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An Open Letter to College-Bound Students and Their Parents

Inside Higher Ed recently put together a group of 24 Admissions professionals (see end of article for the list) to write a letter with tips for College-Bound Students and their Parents. Here is the letter they recently published:

There are few times more exciting to work on a college campus than the start of a new academic year. Across the country, thousands of new students descend on institutions of higher learning, each student with their own talents and aspirations, eager to share their understanding of the world, excited to discover more about who they are and what the world has to offer. Those of us working in college admissions offices are grateful and humbled to watch this happen every fall, as bright, able students begin a journey of discovery as strangers and emerge from the experience knowing more about themselves, each other and the possibilities that await after graduation.

To be sure, the process of starting college, and the application process that accompanies it, can have its moments of anxiety and uncertainty. Applying to college opens students to scrutiny in ways few other events in life do, and the uncertainty that accompanies the college application process can be rife with doubts. The same can occur in the initial few days of the first year of college, or even subsequent years, as students see the academic and social challenges awaiting them, many wondering if they are up to the tasks required of them.

Recent studies suggest more students are experiencing bouts of anxiety, doubt and depression over the transition to college, and life in general, than ever before. Increasing competition for limited spots at some colleges, concerns over the ability to meet the financial demands of college attendance and general concern if the student is heading in the right direction are just some of the factors contributing to this increase. Combined with what other reports see as rising personal and social pressures, it is easy to understand why more students than ever before are looking for reassurance at a time of transition that seems to offer so little of it.

To those students applying to college this fall, we say to you — we hear you, and we are here to help. Out of the thousands of higher education institutions in the United States — be it a four-year college or university, a two-year college, or a technical training program — not a single one runs an Office of Judgment. The purpose of an office of admission is to authentically represent our institution and the experience it can provide. We review each applicant and determine if that student’s talents, goals and interests will be best served by our school, without exceeding our capacity to serve all students who enroll.

It’s been said that no one goes into college admissions because they want to see how many students they can reject. This isn’t always easy for students to understand, especially when there are more qualified applicants than room to admit them. But that is a limitation of the college, not the students. There are many places where you can shine, and the application process give you the opportunity to explore all of them.

Our work with you is designed to nurture and encourage you in every step of the application process, to create a dialogue that allows you to bring forth the best, clearest picture of who you are, what you think about and what our institution can do to help you grow. If your work on an application finds you wondering where to turn for help, support or reassurance, contact us. Helping you is not our job; it is our privilege.

Recognizing that many of life’s challenges aren’t related to college, it is important to realize you also have local support to help you with any issues that may come up in your life. Understanding that teachers and school counselors are often faced with high numbers of students to serve, these professionals have a remarkable track record of stepping up and offering help to students who ask for it. From reviewing drafts of admissions essays, to listening to your plans for the future, to connecting you to other professionals who may offer greater help with other challenges, the educators and support teams of your local schools are here for you as well.

To those students starting their college careers this fall, we say welcome. Our work with your application for admission may be over, but our help in welcoming you to campus and assisting with a smooth adjustment to your new academic home is never over. Our colleagues in other parts of the college, including student services, academic support and the faculty, know there is more to a successful college transition than good grades and a strong classroom experience.

If asking for help feels uncomfortable, know that every student feels that way. It may look like everyone in college is walking around with great confidence, but nearly no one is. College is a new world, with a new language, culture and norms. It’s more than OK to acknowledge that you need some help making sense of this new world, and research shows that’s much more likely to happen if you find a peer or mentor to connect with. It’s also the No. 1 reason you’ll come back for the next semester, and the next year, and graduate. Start with the one person for whom asking feels the least awkward. People who work for colleges are there for one reason — your success — and they want to help.

To the parents looking for the best way to promote strong, healthy, autonomous life habits in their children who are college bound, we strongly urge you to play an active role that puts the student at the center of the application and transition processes. The skills needed to complete a college application require the same levels of judgment, organization, collaboration, leadership and initiative that make for a strong college experience. Now is the time for students to refine those skills by practicing them and receiving constructive feedback that allows them to reflect, regroup and try again if necessary.

A regularly scheduled weekly meeting to discuss college application issues in high school and transition issues in college, typically around 20 to 30 minutes, provides a healthy avenue of reliable support and structure your student can count on. There will be ample opportunities to take steps to support your child in this process, but as is the case with almost every parental duty, the vital steps are to listen more than speak and to love the child you have, not the child you want.

Cultural and technological advances have created opportunities for students that were difficult to imagine even a handful of years ago, yet this abundance of choice seems to have brought new levels of hesitation, doubt and stress for many young people. Our work as admissions professionals — as educators in our own right — is to do everything we can to clear the field of opportunity of as many of those doubts as possible, and provide each student with the opportunity to realize the very best in themselves, in others, and in the world they will help shape.

Bill Conley
Vice president for enrollment management
Bucknell University

Bob Herr
Vice president for enrollment management and dean of college admissions
Drew University

Jody Chycinski
Associate vice president and director of admissions
Grand Valley State University

Deren Finks
Dean of admissions emeritus
Harvey Mudd College

Laurie Koehler
Vice president, marketing and enrollment strategy
Ithaca College

Greg MacDonald
Vice president, enrollment management
Lafayette College

Ken Anselment
Dean of admissions and financial aid
Lawrence University

John Ambrose
Interim executive director of admissions and recruitment
Michigan State University

Robert Springall
Vice president for enrollment management
Muhlenberg College

Gregory Mitton
Associate dean of admission/director of financial aid
Muhlenberg College

Gerri Daniels
Executive director, admissions
Northern Michigan University

J. Carey Thompson
Vice president for enrollment and communications, dean of admission
Rhodes College

Heath Einstein
Director of admission
Texas Christian University

Angel Perez
Vice president, enrollment and student success
Trinity College

Matt Malatesta
Vice president for admissions financial aid and enrollment
Union College, N.Y.

Clark Brigger
Executive director of admissions
University of Colorado Boulder

Don Bishop
Associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment
University of Notre Dame

Jim Rawlins
Director of admissions/assistant vice president for enrollment management
University of Oregon

Eric Furda
Dean of admissions
University of Pennsylvania

Gil Villanueva
Associate vice president and dean of admission
University of Richmond

Timothy Brunold
Dean of admission
University of Southern California

Andrew Wright
Vice president for enrollment management
University of Southern Indiana

Jeffery Gates
Senior vice president for student life and enrollment management
Utica College

Raymond Brown
Vice president for enrollment
Valparaiso University

The Truth About Extracurricular Activities and Highly Selective Colleges

The parents of today’s college applicants applied to college in the 1980s and early 1990s. Those were the days when being a well-rounded student was the ticket to a highly selective college. Two varsity sports, a summer job and participation in a few clubs were the activities of a successful applicant. Having a passion was not necessary.

Today’s well-rounded applicants are welcome at many colleges but the most selective schools prefer a different shape. They are prioritizing “pointy” students, those who have participated in several activities centered around a theme rather than a variety of disconnected activities. Elite colleges want students whose activities demonstrate commitment to a core interest, belief or pursuit. Students who have determined their passions and delve deeply into them are more likely to be admitted.

In their college applications, students applying to highly selective colleges should highlight groups of activities that align with and relate to their genuine, deep interests. Activities which are merely exploratory or things the student has dabbled in should be downplayed. For example, a student who is passionate about animals might create an application that highlights their volunteer work at an animal shelter, their commitment to fostering cats and dogs at their home and that the subject of their photography (another interest) is usually animals.

Use your high school years to explore, but if you do have a deep interest, pursue it wholeheartedly. A focus on one theme will not harm your chances of a successful college application. In fact, it is just the opposite.

Michelle McAnaney is Founder of the College Spy. She can be reached at 1-800-207-4305 or by e-mail at

Snowplow Parents Getting in the Way

I get it, I’m a few years past sending my kids off to college. But, have things really changed that much? It seems so when I hear stories about what some families are doing.

A neighbor’s daughter is about to be a freshman at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. She is very excited about attending, although with some very understandable and normal apprehensions. A friend of hers will also be attending Wheaton and her friend’s mom has chosen to rent an apartment in the tiny town of Norton, Massachusetts for the first month of school, in case her daughter needs something. When I heard about this, my reaction was “are you serious?” Now my neighbor’s daughter wants her to rent an apartment as well! She told me that she’s even playing the “if you were a good mother card!” Thankfully my neighbor put her foot down and explained to her daughter that she would be just fine and there was no need for her to have her mother within spitting distance.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of parents taking extreme measures. I remember reading how one mom insisted on sleeping on an air mattress in her daughter’s room for the first week of college! Wouldn’t you like to be the other roommate in that dorm room?

We’ve all heard about the Tiger Moms and Helicopter Parents, but a new moniker seems to crowding the field  – “Snowplow Parents” – you guessed it – parents who are willing to plow down anything or anyone who gets in the way of their child obtaining success.

Yes, these are the parents who cause other parents, and even their own children, to roll their eyes in disgust, disdain and embarrassment. Snowplow parents terrify Parent Orientation leaders because they’ll hijack a discussion and drown out everyone else.

Kari Kampakis is the author of a great book called “Prepare the Child for the Road, Not the Road for the Child”  She is a proponent of letting kids experience failure. She says “it’s hard not to clear every obstacle in our children’s path so they can be happy now – getting what they want, when they want it – and buck the current trends. But when we clear the road for a child, we make their life too easy. We don’t allow them to build life-coping skills they’ll need down the road to handle life’s realities.” She goes on to say that right now our children face a “little league” age-appropriate stress but very soon they will be moving to the “big league”  – and if we don’t provide them with the tools to cope with the little league stresses, there’s not much of a chance they’ll survive the stress of the “big league.”

The best advice is that preparing the child for the road means packing their suitcase with care; put all the good stuff in, while making sure to save room for resiliency and character.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;

What does an Admissions Officer look for when he/she is evaluating students?

Gradually, it’s been getting increasingly more difficult for B students to gain admission to Michigan State University, one of the state’s flagship institutions, and one school that has prided itself on not being moderately selective (71 percent acceptance rate this year.)

This year’s freshman class high school average GPA is 3.75 and average SAT score is 1,218; the mean ACT is 26.2. The grade point continues to increase steadily, too. Ten years ago, the average GPA for admitted freshman students was 3.60.

And last year, the first time MSU began accepting the Common App, the school saw applications jump by more than 11,000 students to a record  44,340.

 “Michigan State University uses rolling admission, but the number of qualified applicants has exceeded available space in recent years,” the website warns. “Depending on several factors –including space available in the entering class –  it may not be possible to submit an application for certain semesters.”

If students apply early action before Nov. 1, they will be guaranteed a decision within 12 weeks. As always, MSU will continue accepting students until all slots are filled.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat about admissions with John Ambrose, MSU’s Interim  Executive Director of Admissions and Recruitment. We talked about what he looks for in an applicant, how to get into MSU, and the role of the college essay in the admissions process. He confirmed that as admissions becomes increasingly competitive  “the college essay is the one thing that can separate you from everyone else in the application pool.”

Here is some of Ambrose’s best advice for students who want to apply to MSU:

What’s your elevator pitch to prospective Spartans?
MSU is looking for people who care about making a difference in the world. The SPARTANS WILL speaks to the heart of who we are as SPARTANS and the attitude we have about developing world changers.

What is the secret to getting into MSU? 
Be your most authentic self! Students put a lot of effort into trying to convince admissions officers who they think we want to see. Authenticity is always appreciated.

Why do parent alumni believe MSU is becoming so competitive they would not be admitted today?
Each year the application pool changes from the size to the strength of the academic profile. MSU is no different we have watched our application counts grow along with the academic profile. A number of students in our entering class begin at MSU with college credits they earned while they were in high school and that’s one of the biggest changes from then to now.

What’s the typical GPA of an admitted MSU student?

Our freshman profile at the 50th percentile ranges from a 3.5 – 3.9 GPA, and 1130-1300 SAT Composite and a 23-29 ACT.

How important is AP and IB?

We encourage students to challenge themselves and take the highest level of preparatory coursework available. AP and IB students gain a wealth of academic texture and contextual rigor that provides them with a wonderful sense of preparedness prior to enrolling in college or university. I think it is very important to the academic experience that a high school student can choose from.

What are the four top factors you consider for admission to MSU? 
1. GPA
2. Test Score
3. Rigor
4. Grade trend

We also consider the personal statement, senior year schedule,  and extra-curricular activity as a part of our holistic review.

How can an application essay help an applicant? 

In the essay, take the opportunity to show us your authentic self and try really hard not repeat things that are already apart of your application. I wish students spent more time on their essay.

What do you look for in a college essay?
Genuineness of character, unique flair of personality, identifiable traits of a leader or follower, team player and someone who has the capacity to add to the rich diversity of our campus and our traditions as a SPARTAN Nation.

What advice would you give to a student whose grades and test scores are not a sure thing for MSU, but who really wants to attend MSU? 

If they want to be at MSU we want them to be here, too. Transferring into MSU is competitive but not at the same volume as entering with the freshman class. Students have a strong opportunity to transfer who have 28 earned college credits, completed college algebra and college writing, while maintaining a 3.0 or better cumulative grade point average.

How do you respond to a student who thinks the MSU campus is too big? 

You can always make big things smaller, and we have done that by offering living and learning programs that give the student a small college feel in a large university setting. Additionally, we have compartmentalized the campus into geographic pockets we call neighborhoods by decentralizing some key support services, so you don’t have to travel across campus to go to tutoring or the health clinic. Those services are available in each neighborhood. Come see us, and we will be happy to show you around the campus!

Our Gift to You: A Free Book for You and Every Parent in Your School

We’d like to give you a free electronic copy of our book: How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents.  After you click on the link, you’ll find out how to get free books for every parent in your school, too.

How do you approach the college essay? We’d love to hear how you talk to your students when they panic, and what your biggest college essay challenges are. Feel free to email me

About the Author

Kim Lifton, a 2018 Top Voice in Education, LinkedIn, is President of Wow. We are a team of professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills. We can even help you write a great poem or short story. If it involves words, we can help!

Recession Proof jobs your students might want to consider

With recession fears mounting, millions of Americans are beginning to wonder if their jobs could weather an economic downturn. PayScale, a provider of salary, benefits and compensation data, recently identified five jobs in five industries it thinks could withstand the inevitable job cuts that come with a recession:

1: Cloud computing: Median Pay $126K

Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power, without direct active management by the user. The term is generally used to describe data centers available to many users over the Internet. Companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and other tech giants will continue to grow in this space and need workers to fill jobs.

2: Artificial intelligence: Median Pay $83.7K

Artificial intelligence (AI) was once considered fodder for science fiction films, but in the present day, the industry is all too real. Payscale notes that there are only about 22,000 qualified AI specialists in the world — and that scarcity is what will insulate workers in the field.

Though often seen by many as most useful in a scientific setting, AI can help businesses find the best candidates for a job by combing through job applications. Now more companies are using biometric fingerprint technology for security and data validation purposes, and AI drives all of that.

3: Cybersecurity: Median Pay $76K

When there’s a ton of cyber data, there is a ton of cyber risk, according to Sudarshan Sampath, director of research at PayScale. The massive data breaches and hacks that have taken place at global companies such as Facebook (FB) and Equifax is proof that this profession is necessary, even during a recession.

4: Big data analytics: Median Pay $99.1K

Big data analytics is an extremely complex field that has a lot of different functions. A data scientist who understands big data analytics is an extremely valuable asset who can mold and shape terabytes of data for needs such as codifying and accessing data, he said.

See LINK for Counselors recent Careers to Consider story on Data Science here:

5: Digital marketing: Median Pay $66.2K

Digital marketing is the marketing of products or services using digital technologies, mainly on the Internet, but also including mobile phones, display advertising, and any other digital media.

Digital marketing is growing very quickly because of the way marketing has evolved. People in the field have to understand how technology works.

Recessions are scary to think about, especially when it comes to job security. However, PayScale says that focusing on skills and not job titles is the name of the game — and can be the difference between employment and unemployment during a recession.

Here is a link to the sourced article on Yahoo Finance:

Scholarship Opportunity for students

The One for Two Education Foundation is seeking highly motivated applicants of accredited U.S. four-year colleges and universities.  

For the 2019 academic year the Foundation made grants to a diverse group of ten scholars who attended both public and private high schools from seven states.  Grants of up to $25,000 per academic year were made to attend both public and private colleges and universities across the U.S. 

For the 2020 academic year the Foundation intends to award at least two and up to ten merit-based scholarships.  The size of the individual grants are determined on the basis of tuition remaining after considering all other forms of tuition assistance obtained by the scholar.

 Requirements to Apply:

– Two letters of recommendation
– An up to date official transcript from current school
– Signed One for Two Education Foundation Pledge form
– All required application questions must be answered and fields completed – Note: applicants will not be able to save their work
– Applicant must be legally living in the United States but is not required to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
– The college/university must be in the United States
– GPA must be at least 3.7 unweighted, 4.0 weighted

Application Deadline: After 500 complete applications are received or December 16, 2019, whichever occurs first.

The Foundation considers the applicant’s high school academic record, leadership and community service activities, and letters of recommendation plus applicants are assessed on their character as it relates to their intention to fulfill their Pledge to the Foundation. 

While receiving a scholarship from the Foundation, scholars are required to attend the Foundation’s annual Gathering. During this time, scholars will have a chance to meet other scholars and directors. They will also participate in personal development and learning sessions aimed at preparing them for academic, career, and life goals. The 2020 Gathering will be held on July 30 – August 3, 2020, in Michigan.  All reasonable costs to attend the Gathering are covered by the Foundation.

Applicants are required to make the following pledge: 

In consideration of the One for Two Education Foundation (“the Foundation”) paying for my tuition I pledge to support the mission of the Foundation to build a community of scholars who are dedicated to being life-long learners by: 

a) participating in the annual Foundation Gathering while receiving my scholarship,

b) supporting my fellow Foundation Scholars’ academic and career goals during my lifetime, and 

c) paying for the tuition for a comparable education of two persons, who are not related to me by blood, adoption, or marriage, during my lifetime 

Application link:  Apply Now – One for Two Education Foundation

Changes to the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings

Do you put much stock in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings? Colleges annually tout them when they are highly ranked. Others say they don’t mean much at all. If you do refer to them there are a few changes that were added to their just released 2020 rankings you should know about:

The primary changes include ranking schools based on their contributions to underrepresented students’ social mobility and rewarding institutions for graduating first-generation students. 

The “Top Performers on Social Mobility” lists evaluate schools based on how many low-income students they enroll and graduate. Three University of California System campuses — Riverside, Santa Cruz and Irvine — topped that list for national universities. 

This year they also debuted rankings of university programs, such as study abroad, co-ops/internships and first-year experiences. The changes come amid mounting criticism that such annual lists merely reward the most selective schools and further inequities in higher education (many of the same schools such as Princeton, Columbia and Harvard continue to be at the top of the list even after the changes).

A 2014 study found making it into the top 25 is associated with a 6% to 10% increase in applications, even if a college’s rank itself doesn’t predict how many prospective students apply. 

Here is a link to the 2020 U.S. News & World Report rankings –

6 pieces of wisdom every Counselor can use in their personal life from Warren Buffett

Marry the right person

Buffett made his fortune through smart investing, but if you ask him about the most important decision he ever made, it would have nothing to do with money. The biggest decision of your life, Buffett says, is who you choose to marry.

“You want to associate with people who are the kind of person you’d like to be. You’ll move in that direction,” he said during a 2017 conversation with Bill Gates. “And the most important person by far in that respect is your spouse. I can’t overemphasize how important that is.”

It’s advice he’s been giving for years. As he said at the 2009 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting: “Marry the right person. I’m serious about that. It will make more difference in your life. It will change your aspirations, all kinds of things.”

Invest in yourself

“By far the best investment you can make is in yourself,” Buffett told Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer earlier this year.

First, “learn to communicate better both in writing and in person.” Honing that skill can increase your value by at least 50%, he said in a Facebook video posted in 2018.

Next, take care of your body and mind — especially when you’re young. “If I gave you a car, and it’d be the only car you get the rest of your life, you would take care of it like you can’t believe. Any scratch, you’d fix that moment, you’d read the owner’s manual, you’d keep a garage and do all these things,” he said. “You get exactly one mind and one body in this world, and you can’t start taking care of it when you’re 50. By that time, you’ll rust it out if you haven’t done anything.”

Associate yourself with ‘high-grade people’

Who you associate with matters, Buffett told author Gillian Zoe Segal in an interview for her 2015 book, “Getting There: A Book of Mentors.” “One of the best things you can do in life is to surround yourself with people who are better than you are,” he said.

If you’re around what he calls “high-grade people,” you’ll start acting more like them. Conversely, “If you hang around with people who behave worse than you, pretty soon you’ll start being pulled in that direction. That’s just the way it seems to work.”

Work for people you respect

“Try to work for whomever you admire most,” Buffett told Segal. “It won’t necessarily be the job that you’ll have 10 years later, but you’ll have the opportunity to pick up so much as you go along.”

While salary is an important factor when thinking about your career, “You don’t want to take a job just for the money,” said Buffett.

He once accepted a job with his mentor and hero, Benjamin Graham, without even asking about the salary. “I found that out at the end of the month when I got my paycheck,” he said.

Ignore the noise

Investing can get emotional, and it doesn’t help that you can see how you’re doing throughout the day by checking a stock ticker or turning on the news.

But no one can be certain which way the financial markets are going to move. The best strategy, even when the market seems to be tanking, is to keep a level head and stay the course, Buffett says.

“I don’t pay any attention to what economists say, frankly,” he said in 2016. “If you look at the whole history of [economists], they don’t make a lot of money buying and selling stocks, but people who buy and sell stocks listen to them. I have a little trouble with that.”

Success isn’t measured by money

Buffett is consistently one of the richest people in the world, but he doesn’t use wealth as a measure of success. For him, it all boils down to if the people you’re closest to love you.

“Being given unconditional love is the greatest benefit you can ever get,” Buffett told MBA students in a 2008 talk.

“The incredible thing about love is that you can’t get rid of it. If you try to give it away, you end up with twice as much, but if you try to hold onto it, it disappears. It is an extraordinary situation, where the people who just absolutely push it out, get it back tenfold.”

Ten Things Your High School Juniors Should Do

Jeff Schiffman of Tulane University wrote a nice list of tips your High School Juniors should do now. Here are the 10 tips:

1) Your coursework and grades matter the most in this process. Stellar ACT and SAT scores can give you a big boost, but at the end of the day, the grades you earn in your high school classes are king. We look for a balance in your schoolwork: taking the most challenging courses that you can that still allow you to maintain a strong GPA. And yes, your freshman and sophomore year grades matter. Big time. Take challenging courses but don’t overdo it, leaving you with a sub-par GPA. Again, it is all about finding that balance. Easier said than done, I know. Some students can load up on all the hardest classes and get a 4.0, some (like me in high school) do well with a good mix of some challenging classes, and some students are on the other side of the spectrum. Wherever you land, there is mostly likely school out there for you. Granted, if you are on the high end of the spectrum with both grades and rigor, you’ll be most appealing to those super selective schools.

2) Consider taking both the ACT and the SAT. Tulane will look at both and has a conversion chart that shows us that XXXX on the SAT is worth roughly XX on the ACT. But, we only look at the higher of the two. Some students do better at one test over the other. Taking both may end up helping you out. We’re also fully self-reported these days, so you can send in all of your scores on our application portal for $0.

3) Build your relationship with your high school. First step, get to know your school counselor. Even if you are at a big public school, get to know them. They know what they are doing and can be your best advocate in this process. Next, really get to know your teachers. Invest your time in the classroom. Wow them. Make yourself missed when you leave. Become indispensable to your school.

4) Be open to a wide range of schools. Big, small, public, private, local, community, international, research universities and small liberal arts colleges. Explore them all, this is your time to do so. Keep an open mind! Just because you haven’t heard of it or if it’s not a “bumper sticker” college, don’t rule it out. Seriously. There are over 3,000 colleges and universities out there; take the time to give some of them a shot. Found a few that strike your fancy? Here are some great questions to ask your admission rep to get to know the school better.

5) Use your summers wisely. We think that the programs to foreign countries or exotic service trips are fine. But we also think working at Subway as a sandwich artist all summer is great. So is coaching a local youth sports team. Summers might mean taking a class at a community college. Don’t worry if you can’t take an amazing trip or do service work abroad. Trust me when I say some of the best summers are spent in some of the most humble ways. We love that. You might even consider some of Tulane’s summer options.

6) Read books. Read the news online. Watch documentaries. Read more books. Listen to podcasts. Know current events. Know what is going on in the world. Be a conversationalist. Whenever I interview people, one question I like to ask is “what’s the last good book you read?”

7) Participate in a few extra-curricular things you love. We don’t need the seven page resume laundry lists here at Tulane. We like those concise, one page resumes—the two or three most important things to you. Begin to identify your areas of impact and stick with them. You can read all my resume tips here. Wondering if something will look good on your application? I have the answer to that.

8) Stay out of trouble. I was in high school once, too. Be smart and make good decisions. I don’t know when I turned into my dad, but just please don’t make bad choices that will wreck your future. This mostly applies to how you act on Snapchat and other social media channels. Trust me, it matters. Just ask these people.

9) Start visiting colleges soon! Take spring break or a few days off to do so. Summer is fine, but not it’s not the best time to see a college when most of the student body is away from campus. Take a road trip to a school close by to you to get a feel for college campuses. Even better, come visit Tulane! Shoot us an email and we’ll enlighten you to all kinds of great hotels with Tulane discounts, great places to eat, great festivals to check out, and oh, yeah maybe take a tour of Tulane, too. You can read all my tips for a great campus visit here. Also, visit a college near your hometown, even if you don’t think you’ll apply there. Just start to get a feel for what college tours (and college in general) is like. I’ve got tips for visiting colleges here.

10) Meditate. Trust me on this one. It’s a superpower that will pay you back in dividends over the next two (somewhat stressful) years. I help you get started here.

How Paying for College is Changing Middle-Class Life

When getting a degree is seen as a moral obligation, families will spend whatever it takes.

Everyone knows that higher education is expensive. The average annual price tag for attending a private, four-year American college is now around $50,000. To pay that, most students receive some combination of financial aid and loans, but schools expect parents to reach into their bank accounts, too.

Paying for college, however, is taking a toll on American families in ways that are more profound and less appreciated than even the financial cost conveys. It has fundamentally changed the experience of being middle class in this country.

Although middle-class families have long labored to help their children get educated, only recently has the struggle to pay for it — which can threaten the solvency of the family and cast children in the role of risky “investments” — transformed the character of family life. It is altering relationships between parents and children and forcing them to adjust their responsibilities to each other.

As an anthropologist and professor at New York University, one of the world’s most expensive institutions of higher education, I’d long suspected that the cost of college — which has tripled at public colleges and universities in the past three decades — was affecting my students and their parents in more than just budgetary terms. But I wasn’t sure. Americans typically avoid discussions of personal finance, and parents frequently decline to discuss family finances with their children — until, too often, they have no choice.

So I embarked on a research project to better understand middle-class families who are taking on debt to pay for higher education. Over the past seven years, my research team and I conducted 160 in-depth interviews across the country, first with college students and then with their parents. I considered families to be middle class if the parents made too much money or had too much wealth for their children to qualify for major federal higher education grants, and if they earned too little or possessed insufficient wealth to pay full fare at most colleges.

As is customary with this kind of research, I offered the interviewees anonymity so that they would be more likely to participate and to be open and honest. Even still, gaining access was an arduous process.

Perhaps the central theme that emerged from this research was that for middle-class parents, the requirement to help pay for college is seen not merely as a budgetary challenge, but also as a moral obligation. The financial sacrifices required are both compelled and expected. They are what responsible parents should do for their children.

Indeed, shouldering the weight of paying for college is sometimes seen by parents as part of their children’s moral education. By draining their savings to pay for college, parents affirm their commitment to education as a value, proving — to themselves and to others — that higher education is integral to the kind of family they are.

The feeling of obligation is hardly illusory. Decades ago, when organized labor was strong and manufacturing jobs were plentiful, a four-year college degree was not needed to achieve or maintain a middle-class life. But now college is virtually essential, not only because the degree serves as a job credential, but also because the experience gives young adults the knowledge and social skills they need to participate in middle-class communities.

The result for middle-class families is a perpetual conflict between moral duty and financial reality. Again and again, the families I interviewed spoke of how hard it was to follow the steps that the federal government, financial industry players and financial experts advise, such as starting to save for college when the children are young. Indeed, I found that when experts instruct parents to economize, they force families into three common moral traps.

First, when their children are young, the parents face an impossible trade-off between spending on their present family needs and wants and saving for college. Few parents choose saving over spending on child development. Less than 5 percent of Americans have college savings accounts, and those who do are far wealthier than average.

For those with middle-class jobs, saving enough for college would mean compromising on the sort of activities — music education, travel, sports teams, tutoring — that enrich their children’s lives, keep them in step with their peers, deliver critical lessons in self-discipline and teach social skills. The paradox is that enrolling children in the programs that prepare them for college and middle-class life means draining the bank accounts that would otherwise fund higher education.

The second moral trap occurs when children begin applying for college. As nearly every family told me, the parents and the children place enormous value on finding the “right” college. This is far more than finding an affordable place to study; it is about finding the environment that best promises to help build a social network, generate life and career opportunities and allow young adults to discover who they are. With so much at stake, parents and children prioritize the “right” school — and then find ways to meet the cost, no matter what it takes.

An inescapable conclusion from my research is that the high cost of college is forcing middle-class familiesto engage in what I call “social speculation.” This is the third moral trap: Parents must wager money today that their children’s education will secure them a place in the middle class tomorrow.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this bet will pay off — for the parents or the children. And too often, I found, it doesn’t. Some parents’ saving plans were waylaid by crises — health emergencies, job losses, family breakups — that were common enough but impossible to foresee. Likewise, many children failed to land well-paying jobs out of college, forcing them to bear the weight of paying off debt during the most vulnerable decade of their adult lives.

Paying the high cost of college also means jeopardizing the long-term financial security of the parents. The more parents spend on their children’s education, the less they have in their retirement accounts. Here we find another paradox: Parents make huge investments in education so that their children can maintain or achieve middle-class status, but in the process, they increase the risk of falling out of the middle class themselves.

One popular tip financial advisers give parents is to spend on college the way they’re supposed to act in an airplane that loses cabin pressure: first secure their own oxygen masks (by saving for retirement) and only then assist their children (by spending for college). In reality, though, parents act just as they would on the airplane. They take care of their children first.

It’s no wonder, then, that family finances are so shaky throughout the country. The median American household has only about $12,000 in savings.

It’s also no wonder that as so many of my interviews ended, parents joked about their financial predicament by saying they might win the lottery. They have come to see outlandish luck as their best chance of dealing with their predicament. And in the absence of real changes to the current system of paying for college, what other hope do they have?

Such speculative, wishful thinkingmay seem irrational. But until we reform how a college education is financed, that is how countless middle-class families are holding on to the American dream.

Caitlin Zaloom (@caitlinzaloom) is an associate professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University and the author of the forthcoming book “Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost,” from which this essay is adapted. This blog was published by the New York Times.

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