Ask an Admissions Expert: Dr. Carol Langlois

My latest interview on college admissions for Varsity Tutors.

VT: How far ahead of time should a student begin working on his or her college application?

Carol: Families are starting the college search process earlier and earlier. I recommend that as a family you “start” the college conversation during the end of the sophomore year to gear up your teen for the junior year search. I use January of the junior year as the starting  point. I find that telling families “slow and steady wins the race” helps them think through this process. We basically have one year to help you and your teen put his or her best foot forward, the finish line being December or January of their senior year.

VT: What are the best ways to go about selecting a terrific essay topic?

Carol: Look at a bunch of college essays from the year before to familiarize yourself with what the schools will be looking for. That way you won’t be surprised when you actually start your applications. As a rule of thumb, I recommend to students that they think about their best English paper. Pull it out, read again and remember why it was your best paper. Then, keep that in mind when writing the essays for the colleges you have selected. A lot of times, I find students becoming very conservative with their essays. Writing about what they “think” colleges want to see. I start with students by having them brainstorm; having them think outside the box when it comes to some of these questions, then create an outline, which will build into an essay. Don’t think a perfect finished product will happen in one session. You need to go back to these essays and reread, and rediscover. I guarantee the way your essay looks at the beginning of this process is not the way it will look in the end.

For more from this interview, go to: 

http://www.varsitytutors.com/blog/ask+an+admissions+expert+dr+carol+langlois?locale=san_francisco&state=ca

Helping Your Teen Survive Freshman Year of College

My parents taught me many skills in life to prepare me and keep me on the right path.  As the youngest of seven, I had the advantage of observing trial an error by my older siblings.  By the time I came around, my parents had fine tuned their parenting skills.  Among the most important skills I learned from them were responsibility, hard work and dedication/discipline.  My parents did not believe in handing out money simply on demand. I had an allowance that I earned, was always told ways in which I could earn extra money around the house and I had my first job at thirteen. As a family, we had weekly responsibilities within the house that were to be completed on time or evening/weekend activities were forfeited. There was no whining or questioning, we knew the rules and simply obeyed or disobeyed and paid the consequences that were enforced on a consistent basis.

More importantly, from that responsibility, hard work and dedication came a sense of “independence” which I feel was the glue that truly helped me (and my siblings) succeed in college.  I could balance my check book, change a flat tire, get the most bang for my buck at the grocery store, think quickly on my feet and maintained an emergency fund all before freshman year of college. All thanks to my parents. That way the only unknown factor that I really needed to adjust to was the level of work expected of a new college student.  I watched many students and friends crumble around me because they couldn’t manage their time, money, relationships, and the daily pressures of day-to-day college living.  I truly think teaching children to be independent by way of responsibility, hard work and dedication/discipline is part of that check-list of life skills necessary for a successful transition to college.

The Duck Syndrome (Anxiety and Perfectionism Among Young Women)

Recently, I learned about the duck syndrome from a friend of mine at Stanford University. The duck syndrome is apparently running rampant at many colleges (and from my research) at many high schools as well. What is the duck syndrome? Well, think of the duck gliding along the water. She looks very serene, calm and pleasant. Then, look under the water and s/he is paddling frantically. That is the duck syndrome. Too many students on the outside are appearing calm, cool and collected while on the inside they are completely stressed out.  As women, we want to see ourselves being able to have it all.  To be the great student, great athlete, and well-liked by her peers, which typically means being social. But what price do we pay?  Proving we can do it all has transformed into an ugly state of unattainable expectations and extremes, which are unhealthy for any girl at any age. This is a recipe for disaster that really goes against what feminism truly stands for.

I believe high school is where this syndrome starts to formulate. Many of the girls that suffer from the duck syndrome in college were probably “big fish in small pond” at their high school. Most teens want to be popular, and to be popular these days means that you can do it all. I see high school students staying up ridiculously late doing homework, always wanting the A, playing on one if not two sports teams, and also expecting to go out every weekend. All this can lead to anxiety, depression, and unhealthy habits. When they get to college, which could have 12 to 20,000 students, being big fish is not so easy anymore so the stakes get higher.  During college, the classes (typically) are more difficult with more homework, papers and tests. If they see their peers staying out late and still getting good grades, they feel the peer pressure to attain the same and compete among the top percent,  to be popular, to be perfect. This means more competition and pressure for top grades with less sleep.  We need to teach our teens that setting limits for themselves never means failure, but in fact it means a healthy and happy life with realistic and attainable goals. Paddling frantically is literally for the birds.