How to Survive Your Teen’s Journey to College

It’s official: My daughter is on the journey to college! Those of you who have followed my blog since the beginning know I’ve been down this road once before. In fact, I started my blog in 2010 as a cheaper-than-therapy option to help myself make it through my son’s senior year of high school — and beyond. While I am so proud of my daughter and wish her all the best in her college journey, I have to admit that these 16 years have gone by too quickly.

 

smiling college students

College prep? Crazy!

I won’t sugar-coat the whole college-planning process for you. It can be crazy and overwhelming if you don’t have some direction or guidance — especially your first time through. Between test prep, test taking, essay writing and campus visits guiding your college-bound teen can feel like a part-time job. And even though I’ve been through this all with the Class of 2011, I’m looking for a little help with my Class of 2016 kid.

Ready to tag along on my ride? I’ve got a road map for my daughter’s college prep. I’m using the KapMap from Kaplan Test Prep — part of their #JourneytoCollege program — this time around. I promise, it is possible to make it to the finish line without losing your hair.

What’s the KapMap?

A month-by-month map for college prep? I had no idea such a great college-planning tool existed, so when I was offered the chance to check it out I was totally on board. My daughter is just about to start her junior year in high school, and it’s time for the big leagues now. KapMap is a great way to track your teen’s journey towards college. KapMap includes a monthly list of what your teen should be doing for each year in their high school career. How great is that? All moms know how incredibly fast those months fly by — and how easy it is to miss an important deadline. With KapMap I don’t have to worry about my daughter missing an important test or deadline that might jeopardize her chances of being accepted at one of her favorite campuses.

Overwhelmed?

If it seems like there’s a lot to this whole process, you’re right. It’s a whole new ballgame for this generation. Colleges in California are reducing admissions of residents in favor of higher-paying, out-of-state candidates, making it even more difficult to get into the in-state college of your choice. And the applicants of this generation aren’t just great students, essay writers and test takers — they also have amazing extracurricular activities and volunteer gigs that really make them stand out. KapMap has reminders and suggestions along the way to help your teen make their application stand out from the rest.

What my daughter is doing right now

Summer is winding down at our house, and my daughter is ready to start her junior year of high school. Here are a few things we’ve focused on this summer on her journey to college.

  • We have spent time talking about different careers, trying to help her develop a bit of direction towards what she might want to study, which also determines where she would like to apply.
  • She has spent time searching college websites and learning about academic programs they offer, campus statistics (such as number of students, safety ratings and acceptance rates) and what unique qualities each campus has.
  • She has toured a few campuses and is making a list of those she would like to visit during winter or spring break.
  • Registering for AP classes is a great way to show admissions officers that you can take a challenge, and my daughter is taking two AP classes during junior year — which means summer homework! (ugh)
  • Deciding about whether she will take the PSAT a second time as a junior. In our town, a local educational foundation made a generous contribution that paid for all sophomores to take the PSAT. Pretty cool, right?
My tips

Since I have been through the journey to college with my older son, I have a few tips for moms and teens just heading down this road.

  1. Only apply to colleges that your child truly has an interest in attending — and can afford. Each application has a fee attached to it, and even though it might be fun to tell people your child was accepted at Harvard, if he has no intention of attending that’s just wasted time and money.
  2. However, if your teen has a dream school she would love to attend, go ahead and apply! You never know how the application process will pan out, and your teen may have exactly what the school of their dreams is looking for.
  3. Have one or two backup majors in mind at each school your teen applies to. Even if they go in undeclared, it helps to have a focus. Changing schools down the road is always an option, but many students would rather stay at one campus until they finish their degree. This saves time and money in the long run, because all undergrad classes won’t necessarily transfer directly to a new campus.
  4. Try to remember that this is THEIR journey, not yours. Your alma mater may not appeal to your teen, or she may not share your dreams of an Ivy League education. Step back and really listen to what your teen wants, because in the end this is a stepping stone to your teen’s adult life — which they will be living, not you.
  5. Stay calm as acceptance letters, emails and texts start pouring in. Spring of senior year is crazy enough, and with modern technology many students are at school when they find out they’ve been accepted or denied. Hearing that your BFF was accepted at YOUR dream school when you haven’t heard from them yet can be devastating to a teen. Stay calm and keep your focus on your own teen’s journey — and avoid being pulled into the “Mommy Competition” scene.
Ready to go?

So, are you ready to start your teen’s journey to college? Start by downloading the KapMap and you won’t miss a thing. You can also follow Kaplan on Facebook and Twitter.

Special offer! Save $100 when you enroll in Kaplan’s SAT and ACT course through 8/28.Promocode: SHESPEAKS100.

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

Brotherly love

In the beginning, it was all about him. First-born, first grandchild, first nephew…his place in our extended family cemented by the simple fact that he was born.

First.

He was a wise old soul in a little-boy body. Adults loved to chat with him, listening to his volumes of memorized dinosaur facts or advice about which types of plastics are recyclable. He spoke clearly and fluently, forming complete sentences before he had a complete set of teeth. He told jokes that made sense and understood sarcasm. My days were so full of questions and observations that at times I felt more like a tour guide than a mom.

Playgroups at the park were a part of our weekly routine, and I craved the time with my mom-girlfriends. I knew that the social interaction with other little ones was very important for my son, but secretly most of us form playgroups for our own adult sanity. It was in these early playgroups that I began to notice what the other little boys did. They were usually quite physical – running, jumping, pushing each other around just a bit to test their wee-manhood. My son preferred to play in the sand, creating an elaborate “recycling center” with the pails and trucks, only to be confused and upset when the other boys didn’t understand his passion. Being an old soul may make you the favorite of preschool teachers and drugstore cashiers, but it creates quite a gap on the playground.

I worked very hard to match him up with potential playmates and buddies, to teach him to be patient on the playground, and to open his eyes to the fact that not every 3-year-old was interested in fossils or the Latin names of birds. He needed another tour guide.

Along came his baby sister.

Being an only child and having a sibling thrust into your limelight isn’t easy. My son was intrigued at first, somewhat perplexed at how she really wasn’t able to do anything. He would correct me when I would say the baby was “talking” and remind me that no, she couldn’t talk yet. He never seemed jealous or spiteful, perhaps just a bit discouraged at her lack of ability to carry on a conversation or play recycling center with him. When her cries interrupted bedtime stories too often, he wondered why she had to cry at all, since she wasn’t hurt.

And then, a slight shift in the relationship. Around the time my daughter was about 18 months, it happened. I left them in the playroom for a bit while I went to load the washing machine or some other daily task. When I returned, I could hear my son talking to his sister about a game he was playing and giving her a role. Peeking quietly around the corner, I saw her huge grin and I knew she sensed it too.

She was in.

Over the years their games changed and evolved, but they would play for hours together, lost in their pretend world. My role as tour guide had been taken over by a pint-sized, energetic little girl who was eager for the challenge. Having someone who loves you no-matter-what and who will tolerate your thoughts and opinions is an incredible gift. My daughter had provided my son with a different way to view the world, something I had not been able to do on my own.

It was magic.

Both are now teenagers. My son, in his third year of college, and my daughter a sophomore in high school. Role-playing games have been replaced by wise cracks, sarcasm and text messages, or maybe a ride to soccer practice or the mall. I love listening to them talking and teasing each other, analyzing the ins and outs of high school life, pop culture and anything else that seems funny or might embarrass mom. She has finally become the equal he wanted her to be.

And he is her tour guide now.

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This piece originally ran on Moonfrye

A Milestone Love

milestone loveThe restaurant is crowded, unusually so for a Tuesday night. The waitress lets the specials roll off her tongue as she does on any other night, and we pretend to listen even though we’ve all chosen our main courses already.

Table for four. While this happens with amazing regularity at home, we don’t often manage to sync our schedules and go out for dinner together. Old habits die hard, and I am usually just as happy making dinner and sharing it around our table.

But tonight is different.

My husband has a milestone birthday today. And while the other diners may think they are having a special meal with colleagues or friends, I feel as if there is a bubble around our table tonight.

A bubble that holds within its rounded edges the three people I hold the most dear in my heart.

A bottle of wine arrives, along with something tamer for the teens with bubbles and cherries. We raise our glasses in a toast to my husband and I catch his smile as he thanks us for spending this evening with him.

It’s magic… like all of the times I have seen this man smile, but deeper, almost. He’s in his happy place, with his family, and there is no place else he’d rather be right now.

I feel a lump form in my throat that I push aside. I don’t want to cry, don’t want to take away from his moment.

He wanted to be with us.

When people would ask, “Where are you going for the BIG birthday?” he never wavered, really. Offers of exotic beach vacations, ski lodges or weekends in Napa didn’t entice him. Sure, they all sound like fun… but he wanted more.

He wanted to be with us.

To start the second 50 years of his life with his family, to listen to our stories and laughter and bask in the glow of that kind of love that nobody else can give you.

And as I watched him raise his glass to us, to another 50 years, to our family I couldn’t help but be in awe of this man who has given me so very much. Family, unconditional love, laughter.

And he wanted to be with us.

Happy Birthday, babe… here’s to another 50.