Wednesday’s Parent: Parental peer pressure


Peer Pressure, Photo by sillygwailo

If your friend jumped off a bridge would you do it? 

I agree with Suzanne that “(t)his is a classic parental adage.” As with other proverbs, this one applies through the ages. I mean it relates when we say it to our children as easily as when our parents said it to us. I also mean it still holds true for us as we age.

Peer pressure is universal and timeless. Although experience is a great teacher, adults still can be affected. If the decisions are minor or not dangerous, bowing to peer pressure may not be such a big deal. But sometimes decisions can directly or indirectly impact our children.

Keeping up with the Joneses is the adult version of the bridge adage. If you base decisions on what’s popular, peer pressure has cut another notch on its belt. Our choices can also present learning opportunities for children. Here are a couple versions of examples I faced:

For example: Let’s say you’re in the market for a new bracelet. You’re all set to buy one you have been admiring and then you see friends and celebrities wearing something else. It’s a style you saw earlier but rejected because the other one was more appealing to you. Yet wearing the trendy one will make you feel part of the in-crowd. Which do you purchase? The one you really want or the one that everyone else wants and thinks you should want, too?

Now let’s say your child was with you during the whole shopping experience. She knows how much you want the first bracelet. She also watches T.V. and has seen ads for the second bracelet. You both have noticed friends and family members sporting the latter. Which do you purchase?

Or this example: It’s time to select an extracurricular activity for your not so athletic child who loves to draw. There is a new after-school art program but his not so artistic friends are playing together in a soccer league. Or you have a choice of schools but your friends are enrolling their kids in the one furthest from your home. What do you do? Do you sign your child up based on his best interests or by the interests of others?

Sometimes what others do makes us rethink our own position. That’s fine as long as peer pressure doesn’t substitute for good judgement. Unfortunately, this can happen during the college process.

Your child may want to choose a college based on where his friends are going. A relative may urge her alma mater. A sibling may push a famous college ranking list.

You may want to boast about the colleges on your student’s list, those she got into, and the one he chose to accept admission from but bragging rights shouldn’t be part of any of these decisions.

Researching colleges, forming a college list, visiting schools (collegecation), applying to colleges, and picking one to attend is about finding the best higher education for your student, not choosing the most popular. The stakes are too high leading to future achievements and success.

So go ahead and research schools together, note others’ opinions and listen to trusted advisors. Then together make objective decisions based on the subjective best interests of your child. It won’t be easy but as Thomas Edison said, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.” And that’s the makings of another adage.

You have my take on parental peer pressure, now read on for Suzanne’s Straight Talk about Peer Pressure.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.

Wednesday’s Parent: SOS over application stress

Emergency call button - Public Information Symbol

Emergency call button – Public Information Symbol

Are you and your child ready to send out a distress signal from application stress overload? If so, you are not alone. Between the pressures from the mid-semester crunch and the additional chore of filling out applications, parents and students can feel overwhelmed.

There are hard questions to answer, time-consuming virtual and real paperwork, deadlines looming and your child’s college future at stake. “Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way,” according to It can cause forgetfulness, anxiety, unhappiness, trouble concentrating, bad attitudes, short tempers and a host of physical and behavioral symptoms.

I have gone through the process as a student, parent and writer/lecturer to parents of the college-bound. You will get through it like me and others before you. Colleges are chock full of current students and alumni to prove it. Perhaps the most difficult question to answer is how can you and your student reduce your application stress and prevent a stress-induced catastrophe like submission of an incomplete application, one peppered with errors or one that couldn’t be submitted because of a missed deadline?

Here are some answers and ways to reduce application stress:

Follow the leader In most college prep activities, the student does the work and drives the process. He takes the classes, studies for tests, and participates in extracurriculars. When it comes to college choice, the student must be on board or else there is little incentive for her to make the most out of the higher education opportunity. Although there are specific ways parents can help such as joining in researching schools and discussing geographic and financial parameters, for future stress prevention which ones to apply to must be those the student wants to attend.

Teamwork Form a parent-student team to help your child tackle the application task. There is much to do and parents can help. As a team member, ditch parental nagging for “business-like” meetings. Together, create a to do list, schedule each activity on a calendar, and follow-up on progress. Push-up deadlines to give some leeway. Organization and time management are life skills families can work on together. Breaking each job into small manageable steps is a recipe for success. As goals are reached, stress is reduced. Celebrate accomplishments together to further conquer the stress.

Assignments Parents may be surprised that college admission, scholarship and financial aid (finaid) applications may be due around the same time. Although most applications are about the child not the parent, parent information is required on finaid apps for financially dependent students. Here, parents directly contribute to the college application process, not just help their student through it. (Many parents are also directly involved in college visits. Combine a family vacation and you have the makings of a great collegecation). Knowing who does what when is a big stress-reliever.

Downtime Parents and children can give each other emotional support, too. Dole out compliments when appropriate and encouragement when needed. Giving each other space and making sure the calendar includes downtime (alone, with family, with friends) provides a much needed stress-relieving break.

Attitude There is nothing as stress-relieving as the successful completion of a difficult task but a positive “can do” attitude can ease the burden until the goal is reached. Life is full of challenges ready to be conquered. Injecting fun and laughter can help put things into perspective and reduce stress. So watch a comedy, tell each other jokes, look through family photo albums. What’s your family fun ideas?

Support system There are other resources parents and students can reach out to for help. School counselors and college staff are super sources. Colleges decide which applications they require and most applications are submitted online. Private outside scholarships have their own applications, too. There are times when application instructions/questions are confusing or sites have operating problems. Don’t waste time stressing out (especially if you are near a deadline); call and find out what to do next.

On my website, I talk about knowledge and reduced stress. The answers may not always be what you want to hear, but the abilities to plan, reach out, re-evaluate, adjust and move forward, make it so much easier is to cope.

Read on for Suzanne’s blog about application stress.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.

Picking a college by its flavor

Picking your college flavor, Photo by Prayitno/ more than 1.25...

Picking your college flavor, Photo by Prayitno/ more than 1.25…

Do you like ice cream? If you are nodding yes as your mouth waters, then you are ready to help your teens form a great college list.

Colleges, like ice cream, come in many flavors. Fortunately for parent and student ice cream lovers, there usually are one or more favorite parlors on and near campus. Each place has a list of tasty offerings ready for those touring colleges to sample.


I am an avid fan of all frozen treats. Ice cream (soft serve or hard out of a container), gelato, ice milk, frozen yogurt, sorbet, sherbet, or Italian ice, I take my time to choose my dessert wisely. If there are several flavors to my liking, I take even longer to decide.

Picking a college is also about taking the time to make a smart choice. Ice cream can help the college-bound find their college flavor.

Safe, Target, Reach

Traditionally, there are three categories of schools:

  • Safety schools: Students exceed admission requirements and are most likely to be offered admission.
  • Target or match schools: Students meet all admission criteria.
  • Reach schools:  Students do not fulfill all requirements as compared to other applicants but they really want to attend.

However, colleges like ice cream, come in more than three flavors. Within each category, sort them further according to their college flavor.


It is up to students to find the college flavors that best suit their taste. Parents can help their student research schools and melt the list down to 6-8 favorites.

Here are some college flavors to choose from:

Vanilla The most popular flavor hands down is vanilla. Compare college lists at any high school and chances are the lists will be similar. The problem is the more students from one area applying to the same schools decrease the chances for all to be admitted. There are many variations of this comfort flavor such as vanilla bean and French vanilla. Vanilla loving college-bound can improve their odds by expanding their list with great schools not usually found on their peers’ lists.

Chunky Whatever the flavor, ice cream is mixable. It blends well with fruit, nuts, chocolate and a host of other goodies. Students can research schools that offer a combined degree program so they can earn two diplomas: two bachelor’s or a bachelor’s plus a master’s or other advanced degree. This will save time and money for students sure of their career goal.

Garlic Or lox, cereal, spaghetti and cheese are exotic flavors for those seeking new tasty experiences. For students it means looking beyond college stats and focusing on schools that deliver an educational adventure. What makes the college unique? Check for special courses, majors and programs and the ease of attending them once admitted.

Lite Too much ice cream can break a diet so sometimes switching to a bowl of lite has the flavor without the calories. Financial safety schools are the answer for families craving a college that doesn’t bust the budget. Check for schools with lower total cost of attendance (see POCS COA) and generous schools that dole out large portions of endowed scholarships. Also look for those that offer financial aid to meet close to 100 percent of need. The goal is to reduce belt-tightening now and in the future.

Combo Ever order two flavors instead of one? For those with a desire for higher education but not ready to attend a four-year school, a community college can be the answer. Two year schools have lower costs and an introduction to balancing the rigors of higher level academics with new social activities. Do well and transfer to a four year college for the bachelor’s degree. Or apply this strategy by starting at a local (commute instead of residing on campus), less selective (beef up qualifications) or less costly (save money) school.

Go ahead and take a family collegecation by visiting the ones of greatest interest. Sit back and enjoy a cone or dish of your fave flavor at an ice cream parlor at college.

Wednesday’s Parent: Collegecations

Take a collegecation, Photo by Philip Taylor

Take a collegecation, Photo by Philip Taylor

If you enjoy mixing business with pleasure then you are going to love visiting colleges. It’s the best way to check student-college fit and get a vacation. I call the trip a collegecation (family vacay + college visit).

Why visit
You wouldn’t buy a house or car without checking it out so why wouldn’t you be a good consumer about another expensive purchase? Colleges are in the business of education and the product they offer are campuses, housing, food, courses, other students, professors, programs, activities, job/grad placement records, retention rates and other stats in a specific location. It’s going to be up to the student to use what’s available while earning a degree. During a collegecation, students can see what the opportunities are and how they relate to the best chance of future success.

Three part plan
It’s time to take your college list on the road and plan your collegecation. Get ready to pack your bags with a camera (or a smartphone), comfortable walking shoes and school appropriate clothes.

1. Select a time
Decide how much time you have for your collegecation and when you are going. Determine how many schools you can visit on this road trip by allotting at least day and a half at each college location plus your travel time to get there. (Refer to Step Three for best travel dates).

2. Choose the Schools
Go to your college list. Choose the schools you want to visit in one geographic area given the amount of time you have (see Step 1).

3. Plot the Course
Take out a map (real or virtual) and mark off each chosen college’s location. Plan the trip like a road trip vacation; make note of attractions and special events along the way, in the area of each school, and on campus. Many schools offer free or low cost museums, library and academic collections, hiking trails, gardens, lectures, concerts, theater and sporting events. Also list best dates, prices and reservations needed. Include a fave activity for all collegecation participants.

Check out college and tourist websites for info about what’s happening on and off-campus and details about the area, lodging and restaurants.

Before you go, let the school know of the student’s interest in visiting. Better yet have him make the call to reserve a spot for the family on an information session and college tour.

He can also pre-arrange a solo on campus experience. Your student may have an interview, attend a class, shadow a current student, or spend an overnight with a current student, depending on what the college offers. This will also give the rest of the family some downtime.

Here are some major tips, once you are on the road:

  • Before you go Brainstorm questions your student can ask the interviewer, tour guide, current students, admissions and other college staff. Colleges expect their students to be mature and independent so prepare your child to take the lead.
  • On the way Before stepping one foot on campus, check out the surrounding area. Is it rural, suburban or urban? Does the student like what she sees? She should record her initial impressions and feel free to take photos. As for you, are there places to stay and restaurants to eat when you come for an extended college visit?
  • On campus As you enter the campus, observe the details and make mental note. What are current students doing? Are they smiling, interacting, studying? How does the campus look? Is it well-maintained and easily navigated? Eat in the cafeteria to try out the food. Toss a ball in the college quad for fun. Attend the planned college activities and roam around speaking to staff and students. Does your student feel like it could be home for the next few years? Take more photos to remember which school is which and to revive memories about the visit.
  • Have fun A collegecation wouldn’t be a vacay without some fun activities, downtime and personal space. Take advantage of enjoying while learning more about the college and surrounding community.
  • Before you leave Have your student take a second look. Has her opinion changed? After a good night’s sleep and time to absorb the experience, return to the campus to spend some more time. Have your student take a last look around. Is her final say a school yea or nay?

Read Suzanne’s blog for her take on college visits.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.

New college cost comparison tool

Calculating and comparing college costs, Photo by Derrick Coetzee

Calculating and comparing college costs, Photo by Derrick Coetzee

College choice would be much less stressful if costs weren’t part of the decision. But they are and calculating and comparing them can be difficult. That’s where a new tool from College Abacus can help parents and students.

Calculations Wouldn’t it be helpful if parents and students could calculate and compare costs of attending different schools before paying application fees to schools they can’t afford?

A recent federal law mandates schools to include a Net Price Calculator (NPC) on their website to give families a general estimate of the net price of attending that school. The goal is to figure out how college sticker price may be reduced by financial aid the student is qualified to receive.

The actual amount is contained in a financial aid award letter that shows grants, scholarships and student loans the student is eligible for if he attends that school. However, students won’t get their award letter until they have applied and were admitted to that school.

Note that qualifying students won’t be eligible to receive monies from federal and state government financial aid programs and many college endowment funds without first submitting financial aid applications. And merit awards are often based on student abilities as compared to others offered admission.

Also note there is no one NPC that all colleges use. Schools can use the federal Department of Education (ED) NPC template, use another or create their own so the amount and type of info parents and students enter for each college to get a calculation may vary.

Answers Learning potential costs from each college’s site can help families form a college list that is more affordable. Discovering costs on one website can save time and stress. College Abacus does this. Families enter information once to get their answers. They also get details about which NPC the school uses and a description of the type of aid-grant or scholarship, and source-college or government.

Best of all, it provides different ways for families to get this information, depending on their needs and budget. The first way is free and allows comparison for up to three schools. There is a charge for the other way which gives financial aid estimates for the top 100 colleges and/or top 100 universities ranked by US News & World Report.

Tips To get the best cost estimates, consider the following tips:

  • Answer questions as accurately as possible because they are based on financial aid questions federal and state governments and colleges will ask on financial aid forms.
  • The federal College Navigator also provides school NPCs but like going to each college or university’s site, parents and students must input their info per school. College Abacus saves the data so info is entered once. Also it is available for use and not affected by government shutdowns like federal sites
  • Education consumers have to be savvy when it comes to college costs. NPC’s do not take into account hidden costs. It is up to families to add in POCS COA costs.
  • For more info about financial aid costs, read the new blog from College Abacus. POCSmom’s readers  receive a 20% discount for Abacus100 by using the code POCS20.

Give College Abacus college cost comparison tool a try and let me know how it helped you make better college choices.

UPDATE: On August 5, 2014 @CollegeAbacus sent a tweet informing me that “College Abacus is now a #nonprofit!”



Wednesday’s Parent: Parent-Teacher relationship

Parent-Teacher Relationship. Photo by buddawiggi

Parent-Teacher Relationship. Photo by buddawiggi

Inter-personal relationships are tricky. Talk shows focus on them, books give advice about them and specialists speak about them. Not much is said about the parent-teacher relationship, though.

Maybe that’s because there is a common thread with the other pairings. BFFs, marriage partners, parent-child relationships and even business affiliations share a need for open, frequent and continual communication to maintain and grow the ties that bind them together. But parents and their child’s teacher have different parameters.

Parent-teacher relationships are unique.

  • They are not true personal bonds or business associations. The link comes with an expiration date. It can last as briefly as a school year for young children and a semester for teens and college students. Parents continue on as the teacher side of the relationship has many replacements.
  • The communication boundaries differ, too. Constant and frequent contact may have parents written off as over-bearing helicopter parents, hovering needlessly over their children. On the other hand, when teachers reach out, they don’t want to contact a head in the sand ostrich parent who is unaware or an invisible parent who is unreachable.
  • And the parent-teacher relationship is really a trio with the adult pair focusing not on their own best interests but that of a third person: the student with the backdrop of the school (policies, administrators, other parents and students).

So what are the best ways for parents to communicate with teachers to help their child?

As a parent of two children, I lived through many parent-teacher relationships from pre-school through college. I also have spoken with new teachers and old pros. Here are some suggestions:

Show up Whether it’s a primary school Meet the Teacher night, a secondary school Teacher Conference, or College Family Day, it is important for parents to show up. It demonstrates you have made your child’s education a priority to school staff and your offspring. It also gives you an opportunity to collect contact information (email, phone numbers), take a close look at school facilities, and learn more about your student’s studies. Consider the interaction as a fact finding meet and greet that can be used to gain further insight into what can be done to enhance your child’s learning experience

Head’s up Parents sometimes have advanced or special knowledge that students are unable or unwilling to share but school staff should know. So, alert educators to potential problems about something serious that may affect a student’s academic or social behavior. Depending on the child’s age, this can be anything from unusually late nights to arranging for homework/rescheduling tests from absences due to illness to a family tragedy. Teachers appreciate a head’s up about possible issues that may impact student interactions so they can be on the look out and ready to help.

Informal contact Sometimes issues arise in school that students cannot resolve by themselves-but this should be tried before parent involvement. Use the contact info (see Show up) to connect by phone or email. State the problem succinctly and your suggestion/expectations for resolution. Although privacy laws usually prevent colleges from disclosing student info to parents of college students, there are exceptions and parents can also get the student’s permission for disclosure.

Formal meeting Parents or teachers may request a face-to-face meeting for complicated or hard to resolve issues. This is also a good time to use the team approach to exchange observations, listen to feedback and brainstorm solutions including the need for other professionals, experts, and resources.

Join Parents don’t have to negotiate the education system alone. You can join a PTA (Parent Teacher Association), SEPTA (Special Education Parent Teacher Association), and PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association often for older students). Colleges also have parent organizations. Meet other parents, teachers and students. Join a committee to work together on projects. This takes the parent-teacher relationship to a whole new level.

Email, phone, or in person meetings are most effective when both teachers and parents understand each other and work together. So take a deep breath and think objectively before communicating. It is important to keep emotions in check however parents interact with teachers.

Read on for Suzanne’s suggestions and questions for parents to ask in her great Wednesday’s Parent post Parent-teacher communication.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.

Wednesday’s Parent: 7 standardized test survival tips

Egg Emoticons, photo by Kate Ter Haar, katerha

Egg Emoticons, photo by Kate Ter Haar, katerha

Parenting brings great joys and great challenges. This post is about one of the more stressful times in a child’s life. The terrible twos or the tween years can’t prepare students (or their parents) sufficiently for the pressures of taking standardized tests.

From achievement tests to college admission tests, schools are looking to measure and categorize student knowledge, abilities and potential for success. There’s a lot riding on the outcome for both the educator and the educated. Students can buckle under all that pressure.

However, parents don’t have to walk on eggshells around their emotionally fragile offspring. They can help their child with these seven standardized test survival tips:

  1. Calm nerves Familiarity goes a long way when it comes to dealing with a special exam. It takes away fear of the unknown and empowers the student by learning what to expect. Parents can make sure their child knows how long the test is, the types of questions, and the form answers should take so she knows what to do.
  2. Schedule rest Teachers advise that students get a good night’s sleep before an important test but parents can beat that standard. They can set a schedule that provides adequate rest every school night so students are regularly able to learn and function at their best.
  3. Follow the leader When teachers send home instructions and assignments, parents can see that students follow them. Helping is one thing but don’t fall into the trap of doing the work for the student. Teachers don’t and parents shouldn’t because they won’t be the ones taking the test.
  4. Prep for the test Sometimes there is no study prep for a test but other times there are practice exams. With the teacher’s approval, find them online, in school/public libraries and book stores. Take a couple together to better understand what your child will be doing and to show your support. The idea is to reduce a child’s stress (see #1), not add to it (see #5). Practicing may also improve his test score.
  5. Schedule some fun To reduce stress and put things into perspective, a little downtime goes a long way. Old and young can benefit from some rejuvenating fun. Review the schedule together and brainstorm some activities that will bring on the laughter and let go of the stress.
  6. Make a care package Parents send their college students care packages with items specifically chosen to help them through exam week. Parents can take the concept and apply it to their younger children. Create a “Test Care Package” full of your child’s favorite snacks, fruit, new pencils, highlighters, notepad, and a new mug. The last item is to encourage hydration. Add a stress-busting toy like bubble stuff, yoyo, or a stress ball and an encouraging note or inspirational saying.
  7. Provide back up Parents can show their support before and after the test. Provide a listening ear to your student and express your confidence in his abilities. When the exam is over, celebrate the accomplishment together!

Read on for Suzanne’s suggestions in her Wednesday’s Parent about standardized tests.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.