argued about whether you will be a hockey player or figure skater) dance, theater, debate, student government, writing, travel, etc. Wherever your dreams take you, explore them. Find what it is that you love. Don’t worry about doing it for someone else or for a piece of paper you will send off to be judged, do it for yourself.
Read and read a lot. In between 2 a.m. readings of Good Night Moon and afternoon adventures with Brown Bear Brown Bear, I hope to instill a love of reading in you. I myself have always been an avid reader and I can assure you that many trips to the library are in store for you. Truly, I don’t care what it is that you read. Be it fiction, scifi, adventure, mystery, nonfiction, magazines, or blogs, choose what you wish. Just read and read voraciously. The more you read the more you will expand your world. You will be better equipped for discussions with those around you as a result, begin to thoughtfully form opinions on issues, and open your imagination. And yes, perhaps expand that vocabulary for standardized tests (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Try on lots of different hats. Over the next few years I am sure your dad and I will help you play dress up with a wide range of costumes from doctor to princess. Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up. Even when you are a “grown up.” Keep in mind that you will change your direction, probably multiple times. Don’t believe those that tell you that you have to choose a major before you enter college or that your major will determine your career. Follow academic pursuits that intrigue you, test out opportunities through volunteering and internships, and talk to the adults in your life to learn what it is that they actually do and whether or not they like it. The careers you will encounter in the future may not even exist yet. Test out different classes and academic departments. If all else fails, I am sure your grandfather (former Ivy League Career Services Director) can offer some career advice for you.
Learn those ABC’s. After you learn the ABC song and to form letters on paper, learn to write, and to write well. Learn to write from the heart, to write your opinions, to write critiques, write fiction, and write poetry. I don’t care whether you are writing letters, or emails or texts (or whatever new form of communication exists by the time you can actually read this). Just write –hopefully in full sentences not just emoticons- as much as possible. Humor us and try actually using a pen and paper once in a while too. Ok, forgive me for throwing this in there, but someday you will have to write college essays that are both powerful and persuasive, so learning to write personal pieces from an early age can be a great advantage. Find your own story to tell.
Learn a second language. Perhaps we are a bit biased on this one as your dad is the director of a Spanish language school, but we think it is important that you learn another language besides English. There are so many reasons for learning a second language. You probably won’t care as much at the start of your life about reasons like delaying Alzheimer’s but how about opening doors in the future world employment market? Increasing your global understanding? Appreciating international music, art, and film? Making travel more enjoyable? Choose whatever reason works for you.
Challenge yourself. At the beginning, we know these challenges will take the form of your first steps or first word or even just challenging yourself to sleep through the night (fingers crossed!). Down the road we hope you challenge yourself academically. Take the tough courses. Take a class with the “hard” teacher. Take risks and have adventures. Travel. Consider a gap year if you aren’t ready to head directly from high school to college or take advantage of a study abroad program where you can step outside your comfort zone.
Choose a school for the right reasons. As many parents often do, we are likely to not-so-subtly try and influence you from day one by dressing you up in a college themed onesie exclaiming that attending a “CU” for college would be perfect (my alma mater Colgate University or your dad’s University of Colorado Boulder work just fine). Truly though, the choice is absolutely yours. I will happily escort you on college tours in the future- and promise not to embarrass you by rolling my eyes every time the tour guide yet again mentions a blue safety light- and expose you to a wide variety of options. We will carefully think through all your criteria for your college, your goals, values, and find a place that is a great fit for you. In fact, maybe we will just start testing these criteria out with preschools (What is their food like? Recreation facilities? Staff to child ratio? ) See? So many important lessons we can think about and test out early on!
Above all else, know that your family is already proud of you. We will support you and love you every step of the way on this educational journey. Can’t wait to meet you.
Your Mom (and future personal college consultant)