Special Edition Fall Semester - Class of 2021

Dear Class of 2021 families,


As we finish our seventh month of staying at home, I hope all of you are in good health and your kids are adjusting to school as best they can. Our seniors have a lot on their plate and I'm constantly amazed at their perseverance!


While the majority of students are coping well and moving forward steadily towards their college application deadlines, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I'm definitely seeing more procrastination this year along with an increase in lethargy and a general sense of sadness.


Applying to college is exciting but can be overwhelming, even under the best of circumstances. Factor in a pandemic that keeps you away from friends and family, plus smoky skies, and the best of us might find it hard to get up in the morning, let alone get any work done.


Many of you know that I also have a senior so I share many of the same parental concerns as you do. I also personally know and therefore am emotionally attached to many more seniors this year than in recent years since I’ve known so many of these kids since kindergarten. Over casual conversations with them I've come to find out that seniors who have always been confident in themselves and aggressive in their goals are now second guessing themselves. Students who have amazing transcripts and GPAs are feeling inadequate and wondering where they will land come April. Seniors who have worked tirelessly towards their future are now wondering if they have enough extracurricular activities.


A lot of this has to do with the roller coaster ride which has been our life for the last seven months. Spring semester was a hot mess and now as students are starting to fill out their applications they are just beginning to understand the consequence of pass/fail or credit/ no credit. The students who are affected the most are not the strongest ones (their transcripts are too strong for a single semester to hurt them), no, they are the ones who were working hard since Christmas and were turning those Bs and Cs into stronger grades. So, yes, parents, I hear you and understand your frustration that their GPA got a hit but these kids need to be told (over and over again) it wasn't in their control. In fact, talk to your counselors and learn how to explain your potential uptick in your GPA. There's always a place to explain your grades further. To these students I want to clarify - you'll be OK, you will not be penalized if your district didn't give you letter grades. Colleges have said the majority of public high schools didn't give out letter grades this past spring and that they understand. If I could shout this from the mountain tops, I would.


Their frustration doesn't end there, standardized testing is like a nightmare you just can't wake up from. Every student is different and every situation is different. The bottom line is if your student is tired of registering every month, prepping every time and then getting kicked out the morning of the test, it's time to put it to rest. Test optional means test optional. Universities know that between the pandemic and the fires our kids just don't have a fighting chance. On the flip side if your student takes it all in stride and wants to keep registering then more power to them! We just really need to sit down with our kids and understand the emotions they're going through. Let's make sure they're not breaking down silently when we're not watching.


College applications consist of several parts - essays, extracurricular activities, GPA, test scores, and the high school transcript. The best applications are the ones where the students are strong across all of these sections. The University of California has a 14 point comprehensive review system that they use to create their freshmen class. This should put applicants at ease, knowing that if you fall short in one section, you still have so many other qualities where you will shine.


As students start listing their extracurricular activities, some of them feel that they're coming up short because this past summer was a no go. They feel that everyone else has ten activities to list and feel inferior if they only have seven. Tell your students it's not the quantity but the quality of their work that matters. Please have your students talk to their counselors, teachers, or anyone else who might be able to give them a boost.


And last but definitely not the least are the college essays. Students are just having a tough time putting pen to paper and it might be because many of them are finding it hard to concentrate. It’s hard to get excited about a campus when you haven’t visited it. It feels hopeless to apply to colleges when your older friends and siblings are enrolled but still sitting at home, in their bedrooms doing Zoom calls. Today is a good time to sit down and see where your student is at, whether they're stuck on a few prompts or whether they haven't even started. This month is going to fly by in a second and procrastination will just turn into stress three weeks down the road. I have a hard stop on essays with my students exactly two weeks before their deadlines. I advise all students to do that. Submitting applications an hour before the deadline is not exciting and can be downright destructive should the internet give out.


So please take some extra time to go beyond the regular discussions about college applications and check in with your seniors early and often to see if they need help with their essay topics or if they need you to proofread their applications. Talk about their college list and make sure it has the right balance of target schools against their dream schools. Spend time together reminiscing about summer activities in order to jog their memories. Students sometimes say they have nothing to write about (or nothing to list in their extracurricular section) but that's only because they don't recall certain events.


Sometimes the strongest of us tend to keep going without asking for help, it's human nature and I've seen quite a few of these seniors, who are in the top 10% of their schools, quietly deal with the stress instead of bringing their families and teachers into the conversation. Sometimes, they might not think they need help, but many times they just don't know how to ask.