Wednesday’s Parent: College acceptance rivalry

College admission rivalry, photo by Wendy David-Gaines

College admission rivalry, photo by Wendy David-Gaines

When it comes to college admission, there’s a fine line between bragging and sharing the good news. Parents can see the difference written all over their student’s face, especially when their student has a differing experience.

Student reaction depends on which of four categories they fit: those who got an acceptance letter, those who received a rejection letter, those who landed on the waitlist, and those who haven’t heard whether they are in or out of consideration.

The college process is stressful and difficult with a lot riding on the outcome. Although college decisions are not judgements of personal worth, they often affect the fragile self-esteem of high school seniors. Making matters worse, their friends often share a similar college list and even when others receive admission offers, financial aid awards may vary widely.

Student reaction may range the gamut from exultation to depression. This may spill over to interaction with family members and peers. As students receive responses from early decision and early action applications, it’s a good idea to prepare for the wide range of inevitable reactions. Use this time as a teachable moment to guide your family through receipt of all responses for regular admission applications. Students should be able to both share their news and consider other’s feelings.

Here are six topics for parent-student discussions about dealing with college acceptance rivalry:

  1. Just the facts It’s okay to share facts of college responses but be extra careful on social media. Schools can revoke offers of admission and have done so for reasons such as not keeping up grades and tweeting a college “dis.”
  2. Boasting Of course students with good news are bursting to share it and want others to acknowledge their accomplishments. Just be careful not to cross the above-mentioned fine line between bragging and sharing the good news. No one likes a “boaster” but the effects deepen for those with opposite results. Respect their feelings.
  3. Zipping it It’s time to change the subject when no one is asking questions or contributing comments. There will be plenty of future opportunities to chat when everyone has something to share.
  4. Silence is golden It’s okay not to want to talk college now. There’s a difference between brooding and wanting to focus on other things.
  5. Separate and different Learning how to support others is a demonstration of compassion that is separate from dealing with one’s own issues. It’s a sign of maturity and self-confidence to be happy for others or have their back when things don’t go well.
  6. Making lemonade from lemons Dealing with bad news is a life skill. Start early with a commitment to brainstorm options, look for the positive, and find the fun in tackling new challenges.

Suzanne’s great post Rivalries among college-bound teens is full of more help for dealing with college admission rivalry.


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.

The importance of school spirit to college choice

Photo by Janet

Feeding school spirit. Photo by Janet

This is also a tale of two college-bound students. One wants to attend a college with a great football team to root for and the other wants to stay far away from any rah rah activities. Both are missing the bigger picture.

School spirit isn’t just about cheering for a favorite sports team. It’s about creating a strong bond that survives graduation. From enticing students to apply to facilitating alumni to become generous donors, both the institution and the individual have a huge stake in this continued relationship.

The more students are attached to their school, the greater their impetus to succeed and do their school proud. The more successful the college is in developing the skills and knowledge of it’s future graduates, the more likely the college reputation will increase. The better the school’s reputation (brand), the more students will want to apply, attend and graduate.

This is a list of some major school spirit benefits for both colleges and students:

Colleges benefits

  • College brand grows
  • Higher college ranking
  • More students apply
  • More alumni donate
  • Greater research/business opportunities

 Students benefit

  • Pride in their school
  • Greater prestige of diploma
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better education and more motivation
  • Alumni and others want to hire/do business with grads

Encouraging students who will thrive and become successful donors to the college and make notable achievements beyond the campus is a win/win for both.

So I tell the student who wants to be a fan that it is essential to also fan what the college offers in programs, activities, location and opportunities to maximize the college experience.

Then I say to the apathetic student that college is about nurturing passions in learning to grow academically, socially, and financially so don’t miss out on what else the college offers. (It’s usually included in the college bill anyway.)

As students finalize their college lists, send in applications, and wait for admission offers, they can begin to really analyze what the college can do for them and what they can do for their college. They will soon realize the true importance of school spirit to college choice.

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.

5 reasons why your 2nd choice college may be the BEST choice

Cliché: Second to none. 
POCS Reality: After careful consideration, students may find their 2nd or 3rd choice college is really the best fit.

If you didn’t get into your first choice college or you got in but can’t afford to pay the bill, it may be the best thing that could have happened to you. Your 2nd or 3rd choice college may be the right fit after all.

Don’t do this: Students and parents sometimes measure self-worth by college acceptance or rejection. Don’t fall into that trap. Schools seeking diversity cannot accept all qualified applicants from the same school, geographic area or ethnicity. Rejection is not personal.

Or this: Attending a college you can’t afford is a terrible financial start for a new career. It will bring huge debt that can prevent an enjoyable lifestyle.

Do this: Whether you received a college rejection or can’t afford to attend, give yourself a brief period to grieve your disappointment and then stop stressing about what might have been and start smiling about what will be.

And this: Here are 5 reasons why your 2nd or 3rd choice college might be your BEST choice:

  1. Make more informed decisions. Many times 1st college choices are based on emotional responses. Now you can research your other options calmly and rationally, focusing on how they can help you achieve your educational goals. You can concentrate on details like what classes constitute a major, internship possibilities and activity/club popularity while keeping an eye on the big picture via college retention and graduation stats.
  2. Go where you are wanted. It’s always nice to be wanted and that’s what you’ll be when you attend a college that sends you an acceptance letter. In addition, the school may show its appreciation by offering generous financial aid awards like free money institutional grants you do not have to pay back, an honors program with perks like first chance for course registration or another special program that features trips and activities.
  3. Luxury of second thoughts. Between the fall and the spring, many students change their minds about what they want from a college education. After a semester of new high school courses and constant college discussions with parents, teachers and peers, your original college requirements (type, size, location), academic choices (area of study, majors, minors, internships) and cultural opportunities (activities, clubs, events) may no longer be the right fit. Take advantage of the opportunity to re-evaluate what you want and how you will achieve it.
  4. Save money. Attending a 2nd or 3rd choice school that is substantially less costly can save students thousands. Apply your savings to your out-of-school future knowing you don’t have huge loans to pay back. The extra funds can also go towards grad school, a new apartment or help you relocate after job searching.
  5. Get a second chance. Most students fall in love with the school they attend. That could be based on the professors, the students, the programs, the activities or the location. On the off chance things don’t work out despite doing well academically, you can reapply to your 1st choice college, highlighting your new accomplishments. It’s an effective strategy to gain academic strength you originally lacked to bolster your future admission chances to your 1st choice school. Transferring can be your back-up plan.

Visit my colleague Suzanne Shaffer (Parents Countdown to College Coach) for 5 reasons to take another look at your 2nd choice colleges. Suzanne is a college prep expert and online college-bound “coach” helping parents navigate the college maze with the proper tools/resources including a FREE parent tips newsletter.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Blessings in disguise come when you least expect it. The key to success is how you deal with disappointments and handle a challenge. As far as college choice is concerned, there are over 4,000 colleges and more than one can help you achieve your college and beyond dreams. Don’t be surprised if your 2nd choice college turns out to be your BEST choice.

3 Huge College Prep Don’ts

Cliché: A recipe for disaster.    
POCS Reality: The wrong college prep can set students up for failure.


Who does this: Set yourself up to fail? You do, if you are guilty of the following college prep don’ts:

  1. Don’t have a Plan B What happens if you attend your 2nd choice college or you don’t have the money to pay for your college choice? Consider different scenarios including the possibility of transfer and affordable borrowing.
  2. Don’t let college rejection motivate you  Being deferred for admission, placed on a wait list, or rejected out right is not personal. There are many reasons for college admission decisions including logistics and statistics. Send updates about your accomplishments, reapply, or put your energy into other college possibilities.
  3. Don’t keep up  Congrats, you got into college but this is no time to rest on your laurels. Colleges expect you to keep your grades up and your activities going or they can withdraw their offer of admission. Fight senioritis, keep up the good work, and don’t slack off.

 POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Set yourself up for less stress and more success with this life plan: always have a Plan B and continue to do good work.

College Essay-Think Twitter

Cliché:  In short.    
POCS Reality: Students write college essays for admission and scholarships.


When writing college admission and scholarship essays, students are wise to heed this economizer: do more with less.

Most colleges require admission essays as do many scholarship contests and they often come with word limits. Go over and the penalties can range from the essay reader stopping at the word limit or disqualifying the essay altogether.

This New York Times article describes the 500 word limit on the Common Application, used by more than 400 colleges and universities as their admission application form, and student struggles to follow it.

Use this link for my  3 top essay-writing tips and this one for 4 more tips from Essay expert Alan Gelb.

Scholarship expert Monica Matthews also has some essay-writing advice about how to win college scholarship contests.

Students may already have mastered the talent for brevity. Social media requires users to be concise by imposing maximum number of characters used per posts. For example, Twitter has a very short 140 character limit.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Students should follow the rules such as word count and deadlines, and use skills gained from social media posts and tweets to create their college essay messages.

College Placement Tests-The Ugly Truth

Cliché: Rest on your laurels.    
POCS Reality: Colleges can require admitted students to take college placement exams. Colleges can rescind offers of admission.


Sending in your college applications and getting ready to relax for the rest of your senior high school year? Don’t slack off because you’re not in a college classroom yet. Colleges may require students to take college placement tests (CPTs) before signing up for courses. Colleges can also rescind an offer of admission if your GPA takes a nosedive.

Many schools require students to take CPTs in core subjects like math and English before permitting them to sign up for courses.

Colleges provide college placement tests to incoming freshmen to determine how ready they are for college level work at that school. The penalty for not doing well impacts both time and money. Students may first have to take costly remedial non-credit classes before taking courses that are credited towards their diploma.

Q: Why test?

A: To show the probability of college success.

However, whether or not this test assessment works is being questioned. Read more: The Unchecked Power of the College Placement Test

Colleges may want to monitor your senior year grades and can revoke an offer of admission for poor academic performance in stark contrast to your prior levels of achievements.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Take action against senioritis. The college-bound can ask colleges on their list what CPTs are given at that school and in what subjects. Whether or not standardized tests (SAT, ACT, CPT) measure the probability of college success, if colleges require them, college-bound students should be prepared to take them. Possible revocation of college admission offers and College Placement Tests are good reasons for students not to slack off in their senior year.

10 College Admission Trends

Cliché: State of affairs.    
POCS Reality: There are trends in the college process. 


The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) State of College Admission report shows key trends in the transition from high school to college. The 2011 edition concerns the Fall 2010 admission cycle during the economic decline and demographic changes. How should the college-bound plan? NACAC worries about the future:

Prolonged economic decline and/or uncertainty could make it more difficult for both college transition professionals and students/families to adhere to fair practices in the admission decision.

Here are 10 of their findings:

1. Economics. Students are weighing colleges costs as a more important factor and colleges compete “for students who can afford to pay the full price of tuition, including high-income, international and/or out-of-state students, as demand for financial aid increases.”

2. College Enrollment. “Total college enrollment is expected to continue increasing” and “women have enrolled in college at a higher rate than men in almost every year.”

3. College Applications. Students are submitting more applications and colleges “are enrolling increasingly smaller proportions of their accepted student pool.” Students are submitting more online applications.

4. Early Admission Programs. Early Decision (ED) applications have decreased and Early Action (EA) applications have increased. The gap between ED and Regular Decision acceptance rates have narrowed.

5. Wait List. More colleges are using wait lists but fewer students are being admitted from wait lists. “Use of a wait list is one strategy that colleges may use to mitigate the uncertainty associated with the increase in average applications per student and declining yield. However, over-utilization of the wait list strategy may complicate students’ college choice process.”

6. Top Admission Factors:

  • grades in college preparatory courses
  • strength of curriculum
  • standardized admission test scores
  • overall high school grade point average
  • the essay
  • student’s demonstrated interest (include campus visits, contact with the admission office, applying through Early Decision or Early Action, and essay/recommendations)
  • class rank
  • counselor and teacher recommendations
  • extracurricular activities

7. Moderately Important Admission Factors: Between 25 and 31 percent of colleges rated:

  • race/ethnicity
  • first generation status
  • high school attended
  • alumni relations

8. School Counselors and College Counseling. College-bound high school students benefit from access to college information and counseling in high school. On average, there is 1 counselor per 272 students. 

9. Admission Officers. On average, there are 527 applications for each college admission officer. The average ratio at public institutions was 981:1, compared to 402:1 at private institutions.

10. Cost of Recruiting. Big bucks are spent on recruiting. “On average, colleges and universities spent about $585 to recruit each applicant for Fall 2010 admission, $806 to recruit each admitted student and $2,408 to recruit each enrolled student (when admission staff salaries and benefits were included in the admission office budget).”

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: The economy impacts the college process and affects both colleges and families. Wise college-bound students heed NACAC’s findings about college admission trends and plan accordingly.

*POCSmom’s DIY College Prep Insight: College Admission Applications

Cliché: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.    
POCS Reality: Colleges students can select an admission program to increase their chances for admission and financial aid.


If you thought forming a college list was a challenge, wait until you apply for admission. Colleges can offer several admission programs and which one students choose can affect both the chances for admission and the ability to maximize your financial aid.

Colleges select which admission programs to offer and the due date for each program’s application submission. Failure to meet deadlines can result in an automatic rejection even if the applicant was otherwise qualified for admission.

Here are the admission programs:

1.  Regular Decision is the most common admission program. Although deadlines vary, most colleges select a due by date in January-early February and notify students of admission/rejection by April 1st. Admitted students often have a month to decide where to attend and usually must notify the college by May 1st. Failure to meet notification deadlines can result in a withdrawal of the offer of admission.

 2.  Early Admission programs include Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), and ED-EA hybrids. They enable students to apply early, usually in November, and receive the admission decision earlier, usually by January. Applying early is a strategy because it can impact both the likelihood of admission and the ability to maximize financial aid. Early applicants may lose their ability to inform the school of their further senior year accomplishments to enhance their application. They may also lose their negotiating power to ask for more financial aid. For example, under ED, students can’t compare financial aid offers because upon acceptance other applications must be withdrawn and applicants are bound to attend as long as minimum financial needs are met. Since the school knows it is the first choice college, there is no incentive to offer more. (Read more about early admission programs)

 3.  Rolling Admission programs allow students to submit applications almost year-round (from fall through summer at some schools) and be notified of the college’s decision within a few weeks of applying. To improve admission, financial aid, and housing chances, students are encouraged to apply early.

 POCSmom’s DIY College Prep Insight: Students should choose an admission program as carefully as they chose their college list to maximize their chances for admission and financial aid. Create a master calendar to include deadlines for each application. Apply sooner rather than later and before deadlines for all college admission applications.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student

*POCSmom’s DIY College Prep Insight: College Bottom Line is Finish Line

Cliché: Crossing the finish line.    
POCS Reality: In order to earn the maximum benefits of going to college, students must earn a college degree and graduate.


To the victors belong the spoils and studies show this applies to educational achievement. That means if attending college is a race, graduating is crossing the finish line.

College degree benefits include better jobs, money, and knowledge. Dropping out drawbacks include loss of educational investment and student loan debt.

POCSmom’s DIY College Prep Insight: Finish what you educationally start. If your initial choice isn’t working out:

  • Think why- adapting to college life issues, too much partying and not enough studying, work load too difficult, can’t afford the expense?
  • Seek help- depending on the reason, different professional sources are available on and off campus to help you succeed including counseling, tutoring, and financial aid staff.
  • Transfer- because sometimes to succeed, you have to take another path. Another school may be a better fit now based on your program, activities, location choices and budget concerns.

The earlier you recognize you have an educational problem, the faster you can correct it. No one asks where you started, just where you earned that college degree. Get the maximum college payback: finish college and graduate.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student