Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

Your 11th Grader’s 11 Steps to Success

“Action expresses priorities.” ― Mahatma Gandhi.

girlwithawardsJunior year is here: the year that counts. Maybe your teen made mistakes, didn’t focus enough, experienced a few “blip” grades last year. All part of growing up. But now…it’s time to get serious. What does that mean, exactly? Be perfect? Get an electrode zap from genius headgear like in science fiction comedies? Standardized testing as an extracurricular activity? Never allow your teen to have any fun until the “fat envelope” comes from the dream college a year and a half from now? No, of course not. Just follow these common sense guidelines…

FOOTBALL21. Dial down extracurricular activities. Does he or she do two varsity sports? Reduce it to one.  Did he or she she spend every night out last year on stage crew  for the musical, although not planning a to embark on a professional theater career? Skip it this year. Unless that pizza delivery job is critical to family finances, persuade your son or daughter to only work in the summer. One more club, one more karate belt, one more peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for the shelter will not make a difference in college opportunities. Academic performance most certainly will.

fatherhandsomedaughterIt is often difficult to edit back, because you are proud of your student’s athletic, artistic, and other extracurricular accomplishments; in many cases, your son or daughter simply does not want to give up fun activities. But don’t be tempted to say, “Let’s see how it goes.” Often the wake-up call that a teenager is doing too much is a grade disaster during junior year. You do not want that wake-up call: it may be too late to recover, and colleges prefer to see an upward trend. I believe it is your role, as a parent, to pre-empt pitfalls by being one step ahead, and helping your teen to prioritize activities before they become overwhelming. An adolescent’s frontal lobe, the planning and executive function source in the brain, does not mature until age 25, so prioritization is where your son or daughter needs your help.

libraryfrustratedgirl2. Help your son or daughter find a good balance between academic challenge and overkill.
It is advisable for an 11th grader to challenge oneself in areas of strength, so suggest taking honors courses and APs if available in his favorite subjects. If he or she has missed this window, encourage your student to knock it out of the park this year to potentially be considered for honors or APs during senior year. However, do not saddle your student with more honors or APs than he or she can handle. Yes, advanced courses are worth more in high school and college weighting systems than regular courses, but challenging courses need to be balanced so as to not compromise grade performance. This is especially true in rigorous independent schools, where grade deflation can sometimes underrepresent a student’s aptitude and effort, especially compared to a uniformly talented, intense student population.

roboticsIt also gets tricky junior year, since many subjects ramp up significantly in terms of conceptual difficulty. For some courses, there is no prologue to predict success or failure (e.g., a student may excel in chemistry, but have no grasp of physics).  11th grade is usually the first time students will have AP’s, covering a tremendous amount of material and requiring more study than previous courses in that subject. I have often seen students take on an honors pre-calculus class because they have always done pretty well in math, only to be faced with the decision of whether to drop back to a “regular pre-calc” course at the end of the first marking period. Unless your student plans to be an engineer, there is no harm in this kind of adjustment; pre-calculus as a junior is still an accelerated math schedule for a high school student.

handinhomework3. Spring for a tutor. Whether it is for SAT/ACT tests or a course with which your teen is struggling, offer support for extra help. Whether it is extra help from the teacher, a volunteer student tutor, or a paid tutor if affordable, urge your student to act before an academic problem becomes insurmountable. and overwhelming to your student. I feel that tutoring is one of the best financial investment  a parent can make, certainly better than paying for extracurricular lessons, unless your student is headed for Division I sports or a fine arts institute.

Tutoring in no way suggests that your child is an underachiever or unmotivated. One-on-one tutoring is a time honored, effective way to learn—it’s just not as cost-efficient as classroom teaching. The pedagogical approach at Oxford University in England is entirely tutor-based. Can you imagine taking piano lessons in a class of thirty kids? When hands-on learning or diagnosing systematic errors is required, tutoring may be the best key to unlock the door.

4. Prepare for the PSAT’s. You may hear no, it is just for practice. But National Merit Scholarship qualifications are based on PSAT performance in October of junior year. Whether or not your student needs merit money, it is a great to achieve at least a letter of commendation (recognition level). So encourage your student practice with a study guide, online course, small group or one-on-one tutoring. Good PSAT performance sets in motion an upward spiral of confidence that will be needed with all the testing your student will take over the next year.

campuskidsstudy5. Set aside this year’s spring break for college visits. Your high school’s guidance counselor will probably present junior college night in January and work with your child on developing a college list throughout the winter. If this is not happening, you may want to enlist the help of an independent consultant. But edit back business trips and family plans so that, when your 11th grader is on break, you can visit campuses. Spread out visits so that your son or daughter will have the opportunity to visit, digest the experience, and not burn out on visiting colleges.

6. Educate yourself. Of course, you don’t want to drive your teen crazy early on in this journey. Just let your student work hard and get good grades. Meanwhile, quietly build up your own knowledge. I recommend: The College Solution by Lynn O’Shaughnessy, Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope, and Greenes’ Guides’ Hidden Ivies 2nd Edition: 50 Colleges of Excellence. Talk with other parents who have been through the college process, but only those who will give you sound advice without stressful hype. Consider buying the premium online version of U.S. News & World Report College Rankings and become familiar with

Piggy bank with a graduation cap with dollar bill

7. Prepare financially. It is never too early to become acquainted with the “pay for college” landscape by reading primers such as College Board’s Paying for College without Going Broke (2015 Edition). Become familiar with Research colleges and universities that offer merit money. Watch Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s webinars about cutting college costs. Ask your guidance counselor about school or community workshops for parents on financial aid. Talk to your accountant or financial advisor about investing for college, and consider hiring a Certified College Planner. For qualified local advisers, check with the National Institute of Certified College Planners.

motherchildcloseup8. Nurture a positive relationship with your student, and choose parent-teen battles carefully. You need all the goodwill possible to preserve a loving, constructive, honest relationship with your adolescent as the junior year evolves. This is the year of the SATs, AP tests,  junior prom, first big high school relationship, driving learner’s permit, and the ever-present danger of teenage rebellion and risky behaviors. You will experience the “perfect storm” when your adolescent’s normal, powerful drive for autonomy eventually collides with the college application process. Don’t create it too early!  Protect goodwill: you will need it.

9. Provide “clerical” support. Make a file box: collect things that your son or daughter would otherwise lose. Test results, transcripts, awards, sports results, community service hours,  great essays. Quietly collecting this information will make life easier at the end of junior year when your guidance counselor asks your student to fill out an activity form or brag sheet, when volunteer hours are needed to apply for National Honor Society, or for developing a resume.

Portrait of young intelligent woman

10. Encourage your junior to build relationships with 11th grade teachers. Colleges prefer recommendations from Grade 11 academic teachers. It is essential for your son or daughter to become assertive about participating in class, become a visible leader, and actively develop relationships with these teachers. It is critical for your teen to do this, not only to make it easier to ask for a recommendation at the end of junior year, but because confident self-advocacy is also a key life skill that will serve your son or daughter well from now on. On another note, some colleges do allow additional recommendations from non-academic supervising adults, such as coaches or performing arts directors, who may be able to comment on your students’ strengths beyond the classroom. Your student should identify and ask an appropriate recommender from this arena as well.

motherdaughterorigami11. Support your teen’s growth and development as a complete human being. Your adolescent needs support for physical and mental health, getting enough sleep, eating right, and managing stress. Who is going to help with all that if not Mom or Dad? Your child’s life needs to be enriched in higher level dimensions: spiritual, ethical, aesthetic, social, emotional. You can help by being a caring, involved adult guide who is not too invasive but “always there” as a sounding board and biggest fan. You may find that this is the most important thing you can do for your 11th Grader.