Traditions

It’s getting close to that time of year when students are focusing on the next break in the academic calendar. Only just around the corner, Thanksgiving is dangling in front of us like a carrot. It’s not just the students who see the break ahead, but faculty and staff too. We all know that we have a few days of R&R, and for some, this may include much-anticipated family traditions.

Traditions don’t just apply to family. Traditions can be a part of any group or organization. My family has a few traditions, and I’ve started a few with my kids over the years. I have a wonderfully crazy group of friends that began with friendships in kindergarten. When we are together, we can tell you stories of our traditions and how they began. Even on college campuses across America, you will find traditions that are unique to the institution. On my campus, we have an annual Banana Day. Yep, Banana Day.

What is it that we like about traditions? I think it’s that feeling of knowing what to expect and look forward to. Traditions become part of the culture. On a college campus, annual traditions create a sense of connectivity between students, alumni, faculty and staff. Regardless of how silly or serious, traditions can make us feel proud to be a part of a group.

Thanksgiving in and of itself is an American tradition. As a non-religious holiday, it is a tradition that all Americans can celebrate. Did you know that many colleges and universities have specific traditions that relate directly to Thanksgiving? Here are just a few:

Ohio State University holds a Thanksgiving dinner every year. It started with less than 40 students who were not going home for the holidays. Now, Ohio State University holds a Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds of students who remain on campus during the break. They even keep the residence halls open too.

Lehigh University hosts a Turkey Trot for the campus before the holiday. The run is a good way to burn some calories before the big meal, and it’s tons of fun too.

Many international students are not going home over the break. Often you will hear of generous faculty and staff that open their homes to these students. In fact, I know of several faculty that do this every year, and they love it. The Thanksgiving Match-Up at Smith College has taken this general idea and formalized it. Can you imagine the interesting and educational conversations around the table? In fact, if international students make a connection with the host faculty member, it often leads to a lifetime friendship.

Lebanon Valley College has a 50+ year tradition of the football team leading the college community to the college president’s lawn, requesting the day before Thanksgiving off. The March to Kreiderheim (the name of the president’s house) began when LVC won a football game against a rival school and petitioned for the day off. What once began as a march of football players now involves hundreds of members of the college community. I’ll bet it’s not too often that their president says no.

Does your college have a Thanksgiving tradition? If so, I would love to hear about it.

Financial Aid and Some Upcoming Changes

Attending college today is an enormous expense that many families plan for well in advance. Even with the best savings plan in place, you still may fall short of the required amount. Federal Student Aid can help students with the cost of higher education.
I am not an expert in the field of financial aid, yet I recognize that funding an education can be a source of much anxiety and confusion. I will do my best to impart some basic knowledge concerning the Federal Student Aid programs that are available. Hopefully, this will be a quick overview to eliminate some of that anxiety and confusion.
The information below was gathered from the Federal Student Aid website. I highly encourage you to spend some time looking at the site if you have financial aid questions.
The office of Federal Student Aid offers more than $150 billion annually for colleges and career schools in the form of grants, loans, and work-study funding. That’s a lot of money that is available to students across the country seeking a higher education! This money can be used for tuition, room and board, and books. To be awarded any money, you must begin by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as the FAFSA.

 

When applying, keep in mind there are FAFSA deadlines. There are federal and state deadlines, as well as deadlines imposed by your colleges. Remember, the financial aid process is separate from the school application process. If you would like to receive federal aid, you will have to fill out both the school application and the FAFSA. If you are eligible for financial aid, you will receive an award letter (from the accepting college) explaining federal and non-federal options that the school is offering.

 

There are three types of financial aid: grants, student loans, and work-study. Below is a brief overview:

I.   Grants – Money awarded to students that does not need to be repaid.

II.   Loans – Money that is being borrowed for school and does need to be repaid.

A. Federal Loan

  • Offered at low fixed interest rates
  • Repayment plans may be deferred or adjusted based on income.
  • Loans may be consolidated to only monthly bill
  • Student loan interest may be deducted on taxes
  • Some federal loans may even be forgiven based on your career or employment.

B. Non-Federal Loan

  • Money borrowed from a lender such as a bank, credit union, state agency or school.
  • This money must be paid back, often at various interest rates.

*If you plan on borrowing money for education, the federal loan should be used first.

III.   Student Work-Study – Part-time, on-campus employment earning at least minimum wage.

I find knowing the three types of financial aid is a good basis for understanding. You can read more in-depth information from the Federal Student Aid webpage. For more detailed information on Private and federal loans, I recommend the chart provided on their webpage. Also, each university and college has financial aid officers and should have information on their university webpage. Both are a resource for you.

New changes: For the 2017-2018 academic year, the FAFSA will become available October 1, 2016 – rather than in January 1, 2017. Families will have more time to prepare their financial information. In addition, parents will be asked to report income from two years prior. For example, students using the FAFSA for the academic year of 2017-2018 will need to retrieve tax information from 2015, and can file as early as October 1, 2016. This change will help better align FAFSA with many admissions application deadlines.
For more information on FAFSA, please visit the Federal Student Aid website.

PSATs and SATs – Some General Information

Fall is the time of year that many juniors will take the PSAT and seniors may attempt the SAT again for a higher score.

This year, some changes are occurring for BOTH tests. Coming up on October 14th and October 28th, students will be taking the redesigned PSAT/NMSQT for the first time. It’s the best way to practice for the SAT. It is also an opportunity to connect with scholarship opportunities. The newly designed SAT will be launched on March 5th. If you are taking the SAT this fall, it will with the current test.

Let me make that more clear:

  • Seniors: Taking the SAT before March 2016 will take the current SAT.
  • Juniors and sophomores: Taking the SAT in March 2016 or later will take the new SAT.

I highly recommend visiting the College Board website for more information regarding these changes. Their website has tons of information regarding both tests, upcoming changes, registration deadlines, practice tests, a college search engine, and much more.

Practice makes perfect, right? The College Board website also offers free practice for the PSAT and SAT tests. Anyone can take advantage of these practice tests if they have a pencil, printer, calculator, and a timer. After completing the test, you can score it on your own to find out how you did. Also, explanations for answers are provided so that you can learn from your mistakes.

Lastly, did you know that there is an app for the SAT? You can now download the SAT Question of the Day to your smartphone for free daily practice. How cool is that? Ok, maybe not as fun as Snapchat, but certainly a good way to prepare a little at a time.

Do you need to score better than the student taking the test next to you? My answer is no. You just need to do the best that you can possibly do. Practice, practice, practice is the best way to prepare for your best score possible. Your highest scores on the SATs in combination with a strong high school GPA, is the best avenue to college acceptance.

“Good Luck!”

 

College Board. https://www.collegeboard.org/, (10/4/15).

Throwing Your Education over the Fence

Warning: this post may not be suitable for parents. This post may cause slight anxiety.

Once there was a girl eager to experience her first college party as a freshman. She and her six new friends from the residence halls headed off campus to a popular house for parties. The Football House. Not long after the party was going, and several Solo cups gone, the cops arrived. The girl was pushed out the back door into a small fenced-in backyard. Fellow students were beginning to panic. Getting out of the yard toward the front was not an option. Cops! The gate to the back alley was locked or simply not opening for the drunken operators. Before she knew it, the girl was hoisted over the 6-foot fence by a large anonymous boy and caught on the other side by a student of equal strength and size (presumably football players).

Many of you might be heading into your first weekend as a college student this weekend. You too might be excited and eager to experience your first taste of independence. There might be many options for parties and drinking. You and your newest friends might decide to head out and see what college fun is about. If you are a freshman female, it is even more likely that you will be welcomed into any party you decide to attend at the fraternities, and the drinks will be free.

Let me ask you to think about a few things before you go. (Notice, I am not telling you to stay home – as I know that might not be realistic.)

  1. Think about who you are going out with. How long have you known them? Would they have your back – if needed? Would they make sure you are not left alone? Would they care if you had too much to drink? Do YOU care if these “new friends” have too much to drink? How do you feel about holding back someone’s hair while they puke?
  2. Think about how you want to get home. Hopefully, how you get home is ONLY on foot!! Not in a car or worse, an ambulance. Is it ok to come back with less than the number of friends you went out with?
  3. When do you want to be home? I’m not asking you to think about whether after midnight is too late. I am asking you to reflect on whether you wish to return to your room the next morning? Are you comfortable walking across campus in your clothes from the night before? This is commonly referred to as “the walk of shame”. You might want to tell yourself you will wake up in your bed – and without a guest appearance from someone you’ve just met. How would you feel if your roommate had a guest?

My point is, use the common sense your parents have instilled. Yes, we all make mistakes – sometimes even without alcohol being involved. Alcohol and good decision-making usually don’t mix. Unfortunately, if you make a wrong decision at your age, it can have ramifications that could change your educational and career path before it even begins. Education and Criminal Justice majors are often thought of as the first majors/careers that would be ruined with an underage drinking charge, but there are others.

Are you curious about the girl from above? Her major could have been tossed over the fence as quickly as she was (or out the door, out the window, into the trash – you can apply whatever imagery you prefer). Instead, she and a few other fellow partiers (who made it over the fence) ran and laughed up the alley and eventually found their way to safety….or another party. The students that didn’t get out of the house had charges brought up against them. She was lucky. They were not. Why take the chance?

 

What’s So Wonderful?

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” ding dong, ding dong. You know the song. Perhaps for you, it still conjures up images of holiday decorations and good cheer. Not for me. Not since 1996, when Staples came out with that clever commercial of the mom gliding through the aisle, joyously tossing post-its and pencils into her cart, and two children slugging along behind her. For me I must agree, it IS the most wonderful time of the year.
Yes, I am a mom who is happy to send her kids back to school. That part rings true, but there are other reasons I find it to be the most wonderful time of the year. It means the big kids are coming back to campus after a quiet summer. It means the new freshman will arrive with their spirit and hope. The energy of September is palpable as you walk around campus. It is a time to start again. Much like the New Year, I find myself making lists of new goals to achieve.
However, as a parent of a new college student that commercial that may have been silly and humorous doesn’t seem so anymore. As parents we worry. It’s part of our DNA. We have concerns about whether our children will succeed. If they are going away for school, we may worry about their new found independence. These are valid concerns. As a parent of a new student, you may find yourself asking what should I expect or what is my role?
First, it is okay to miss your child. You probably will. Those feelings didn’t get dubbed with “the empty nest syndrome” for nothing. You may feel emotions of sadness to grouchy bad moods. Try to come up with a method for staying in touch. Make it something that you and your child can agree on. A phone call or text a day? Maybe once every two or three days. Technology can help you. Gone are the days of your child standing in line for the pay phone at the end of the hall. Maybe plan to Face Time or Skype once in a while or even plan a monthly campus visit. However, caution is advised, this is a time for your student to spread their wings. Try not to text and call too often. Let them reach out to you. They will, and they will come to enjoy that time as much as you.
My biggest caution is against the temptation to be overly involved. Remember the term “helicopter” parenting? Unfortunately, it still holds true for today’s college student. Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing a parent in the office. College is a time for the student to handle their problems on their own. Offering advice and suggestions are helpful, but they should manage with your support from the sidelines. They will leave school with a greater sense of self and independence if you do. (In another blog we can discuss FERPA).
Help your child know who they can go to as a college resource. Anyone from their Resident Advisor (RA) to their Academic Advisor can help. Each university and college around the nation has student support services available just to help your child navigate the college waters. The sooner your child knows where they can get answers, assistance and support for issues and concerns, the better.
Remember that feeling of palpable energy I spoke of? Well, it doesn’t last forever. Even after the first week of school (often orientation week), there can be a let-down. Freshmen may question their decision. School work begins to set in, and so does the reality of the work involved. Often the first six weeks of the semester can be a difficult transition for the new student. It’s not just you who will be making some adjustments. The first series of posted grades can be a huge disappointment. Helping your student problem solve can be a great assistance.

In a future posts, I will also talk about setting expectations with your college student. But for now, even if you are not feeling that sense of joyous exuberance as your child packs up, keep in mind that this is just a new phase. You may never throw socks into a suitcase with the joy of the mom and her post-its on TV, and that’s ok. However, packing for college will be the new norm for the next few years. Just like that first day of kindergarten when they got on the bus. It may take some getting used to, but that’s ok too.
(Oh, and for goodness sakes after the first move-in day, let them pack themselves!)

Dorm