A Little Advice for First Generation Students Applying to College

Freshman year of college can be daunting to anyone, but the prospect of leaving home and living with several thousand strangers can be even more nerve-racking if you come from a background where few people in your family or neighborhood have experienced college. You might feel as if you’re alone, but many of your classmates will be going through the same exact thing. Here are a few tips that can help you make a smooth transition:

Find a regular schedule:

College means freedom, but that feeling of liberation can quickly turn to stress as you are inundated by a seemingly limitless number of classes and clubs. Finding a routine and sticking to it can help you stay focused and feel comfortable in your new surroundings.

Reach out for help:

When I asked my friends and former clients what they wish they’d known as freshmen, one of the most common answers was that professors are willing to help if you reach out to them or go to their office hours. Furthermore, most schools have offices or administrators dedicated to assisting students in the transition to college, be it helping to fill out a financial aid form or even getting money to buy textbooks or a winter coat.

Find your niche:

International and first-generation students are just a few of the groups that often have student organizations dedicated to helping their peers acclimate to college. Many colleges have a pre-college orientation week, and all colleges have student clubs that offer immediate opportunities to meet new friends. These clubs include some that focus on specific backgrounds, or on interests and activities.

Photo:  "Cornell University, Olin Library Conservation Lab," courtesy Preservation Services, U.V, October 13, 2006

How is college Selection and admissions unique for gifted students?

College Selection and Admissions for Gifted Students.

Kate will speak about the special issues facing gifted students and their families during the college search and application process. She has worked with IEA supporting gifted students since 2009 and has a wealth of knowledge about their unique challenges and their wonderful potential. Kate has a BA from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She earned College Counseling Certification from the University of California, Los Angeles. Kate is a member of the National Association of College Admission Counselors, the Western Association of College Admission Counselors, and the California Association for the Gifted. 

Institute for Educational Advancement Gifted Child Parent Support Group Meeting

Wednesday, March 30, 6:30-8:00 at 569 South Marengo Avenue, Pasadena (at the corner of Marengo and California Boulevard)

This is a free event. Please invite other parents you think would be interested.

In order to provide an open forum for the speaker's discussion and attendee questions, all of IEA's Parent Support Group Meetings are intended for adults only. Thank you for understanding.



Photo: "Butler Library, Columbia University," courtesy In Sappho We Trust, October 30, 2011, FlickrCC




What to Do While You Wait for College Admission Decisions

Between November 30, when the University of California applications are due, and February 15, when the very last of the selective colleges' applications are due, students think they have only one job: wait. For some students and their families, this waiting time can be pure agony. Here are some suggestions for managing this last month.

1.  Keep tabs on your application, even if you have confirmation that it is complete. Sometimes there are questions, perhaps related to a school-awarded scholarship. This year the ACT and College Board have experienced several frustrating scoring and reporting problems.  Interviews might contact you. Check your e-mail or the school portal every single day.

2.  Keep tabs on your financial aid applications. The FAFSA and CSS Profile must be complete and submitted on time. Although colleges often say that they are need-blind or meet a student's full need, the truth is that they all have a financial aid budget. By not having your forms in place on time, you are making it easy for a financial aid officer to give what could have been your scholarship to someone else.

3.  Interviews are still being conducted. Respond immediately to any e-mail regarding an interview. Alumni interviewers are setting time aside to meet you, and they don't take kindly to students who don't reply promptly. Even if you aren't available in the next week or two, tell them that. A shocking number of students take a careless attitude here. I've seen alumni interview reports that begin, "It took me five attempts to set up a meeting with Rachel...." After all of the work you have done, do you want to undermine your application by insulting the interviewer? And always, always, always, write a thank you note to the interviewer within 24 hours.

4.  Contact the school if you have additional information. Additional information is worthwhile if it is significant: you won a major award, had an article published, received recognition for something important.  To communicate with the school, ask your school-based counselor for the name and e-mail address of the admissions officer who is responsible for your school, and write a brief note. You may need to explain the award, and for that I encourage students to include links to websites with relevant information. Caution: This does not mean write them a letter to let them know that you got a good grade in your English class. E-mails like that appear as if you are trying to submit one more essay.

5.  Write thank you notes to everyone who supported your application. This includes teachers who wrote recommendations for you and helped you edit your essays; counselors who wrote counselor letters; administrative personnel in the counseling office who gather and submit information such as transcripts; outside recommenders who took extra time to write on your behalf; your interviewers. They have worked hard on your behalf, and you should acknowledge that. And, if they are for some reason questioned by the college, wouldn't you like them to mention that you behave in mature and thoughtful ways?

6.  Keep your grades up! It is very tempting to tell yourself, "My transcript is in so I am done." Not quite so fast. You might clear a wait list in the summer. Teachers might be questioned about your ongoing performance, especially if you have had irregular performance in the past. Working hard in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes can lead to higher test scores which can lead to college credit which can lead to lots of good things. Don't waste those opportunities. 

7.  Make a decision and stick to it: do I tell other people about my applications, or do I keep it to myself? In general, I prefer for students to keep everything private. Nosy friends, family members, teachers, even neighbors are sometimes very curious, and just can't stop asking. Actually, I've found that the parents of other students are the worst offenders. A simple decline to share, "I've chosen to keep this private, but I'll let you know my final decision," should be enough, although you may have to repeat this several times.

8.  Don't focus on only one school. Turning, "Will I get into Harvard? Will I get into Harvard?" over and over in your mind is neither healthy nor helpful. Imagine yourself at all of your schools, with a little extra time on your safety schools. 

9.  Regret nothing you did during the application process, even if you did some really dumb things. Instead, focus on what you did accomplish. Your work may not have been your best work, but it was yours. Own it.

10.  Once your applications are complete, you will have more time to spend with your friends. Years later, you won't remember the application process as much as you will remember your classmates. Use these last months together to build more memories with your friends.


Photo:  "Western Washington University Fountain in Red Square," courtesy Michael Kuroda, April 17, 2005, FlickrCC




I will lead an Institute for Educational Advancement Parent Support Group Meeting



on Wednesday, March 30, at 6:30. 

The Institute is located at 569 South Marengo Avenue, Pasadena, CA, at the corner of East California Boulevard and South Marengo Avenue. 

Please RSVP to IEA so appropriate refreshments and handouts are on-hand. Phone: (626) 403-8900 or IEAgifted@educationaladvancement.org.

You can view material from 2015's Parent Support Group Meeting on IEA's blog.

IEA serves gifted students across the country from pre-school through high school, with the goal of ensuring that each gifted child’s specific needs are met so that they can reach their full intellectual and personal potential. I have consulted with their students and their parents during the college application process since 2009.

IEA’s staff, pictured above, is made up of dedicated individuals who are passionate about gifted youth and interested in devoting their time and energy to the personal development of every child who walks through their doors. IEA trains all staff members on the needs of highly able children and the best practices in the field of gifted education.


Should wealthy families apply for financial aid from Colleges? Yes.

Should wealthy families apply for financial aid from Colleges? Yes.

January is the month to submit financial aid forms, both the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA) and the CSS Profile. Parents who think they will not qualify, sometimes ask, “Should we apply?” The answer is yes.


Photo:  University of San Diego, "USD Institute for Peace and Justice, Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice," courtesy john farrell macdonald, April 5, 2014, FlickrCC