I keep a box of tissues on the table where I tutor because,
as an SAT tutor and college application consultant, I listen to
high school juniors and seniors who are so overwhelmed
by college pressure that they begin to cry. Not just girls. Not
just Ivy League aspirants.
High school students are always convinced their parents
don’t understand them. This time the students are right.
Parents don’t understand because the college admission
process is so much more competitive than it was when
most parents applied to college.
These are the ten things I wish I could tell parents:
1. I am convinced that parents have to walk a mile in the
student’s moccasins to gain some appreciation for the
stress the students are under and to reverse the tension at
home. If parents will take an SAT practice test they will feel
some of the same anxiety, cringe at their results, and
discover that the test is hard. Instead of piling 25 pounds of
SAT study books on the desk, parents can commiserate
with students over missed problems. Parents and students
can become allies rather than adversaries as they face the
college admission process.
2. Hire SAT prep tutors who focus on the applicable
academic material rather than just the tricks. Increasing a
student’s academic preparation for the test in addition to
teaching the tricks increases their confidence on the test
and in the classroom; teaching only the tricks makes
students more insecure because they are relying on tricks
rather than on actual knowledge.
3. Have the tutors keep the parents informed about each
session so that the parent tracks progress with the tutor
rather than pestering the student for information.
4. Have the student try the ACT. All colleges accept it and
some students do better on it than on the SAT.
5. Make learning fun. For example, have the students
memorize vocabulary using the book Vocabulary Cartoons
by Sam Burchers, et al. Also, have the student do the
crossword and other word puzzles in SAT Vocabulary
Express, the fun book of word puzzles that will increase SAT
scores. I wrote it with Michael Ashley, a nationally known
puzzler, so that our students would learn to play with words,
an important skill for the new SAT.
6. Emphasize getting good grades rather than good SAT
scores. Bs in honors classes are better than As in regular
7. Hire an independent college counselor who will work
with the family to create a realistic college list, brainstorm for
essay topics, establish deadlines for the student, and check
all college applications. High school college counselors
are overworked and do not have the time to walk families
through the process.
8. Realize that the schools parents attended may not be
within reach for their child. The number of high school
students planning to attend college has increased
dramatically; the student may be well qualified for a
particular college and may still not get in.
9. Look for colleges where the student will thrive
academically and socially. Choosing colleges based on
their name recognition and prestige value is a formula that
will increase stress, not decrease it. Everyone else wants
to go to those schools, too, making them even harder to get
into; they are not necessarily the best place for the student.
Loren Pope’s book, Colleges That Change Lives, is a good
place to start.
10. Support your child through a difficult process. Leave the
prodding, nagging, and yelling to the tutors and college
counselor. The independent college counselor will tell the
student to work harder so the parent doesn’t have to. Why
ruin the student’s last year at home?
Parents can make decisions so that senior year is not be so
fraught with anxiety that family members begin to avoid each
other. And, I hate it when my students cry.