Peg CreonteIn this month’s newsletter, we are happy to feature an interview with P&A parent, Peg Creonte, whose sons applied to college last fall. She was engaged and supportive throughout the process and gained valuable insight during her family’s 1st experience with the college application process. We are thankful to Peg for taking the time to share her recommendations and lessons learned with our readers.

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where do you and your family reside?  Are your children enrolled in public or private high schools?

Our family resides in Wellesley, MA. We have three children: a son graduating in May 2015 from a private boarding school, a son graduating in June 2015 from Wellesley High School, and a daughter in her freshman year at Wellesley High. Both my husband and I work full-time outside the home.

Please reflect on the college search and application process experience for your children. When did you begin the process as a family? Is there anything you would do differently as a parent if you could? What aspects of the process felt most successful? Were there any surprises or lessons learned?

We started our process about three years ago in a casual sense- when we took family vacations, we would take a walk or drive through local colleges just to give the kids a sense of what different colleges looked and felt like – big urban schools, large public universities, small rural schools. Spring of junior year, we took several more traditional ‘college trips’ – specific visits to schools with tours and information sessions. The boys narrowed their lists and started writing essays during the summer between their Junior and Senior years.

By working with a professional, we were able to have a good overall work plan for getting things done without a mad rush at the end. Both boys ended up applying to close to 10 schools, and most of those schools required supplemental essays. That’s a lot of writing on top of a heavy academic load in fall of senior year. Most kids are natural procrastinators, so the more they can get done in the summer before sports and school kicks in, the better.

Developing a balanced college list can be really hard, especially if your child has his/her heart set on a specific school or set of schools. One of my sons had backup schools that he genuinely would have been happy to attend – when those early acceptances came in, he was thrilled! My other son had some schools on his list that he ended up applying to that he might not have been happy to attend – he hadn’t visited them, and they were pretty different from his reach and target schools. Luckily he got into one of his top choices. We definitely won’t make that mistake next time around.

What advice would you give to 9th and 10th-grade parents to help them best prepare for the college search and application process beginning in 11th grade?

During the 9th and 10th grades, my kids didn’t think much about college, and that was fine. They focused on taking higher-level classes in the subjects they were good at, participating in the activities and sports they loved, and just generally being normal high school kids. When I tried to motivate by mentioning college, it just seemed too far off for them. It’s hard for most kids to directly correlate their current lives to what their choices might be at some point in the distant (to them) future.

So I would just say that as a parent, it’s our job to set a good framework for our kids in high school – making sure that they are taking the right level classes to be successful and challenged, supporting their involvement in activities they love, and generally being the ones who see the ‘big picture’ with college really not so far away. Kids can’t think about college when they have a geometry test tomorrow and a dance on Friday.

How can parents be most helpful to their children during the college search and application process in the junior and senior years? What can parents do to encourage their children to take ownership of the process? Are there any common mistakes that parents should avoid?

For many families, including ours, those last two years of high school are the last years they will have with their child truly living at home. Knowing that the college search and application process would likely be stressful, we didn’t want it to take over the family dynamic for those last years. Having the boys responsible to deadlines set by Mindy – NOT Mom and Dad – took (most of) the nagging and pestering out of our daily family conversations. If they got off track – which they sometimes did – we heard from Mindy and could help to get things back on schedule.

I don’t know that it is a mistake – but a common issue that kids have senior year is the crunch of those critical grades from the first half of senior year, activities, interviews and school visits, and writing essays. It’s enough to stress out the most organized and efficient kid. So this is a little broken record…but the more you get completed in the summer, the less you have to do in November and December.

Applying to college can be a stressful experience for both students and parents. What recommendations do you have for parents to manage and reduce the stress for themselves and their children?

Have fun on the college visit trips. How often do you get hours of uninterrupted travel time with your teenager? Our road trips were a highlight of the college process.

Read a book about how you don’t need to go to Harvard to have a happy and successful life. There are a bunch out there with different names and themes, but the message is pretty similar. It’s a refreshing perspective and a good reminder that there are hundreds of schools out there, and your child will find one!

Why did you choose to hire an independent college counselor? What P&A services did you purchase? How has Popp & Associates helped you and your family?

During the junior and senior years of high school, there is a whole lot going on for both students and families – looking ahead, it just seemed to make sense to get professional help to make sure we kept the college search and application process on track.  It also helped tremendously to have an independent third party guiding the boys and providing feedback; it took most of the stress out of the process. We purchased packages; in the end, the boys needed some additional help with their final application submissions/essays, but it was easy to just add hours as needed.  Having those appointments on the calendar kept deadlines ahead of the boys and ultimately kept them on track to complete their applications without a mad rush at the end.  The boys really felt like they had full ownership of their applications and their final college list, and that helped keep a peaceful house during the senior fall!

To read our May newsletter and discover creative graduation gift ideas and more, please click here.

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