November 23, 2014

Little Details: Next Stop? College

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April 10th, 2014

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Envelopes are in. Are they thick? Are they thin? Are you out? Are you in? Are you relegated to the limbo land of a waitlist? Did you learn from a computer screen the fate of your college applications?
High school seniors face big decisions. Many ponder that existential question: What do I want to be when I grow up? Those who applied to college are evaluating their acceptances, basking in the letters, notes, emails and phone calls with messages of “Choose us.”
A guidance counselor recently said, “People talk about how exciting senior year is. Actually, it’s a very stressful time for students.” For now, the stress has dissipated, at least a little.
These young applicants rose early on Saturday mornings for SAT, ACT and Subject Tests—filling in bubbles with No. 2 pencils while clicking away on calculators. They asked very busy teachers to write letters of recommendation. They toured campuses and prepped for interviews. They accumulated stacks (and stacks) of prospectuses from colleges and universities, near and far. They kept up grades—at least until the end of the second marking period.
These students are now the consumers, mulling over acceptances, trying to tease out which school is the best match. Courting colleges issue invitations to accepted student days and Class of 2018 Facebook pages while dangling scholarships, travel vouchers, and promises of financial aid.
As the parent of a senior, my first thought is, “How did we get here?” Aren’t I still waiting in line for my daughter’s slot in preschool? I’m reminded how quickly time flies as we grasp those last scraps of family time before my daughter leaves for college. As a parent and former admissions officer, I offer the following advice for those up and coming:
1. Start saving early for your child’s education. Sparing your child—or yourself—enormous educational debt is a gift that keeps on giving.
2. Strive for lifelong living. Intellectual curiosity fosters academic and professional success. Parents who read tend to have children who read.
3. Embrace a positive work ethic, recognizing the value of a job well-done.
4. Pursue passions. Sports? Music? Community Service? College admissions officers recognize deeply passionate people. It’s about depth, not breadth.
5. Go after, create and seize real-world experiences (volunteerism, internships, part-time jobs, exchange programs) that transcend textbook learning.
6. Build positive relationships with teachers, mentors and employers. Mastering this skill promotes success and, more importantly, happiness.
7. Visit colleges early. A prospective applicant needs to know what the “target” is whether applying to UVM, Yale or Kalamazoo.
8. Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate. Demonstrated interest strengthens an applicant’s prospects at colleges and universities.
9. Say thank you. Did you meet with a professor, attend a class or sit for an interview? Remember to send a thank you note. Don’t underestimate the power of expressed gratitude.
10. And, exclusively for parents, let your child speak. This is about his or her future, aspirations and dreams.
With college acceptances sitting on our kitchen counter, I am proud of my daughter for working hard to open academic doors. The overwhelming emotion I feel is pure and simple gratitude. Teachers offered encouragement and extra help. Caring adults organized music and sports activities. Employers presented internship and paid employment opportunities. The guidance counselor remained steadfast in her support. Mentors shared wisdoms to compliment what we, as parents, had to give.
It really does take a village.
And for those members of the Class of 2018 still pondering whether or not college is for them, remember, it’s never too late to open one’s door to learning.
Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

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