How parents can help their kids get into college

Parents can offer a lot of help and support on the road to finding the right college. But, don’t take over and do it all for your kids. I can’t tell you how tempting it can be to lead the college hunt—if you’re a parent who helps out on a daily basis—like driving forgotten lunches and papers to school when they’re in high school. Yes, guilty! I know one parent, whose son failed miserably out of college after college. This parent admitted that he had written all the college essays and filled out the applications. He begged me not to do the same for my children.

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My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

On the other hand, someone needs to keep track of what’s going on and that your child is meeting deadlines. The junior and senior years can be really tough with crazy, hectic schedules, proms, AP tests, etc.. We can’t back off at this critical moment and expect our 16 or 17-year-old to know instinctively what to do. Also, you can’t count on your high school to get your child into college. Not all high counselors are created equal. Some are really good at talking to kids and helping them through the process, while other counselors might not see it as their responsibility. They may have so many kids on many different tracks that they can’t offer one-one-one college counseling.

Here’s a check list of what can parents do:

1. Set up a master calendar. It’s a good idea to get a big, giant calendar or white board for your student and mark down all the important dates like SAT, ACT tests, college visit, deadlines for applications, FAFSA, etc.

2. Here’s what your child needs when it’s time to submit applications (don’t wait until the last minute to get these! You’ll only add to the stress if you wait):
—Official transcripts from all secondary schools attended.
—One letter of recommendation from an adult guidance/college counselor, coach, employer etc.
—One letter of recommendation from a teacher who can speak about academic ability.
—SAT or ACT scores

3. Review the essays. Don’t write them, but read them with a critical eye and get some feedback from other adults who you admire in terms of their writing or smarts.

4. Research schools. You can do initial research into schools’ majors, costs, and find out what their admission standards are. Every college has a website and if you dig deep into the admissions sections, you can find out the ranges of grades and SAT scores.

5. Make sure your child is taking the necessary classes and keeping the grades above a C. Don’t nag, but don’t let them slack, either.

6. If your child needs help with testing, enroll them in a SAT prep class. I did this for my daughter, who is not a good test taker and although she hated going, she thanked me afterward. She said the class, taught at a local high school over the summer, really, really helped.

7. Stay calm. This can be a bumpy road with pot holes and rocks along the way. Your teenager may procrastinate or suffer from anxiety over getting the college applications done. Parents can set the tone and keep the stress at bay, or they can add to it.

How do you think parents can help their kids through the college application process?

 

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My son’s high school graduation.

 

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What are the odds of an athletic college scholarship?

 

 

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Pac-12 Champs.

 

I didn’t realize how lucky our family was. That is until one of my daughter’s former swim coaches sent me the “Odds of a High School Athlete Playing College Sports.” There is so much interesting data in this link, I recommend you explore it thoroughly. Although I keep telling other swim parents that there truly is a college for everyone—the odds are against getting a scholarship. The stats in the chart are about who plays in college–not who gets a scholarship. When you look at the depressing percentages of the number of college athletes versus those who participated in high school, keep in mind that the scholarship numbers are significantly lower than the numbers on the chart.

Our daughter is lucky she got one. However, never once during kindergarten through high school senior year did we put pressure on her to get a scholarship. It was a reward for her consistent hard work and love of swimming—kind of like an extra cherry in your Shirley Temple.

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Here’s a chart from the “Odds of a High School Athlete Playing College Sports” link above.

 

I know a couple kids who wanted to get into a particular school, for example, one applied to New York University—and when she talked to the swim coach—she was “flagged” for admission. It made a statistically tough numbers game to get into a top university more of a sure thing. Lately, NYU has had record-breaking 60,000 applicants annually and offers acceptance to around 18,000. Out of those, less than 6,000 attend. Having a coach on your child’s side can make a difference in getting in.

My son wouldn’t go near a pool when we were doing college tours. He refused to talk to a single coach. Looking back, he said that it was a mistake on his part. Maybe he should have explored swimming and not turned his back on a sport he’d spent 10 plus years pursuing. After getting rejected by eight out of nine schools he applied to, he thinks maybe talking to coaches could have given him more choices. It might have, but we’ll never know.

When my kids were younger, we looked up to this super fast sprinter on our club team. He won CIF and was so much faster than any kid around. Our mouths dropped open when we heard about his college scholarship at Arizona State University. Books. Yes, that was it—books only.

So, what are the odds of getting a scholarship if you’re a swimmer? Let’s look at the numbers for women, which have slightly better odds than men. There are approximately 166,838 high school female swimmers according to statistics from 2015. Of that pool of athletes,13,759 get spots on a college team. The chart below shows that 7.8% of high school swimmers swim at the college level and only 3.1% swim at the NCAA D1 level. That’s the participation rate–and not all athletes get scholarships. So, it’s a fraction of 3.1 percent–in the case of women’s D1 swimming, and even less for men.

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Here’s some more fine print from the data: Men’s swim teams are limited to 9.9 scholarships and Women’s swim teams are limited to 14.

“*Do the Math!   NCAA Division I men’s teams have an average roster of 29 swimmers but a limit of 9.9 scholarships to award per team. This means the average award covers only about 1/3 of annual college costs, and this assumes swimming is a fully funded sport at the specific school. Swimming is an equivalency sport for NCAA limits, so partial scholarships can be awarded as long as the combined equivalent awards do not exceed the limit. For example, an NCAA I school can award 21 women swimmers each a 2/3 equivalent scholarship and still meet the limit of 14 per team.”

We need to remember as parents, that putting our child in a certain sport for the hopes of a college scholarship isn’t that smart. They need to be passionate about their activities and spend all those hours and sacrifices because they want it. Not because of a dream we have for them to earn a scholarship. I do know that a lot of my children’s friends and teammates got college scholarships. So, it’s not impossible, but it’s important to put it into a realistic perspective.

What are your thoughts about college athletics and scholarship opportunities?

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Senior recognition day. The last home meet for women swimmers.

 

 

A few thoughts about college recruiting

Signing day.

Signing day, 2013.

Now that July 1 has passed, the magic date where coaches can start recruiting your kids for swimming, what happens next?

It’s been two years since my daughter went through that hectic, exciting, fun summer. Looking back here’s a few things to think about during recruiting season. My experience is specific to the sport of swimming for my daughter. Although my son swam, he opted out of swimming in college. He doesn’t regret it at all. So, remember, swimming in college isn’t for every kid. But if your swimmer is interested, here are my thoughts about the process. Many of these ideas will apply to other sports, too.

Make sure your swimmer replies to each call or email.

If your swimmer isn’t interested in a team, let the coach know quickly so he or she can focus energy on other swimmers.

My daughter and teammates at JOs a while back.

My daughter and teammates at JOs a while back.

If your swimmer does not hear from their dream team or some of the teams they are interested in—what do you do? I would suggest to your swimmer to send an email and tell the coach they are interested. Ask what the walk on times are, or what they are looking for. Maybe your swimmer will figure out why they haven’t been contacted.

Sometimes an email can get lost in the spam folder, or a coach may have overlooked your child. They may be happy to find out your swimmer is interested. Your swimmer has nothing to lose by writing an email.

I remember one of my daughter’s friends wanted to go to a certain PAC-12 school and she was so disappointed to not get an email or call from the team. After she did sign with a different PAC 12 university, she went through her spam folder and found an email from the coach of her dream school that she had not replied to! The good news is that she loves where she is and couldn’t be happier.

My daughter racing.

My daughter racing.

During recruiting, my daughter made a list of teams that contacted her. In each conversation with coaches, she wrote down notes of things that were important to her. She wanted to swim outside. She wanted a team with men and women. She hadn’t decided on a major yet, so that wasn’t part of her criteria, but for many swimmers it will be.

Each swimmer will have their own idea of what they’re looking for in a school and a team.

Does your swimmer want to be a big fish in a small pond? Or do they want to be pushed by faster swimmers? Do they want to be at a major university? Or a smaller private school? Are they set on D1 or D2? Don’t overlook the many amazing schools in D3, NAIA and NJCAA.

There are a lot of schools out there and swimming may open a door for your child to a school that would be more difficult to get into without their sport. My kids have friends that were accepted to great universities–John Hopkins and NYU–as swimmers. They had the grades and SATs to get in on their own. But coaches can “flag” athletes. It may be the deciding factor between your child and thousands of other great students.

My son listening to music at a meet.

My son listening to music at a meet.

There were a few schools I wanted my daughter to look at. I was so disappointed to hear my daughter tell the coach that no, she was afraid it wouldn’t be a good fit for her. But, remember, it’s your daughter or son’s college experience—not yours.

After the summer, your swimmer will decide on where to go for recruit trips. In D1, if the rules haven’t changed, they get to select up to five schools.

I’ve heard one coach say not to waste a school’s time or money if your swimmer knows they aren’t interested in a school. On the other hand, I’ve heard another coach say that it’s good to visit schools and get a feeling for the school. Your swimmer may fall in love with a program and school that they weren’t seriously considering before.

Super JOs.

Super JOs.

It also comes down to time. How hard is it to travel five weekends in the fall and miss practice and perhaps school, too? The trips may all run together in your swimmer’s mind. You may want to limit the number of recruit trips to two or three of the top choices. That’s what my daughter did.

The hard thing was when she came back and made her decision. She had to call the coaches of the schools she chose not to attend. The coaches were unbelievably gracious, professional and she would have been happy at any one of her top choices. That was a tough thing for her to do, but it was—as everything else about swimming—a learning experience and an opportunity to grow.

It may come down to a difficult decision. I remember one of my daughter’s club teammates choosing between USC, Berkeley, and Stanford. She couldn’t make a decision. I remember thinking—must be amazing to have such a choice!  She waited until Spring to sign. So, remember that’s an option too. If your swimmer hasn’t found the right school by fall, there’s another window of opportunity in the spring. Waiting until Spring may limit choices or scholarships, because rosters might be filled. It worked for my daughter’s teammate, though.

Wherever your swimmer ends up, be supportive. It’s an exciting time in your life and your swimmer’s. Be thankful they have this opportunity.

My daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

My daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

One Tip for Parents with Incoming High School Seniors –Write the Essay, Like TODAY!

imgresHere’s a tip for parents of incoming high school seniors that I wish we would have followed: get that college essay done, now.

I mean it!

I’ll never forget the agony my son went through trying to write his essays close to the deadline. He suffered from so much anxiety and went through days of writer’s block. He said the essays were the most important thing he had to write in his life.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

By procrastinating and putting it off until the end–into a busy time when he also had a half dozen AP classes and swim practice to worry about–“THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I’VE WRITTEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE” was too big a burden to deal with!

My son told me—during the summer when I suggested he get started—that the questions weren’t out yet. That’s what he said.

I have good news to share with you. The essay prompts for the Common App ARE out now for 2015-2016. You can take a look at them, and get some guidance here.  

images-1If you can “suggest,” “encourage” or “force” your high school senior to get started on writing essays for their college apps, it may be the best thing you do for them all year. Tell them to get a rough draft done. Put it away for a week or two, dust it off and have them do a rewrite. Repeat this process during the summer. Then put it away until it’s time to fill out the college applications.

You should take a look at it, too. If they let you. If not, have them find a teacher or adult friend to review it. My son wouldn’t let me review his essays. Not that as a writer with a degree in editorial journalism and a 20-plus-year career in writing could I have offered him a bit of help. But, no. He had to do it the hard way. He did get one of his English Lit teachers to review his work, though.

At this very second, he has three papers to finish for his college classes. Due today….

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Maybe your kids will take your advice and get the writing started early. They’ll also practice good habits which will serve them well when they are in college!

Writing the essays and taking time for revisions over the summer will definitely lift
a lot of senior pressure in the fall.

8 Tips On How to Be Recruited as a Student-Athlete

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My daughter in a race as a Piranha.

My daughter started college a little over a month ago as a student-athlete for a PAC 12, D1 university. She signed her letter of intent in November 2013. She’s now hosting recruits at her college. As exciting as it was to go through the recruiting process, it’s even better to look back on it!

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Three teammates from Kat’s club team on the blocks in yellow caps.

Looking back there was so much to know. I’m sharing my 8 tips on HOW to be recruited to help you and your swimmer wade through pools of confusion and make it less overwhelming. A lot of these tips can be used for your student-athlete’s sport — even if it’s not in swimming. Have fun! Enjoy the recruiting experience — because it’s an exciting time in your swimmer’s life — and in yours, too.1554486_780165738665332_1948124021_n

  1. Join a USA Swim Club. If you want to swim in college and you’re swimming in highschool — join a club team right away! Most swimmers at the collegiate level have been USA Swimmers for years. It’s rare for college coaches to recruit high school only swimmers. Click here to find a local club! usas_logo
  2. Go to practice! Every single day. College coaches will call your club coach and ask about your character and work ethic. If you’re trying to be the best you can be, your club coach will recommend you whole-heartedly. 

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    Teammates racing.

  3. Register with NCAA Clearing House. If you have questions, ask your high school counselor. It’s something all athletes have to do who want to participate in college sports. 
  4. Take the right classes, SAT or ACT, and get good grades. Again, meet with your counselor. He or she can make sure you’re on track and doing everything you need to do to be eligible.
  5. Make a list of the schools you’re interested in: 
    1. Dream schools — where have you always wanted to go?
    2. Geographic location — do you want to be close to home? Or in an entirely different part of the country?
    3. DI, DII or DIII? There is a division, conference and school for every swimmer. Determine where you fit by looking at the NCAA Division results.
    4. Do you score points in conference? When you have a list of schools, check out the results from their conference meet. Where would you finish in their conference? Chances are if you’re in the top 8, you’re a good candidate for a scholarship.

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      My daughter diving in during a championship meet in LA during her age-group years.

  6. Email coaches or schedule unofficial visits. Start early, sophomore or junior year. Most schools have online questionaires for athletes. Be sure to fill out the ones you’re interested in. And email the coach and tell them you’ve filled it out. Tell them something specific about why you’re interested in their school. Ask them questions about what they look for in a swimmer, or what their time requirements are. 
  7. Ask your club coach about the rules of talking to college coaches at swim meets. Rules change, but generally a college coach cannot approach you  — until after you’ve swam all your events at a meet. Again, your club coach can help with this.
  8. Be polite. Return phone calls and emails. Once official recruiting season begins, be sure to be respectful of all coaches and colleges — even if they weren’t on your list. You never know where or when you’ll run into these people again. Coaches move around — and they tend to have friends they talk to that are coaches! 545889_698369856844921_1745782073_n

If you want more information, or have specific questions, I’ve linked several stories. Or, send me a comment and I’ll answer your question.

Here’s a great article about preparing for recruit trips from SwimSwam.

Two more articles: Swimming Recruiting – 5 Tips to Swimming in College and Quick Tips For College Swimming Recruits

Things Your Daughter Will Be Surprised to Learn about High School and College Sports

My daughter diving in a competition with her club team at the East LA City College pool.

My daughter diving in a competition with her club team at the East LA City College pool.

I Am Woman Hear Me Roar or You’ve Come a Long Way Baby, Part II

Isn’t it strange that women swimmers a few decades ago ended their swim careers in their teens, while it’s not uncommon to have women compete in their 20s and 30s today?

I was talking to Bonnie Adair — a former swimmer who held 35 National Age Group records during her career — including the 50-meter free for 8-and-unders that stood for 29 years. She quit swimming at age 19. Contrast that to say Olympian gold medalists Dara Torres, who swam in her fifth Olympics at age 41, Natalie Coughlin, still competing at 32, or Janet Evans who swam in the 2012 Olympic Trials at age 40.

Dara Torres

Dara Torres

 

Janet Evans

Janet Evans


What has changed so much in swimming since the 1970s that gives women the ability to still compete throughout their 20s and beyond?

Natalie Coughlin

Natalie Coughlin

I interviewed Bonnie Adair, the head coach of Loyola Marymount in LA, for another writing project I’m undertaking. She began swimming at age five and was an amazing and gifted swimmer. She said after she graduated high school she wanted to train for her third Olympic Trials. She lived at home with mom and dad and commuted to college — so she could still swim with her club team, Lakewood Aquatics coached by the legendary Jim Montrella.

images-6She noticed one day that there were no guys in her training group. They had all gone to swim on scholarship at colleges such as UCLA and USC. The girls did not. Why not, you ask? Because they didn’t have college swim teams for women! 

images-7Isn’t that stunning? My daughter, age 18, is swimming right now — this very minute — at a D1, PAC 12 school (Go Utes!). It was always her dream — since she was five years old — to swim in college and go to the Olympic Trials. She took it for granted that she had the opportunity, and that if she worked really hard, she could possibly achieve those dreams. She’s made the college dream come true and she has a couple seconds to drop for Olympic Trials 2016.

I was shocked and stunned to realize that these dreams were not remotely possible for women just a few years older than me! Their swim careers were cut short if they wanted to have a college experience where they lived on campus and were away from home. It was difficult or nearly impossible to keep competing with a club team for many years past high school.

images-5When I was in high school, we had no pool or high school swim team, boys or girls. I remember we had girls track and field and tennis. Cheerleading was the big thing for girls to do. Cheer tryouts was one of the horrors of my teen life, a total embarrassment that makes me cringe remembering being put on exhibition in front of the entire student body.

We didn’t have girls basketball or golf and I played golf. Since I didn’t make the cheerleading squad, I tried out for the boys golf team with my lifelong friend and fellow golfer Christy.  We were allowed to go to all the practices with the guys. We were the last group out on the course  — a twosome.  We were never included in any of the tournaments or competitions. I honestly don’t know if we were that much worse than the boys — or if it was because we were girls.

I wrote about how far along we’ve come from the time my parents told me I was going to college to get my MRS degree and when girls were required to take home ec in high school in “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar, or You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!” Our young women take all of this for granted. They are truly lucky and blessed to be alive today in the United States.

Of course, the main reason there are women’s collegiate sports today and weren’t say before 1972 can be summed up as Title IX — which has its benefits and its unintended consequences. This will be discussed on another day.

bathing_beautiesWhat high school and college sports did you participate in? Were there girls teams for all the boys sports?

3 Things My Son Did Wrong Applying to College

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son applied for college four years ago. Yes, he got in. But, it wasn’t to his first choice school. Nor, to his second. It was more like his 9th. Yes he got into one out of nine schools — his fall back school.

So what did this smart, kind, valedictorian, athlete, musician student do wrong?

First, the list of schools he applied to were all big-name top tier schools, ie. Harvard, Columbia, Yale, CalTech and Stanford, to name a few.

Please, do your research and apply to a wider variety of schools. Each application costs you money. Pick each school you apply to with care. There are many great state schools, small private schools and everything in between.

imgres-4Second, he freaked out about the essay. 

He sat for countless hours worrying about what to write staring at the blank computer screen. Looking back on it, he said it terrified him because he thought the essay was going to be the definitive work of his life.

Trust me. It’s not. Keep it simple, write in your own voice and give yourself time to rewrite, revise and rewrite again.  Let someone — a parent or teacher — read it before you send it in.

Robert with bandmates at the scholarship banquet

Robert with bandmates at the scholarship banquet

Third. He refused to show need of any kind. One of the 14 factors colleges look for in admissions is:  “Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to: disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.” I wrote about that here.

He truly had struggles with asthma. He had so many setbacks with swimming and missing school because of his health that most kids won’t experience. But, he said he wasn’t “playing that card.” My advice? Play whatever cards you’re given!

With upwards of 75,000 applying to a school that accepts less than 5,000 incoming freshman — it’s a numbers game. I wrote more about the numbers here in “My Son Wrote About His Crazy Mom for His Senior Project.”

Just for fun, you can listen to his highschool band, The Saucy Stenographers here. The song is called Desert Nights, written by Robert and sung by Marilynn Wexler.

With my son at the beach

With my son at the beach