Applying Season

This weekend Maddy sent her first of what feels like will be 3469 university applications (but is really more like 8-12, which is typical for her friends in the states). She chose one school to submit her application for their early consideration and the rest will be regular decision, due in December/January. 'Tis the season! 

I have to admit that this is a totally different process than with Lauren a few years ago (though not as different as when I applied and typed each application on a typewriter!). This probably stems from their different personalities, our level of experience with the process, and even their ages at application--Lauren was a barely-17 high school senior during the application process and Maddy is almost 19, thanks to the delay brought by our move to Australia. Lauren looked at her scores and GPA, chose a few schools, and was hopeful of her chances (she didn't really choose any long shots) and she ended up just where she wanted to be. However, I think partly because this was all so new to all of us, she also needed a bit more nudging and reminding throughout the process (read: harassing and non-stop nagging). We didn't do any of it for her; she was the train conductor and engineer of the enterprise but I definitely felt like the guy standing on the platform tapping his foot with a stopwatch in hand. The stakes just felt so high and uncertain! 

Maddy's been approaching it a little differently. She's motivated to blaze her own trail and has been looking longingly at a handful of schools for a few years now. (Let's just go ahead and call it the Gilmore Girls Effect, shall we?) She's applying at a range of schools--a mix of public and private, large and small, selective and less so.

Because of the unknowns related to applying from an international school (not to mention no college admissions counselor at her school), she doesn't really have a real sense of her chances. She's worked hard to put herself in the possible zone but who knows what the admissions offices are looking for or what they'll decide? Not me, that's who. 

Along the way, Maddy found a few resources that were really great in helping her to understand how to put together a college application:

General advice:
Yale has some great resources and advice for applicants to any university:
Advice on choosing where to apply
Advice on putting together your college application

Letters of recommendation:
Maddy found MIT's Guide to Writing Letters of Recommendation really helpful for explaining to her teachers and recommenders what the US admissions offices are expecting and how their letters are evaluated. (In Australia, admission to university is based not on extracurriculars or teacher recommendations but on your ATAR score so teachers don't write many recommendations at all.) She just included a little description and linked to it in her note to her recommenders. A nice email like this sample note to recommenders helped update her recommenders, orient them to the process, and refresh their memories about her contributions and achievements.

College admissions essays:
Khan Academy has a great new series on applying to college. Maddy thought their series of articles and videos on  writing a strong college admissions essay was especially helpful. 

Also, the website Medium has a contest called "Extra Credit" that awards scholarship money for excellent college application essays. They've posted a handful of winners and it's great reading to see the diversity of responses and get inspired for your own essay.

For parents:
Let it go, let it go. (Easier said than done, I know. I should have absorbed this four years ago!) Tufts's excellent admissions blog offers this advice:
"Often our concern, suggestions, insights, and shared wisdom are seen as an intrusion, or provide added stress.  Your daughter needs the independence and the knowledge that you believe she can do this on her own.  Your son will thrive knowing you trust him to succeed. Our job as parents is to support and provide a safe haven for our children in the midst of a crazy, pressure filled senior year.  Encourage your son or daughter to establish an earlier deadline in order to complete the application(s) in a timely fashion so the process doesn’t hijack the entire family dynamic...as parents we need to let our children sink or swim.  The application process is theirs and they will feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment once they have completed the applications and have met the deadline."

More Resources:

  • Most universities use the Common Application, which is a great time saver for the applicant and the recommenders. Still, many colleges either do not use the Common App or add on extra essays or elements. Even if your student won't be applying for a year or two, it's not a bad idea to glance at the applications now to see what's expected. Here are the essay questions for this year
  • NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) has extensive information and advice on the college application process
  • The US Department of Education's College Navigator is a one-stop resource for information about universities and colleges.

Now that I've spent a whole post on college applications, I need to add that I'm actually a big believer in de-escalating the craziness around this process. I remind my kids (and myself) that there are many great places to go and learn and that while we'd be happy for them if they land at one of the places toward the top of their list, what we really celebrate is the work they've put into their education so far and their continued quest for learning--not where they go. I think the philosophy of "fix it and forget it" fits here: Sure, do your best on tests/applications but don't obsess or worry. This application is just a blip in your life. Do it and then move on!


Do you have a child applying for college this year or in past years? What's the experience been? Any advice?

Sending kids to college: some solid advice

It's that time of year. The Fall semester is looming, and those of you sending your tiny, freshman babies off to their first year of college might be wondering just how to do it.

It's like a band aid, just rip it off.

Kidding. I'm only kidding.

In addition to my own experience of sending two kiddos off to out-of-state college, I've actually taught hundreds of college freshman. Goodness. Many of them arrived well prepared for college life, both academically and practically, and  . . . many of them . . . just didn't. When I taught at Baylor I had a student who explained to me that she had missed my class because she didn't hear her phone when her mom called to WAKE HER UP. I was stunned. This student's mother called her every morning to wake her for class. At that moment I turned to the class and asked, "Just how many of you rely on your parents for a daily wake-up call?" Let's just say, more than five tentative hands started snaking upwards.

And one more anecdote, if you'll indulge me: After failing a girl in my class (she REALLY failed the class, not just kinda-sorta), I got an e-mail from her father demanding that I schedule regular tutorials with this girl over the summer and then change her grade. Wow. Not how college works. At all. Also, had a parent e-mail me to let me know that his daughter would be celebrating her 21st birthday in Las Vegas and would thereby be missing class. But "shhhhh . . . the trip was a surprise." Again. Not how college works. It's helpful to talk to your kiddos about expectations in college, and how they are, in many ways, not at all like the expectations found on a typical high school campus.

My point? Read this article. It's a great essay from a college professor's perspective -- someone who's seen thousands of freshman cross that rocky path from childhood to adulthood. Or, sorta adulthood. I can say amen to every one of her points -- except the one where she tells you not to communicate with your child everyday or every other day or every other other day. I let my kids contact me as often as they wanted, although I did let them dictate the frequency. However, I tried to remain mostly a sounding-board, except for those times I told them exactly what to do. Man, I do miss controlling my children's lives. Those were good times. Sniff.


P.S. Moving your kid in to the dorm? I wrote about dorm living here.

I wrote about taking our first child to college here.

Road tripping to college

I'm just barely returned from an epic road trip to take Maddie to college in Provo, Utah -- that's approximately 2800 miles round trip. Originally, our plan had been for Sterling and I to fly out with Maddie, get her settled, and then fly back home. But then we found out that our younger kids' first day of school was two days BEFORE Maddie could even move into her dorm. And then there was the matter of the STUFF. Airline baggage restrictions are annoying aplenty when you are going on vacation. Bringing an entire year's worth of super important belongings? It's sketchy. 

The lucky part was that my nephew was going to the same university. And my fun-loving SIL needed to move him and his ginormous computer tower to the exact same place. And thus, the road trip was born.

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Unlike trips of younger days, when my husband would convince me to drive straight through (24 hours), Debbie and I planned ahead and booked hotel rooms in Albuquerque. Yep, this was a trip planned and executed by women. We had maps (both electronic and paper), we made frequent pit stops, we stayed at a hotel, we even stopped at each and every sign indicating we were entering a new state -- FOR PICTURES. [Note: This is not to say I don't love traveling with my hubs. He's pretty famous for doing all of the driving.] But we did spend about 20 minutes in Clovis, driving up and down the main road, Internet researching a good place to eat. Who does that? Women dedicated to good road trip eats. That's who!

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In between food procurement and picture stops, we talked, and laughed, and marveled at how easy it is to travel with two 18 year-olds. (Except for that one time Maddie passed her fruit snacks to the front because she couldn't open it. And I totally teased her about who would open her fruit snacks at college. But then I couldn't open it myself. Huh.)

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Guys, the drive from Texas to Utah is breathtaking. It's 97% wide open spaces -- rolling fields and farmhouses, desert plains studded with scrubby bushes -- framed by a series of plateaus, winding canyon roads hemmed in with red rock. I can't help but wish I could live out in that lone beauty. Just a small cabin, a four-wheel drive vehicle, and Amazon Prime.

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The bonus is that I traveled the same roads, daydreamed about the same plateaus, stopped at the same diners and gas stations when I was a hopeful 18 year-old college student. It doesn't seem so long ago really. The trip has become a pilgrimage of sorts, traveling back through time in a way, sharing my experiences with my own daughter, looking forward to her adventures. 

And then there's also knowing she's only a three-hour plane ride away. That works too. 

Launching #2

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Guess what I'm doing today? Right now, while you are sipping your morning coffee or Diet Coke, I'm moving my daughter into her dorm. My oldest two kids are a mere 14 months apart (yes, we know where babies come from), and so their life events have always tumbled one right after another, barely giving me time to catch my breath in between. There was kindegarten. And their baptisms --  the beginning of junior high and then high school. I ran the gauntlet of the Texas DMV two years in a row. There were sweet 16s and homecomings and proms. There was graduation and parties and now the moving away. Always one right after the other.

There are some advantages in the quick repeat. I always knew just what to do for Madison -- where to go for the orthodontist, what to bring to set up her locker, when and where to take the ACT . . . stuff like that. Plus, Jordan has usually been around to help guide us both through the labyrinth of teenage milestones. Just before she left for France, Jordan spent two hours helping Maddie select her Fall classes. Registration began at 1:00 AM central time, and I laid down to sleep listening to the ardent and excited murmurs of two sisters in the study -- discussing the merits of late-morning classes and entertaining professors. 

The downside is that the second time around I'm more clear on the endings, the finish lines, the cut-off dates. I'm a little afraid that as I move Maddie into her new life I'll have to relive launching child #1. That the lasts -- for both of them (the last Sunday breakfast, the last family movie night, the last night at home) will pile up skyward, incredibly high, and will avalanche down to crush my sorry, empty-nest self.

On the other hand, maybe I'll handle the launching of #2 with greater perspective, increased wisdom, less late-night ice cream eating. I just don't know at this very moment.  My mental status these days is a bit of a crap-shoot -- incredibly optimistic and grateful one moment, weepy and despairing the next.

In the midst of all of this leaving one word keeps coming to mind -- bravery. While I do (and will) tangibly miss the physical presence of my girls in my daily life, part of my reticence has to do with the idea of moving on. I don't really want to. I know they are moving onward and upward, but I'm also almost entirely certain that I won't find a better way to occupy my time than mothering those sweet girls.

So, bravery. I think I've got move forward with courage and good cheer.  I've got some fire left in me (and two kids and a husband still at home). There's work to do.

I'm going to move this girl into the best, gosh-darn dorm ever and then set about rolling up my sleeves. Hard work and ice cream. I can do it.

The dorm

via  Vassar College Archive  on Flickr

My sister-in-law called the other day with three post suggestions. Her first child is leaving for college in the Fall, and she has some questions she'd like addressed on Nest & Launch. 

Me too! 

#1. When are my kids coming back? 

Anyone? Anyone? 

My sister-in-law, however (not being the freak that I am), is a tad more practical. She's wondering about the DORM. What to bring? How best to set it up?  

Guys . . . I LOVE the DORM. I love everything about it: its efficient use of space, its proximity to campus, the cafeteria where you NEVER HAVE TO COOK, the abundance of cool people all around you. Also, as a parent the dorm offers a sense of security. It's more like dropping your kid off at a really long summer camp. Or boarding school. That's what is is -- boarding school. Not college! Not grown up!

Seriously though, the dorm, at least for me, is one of the fun parts of launching -- so I just launch the heck out of it. Here's a few things I learned last year (Look at me! I'm a serial launcher!):

Practical considerations: The majority of the kids in our community go to Texas schools. This generally means they are only a few hours from home, which allows for some degree of back and forth -- both with people and STUFF. This also means they can just fill up the back of their cars TO THE BRIM and mosey on to school. Going to school out of state is a whole different ball game.  

Here's the mistake I made: We flew with Jordan to Utah to get her set up. She brought two large suitcases and a carry on. Then Sterling and I checked two boxes EACH of additional stuff. THEN, when we got to Provo we visited the Target/Walmart approximately five times and bought everything needed to set up her room. I'm talking a duvert insert, egg crate mattress thingy, printer, bins, school supplies, large containers of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc. PLUS, she accumulated a bunch of STUFF over the year. So, then, when school finished up at the end of April, we sent her a plane ticket and told her to COME ON HOME! 

Really? She could have set up house for a small family. We lucked out in that my sister-in-law's parents were driving from Utah to Texas just around the time school let out. They very kindly drove to Provo and picked up FIVE LARGE BOXES, which saved Jordan from selling all of her belongings on the street. Obviously, most out-of-state students make arrangements to store their goods while they are home for the summer. But because Jordan wasn't returning to school for 18 months, most of it needed to come home to roost.

My advice? Don't start off with so much stuff. Also? Plan on storing/transporting her belongings at the end of the year. I already know Madison won't finish up the year with just enough stuff to fit in two pieces of luggage and a carry on. We'll plan better this year. 

With that said, here are the bare bones necessities for the well-stocked dorm room: 

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  1. Bedding. Madison has been sweating the whole duvet vs. comforter vs. quilt delimma over here. She finally went with this cute set from Target. Note: While the comforter set is in stores now, the duvet set is only available online. The price is incredible. Jordan went with a similar graphic duvet from Urban Outfitters last year, but at this price you could even change it out mid year.
  2. Command everything -- hooks, picture hangers, poster hangers. Gather a good supply of these for hanging everything from pictures to towels. Hint: These are often sold out in college towns around dorm-move-in time, so buy early. I went crazy and hung a whole collage on Jordan's cinder block wall. Because I love dorms. Have I mentioned that yet? 
  3. Medical supplies (and how to use them). Chances are your college student is going to get sick. It's helpful to have common over-the-counter medications on hand since Momma won't be there to run to Walgreens. I went over this in greater depth here
  4. Shower caddy. Maddie's dorm has the old-school bathroom down the hall, so she'll have to schlep her shower supplies back and forth each day. 
  5. Laundry basket. And a prayer. Actually, Madison is pretty particular about her clothes, so I feel confident she will wash her clothes. Some boys I know? It's questionable. 
  6. Printer. Lots of kids don't have printers in their dorm rooms because the university does provide a number of convenient print centers. However, Jordan was super glad she had a printer, and the scanner on top came in handy a number of times when she needed to send documents to us at home. Her printer is sitting in a basement in Utah right now . . . just waiting for Madison.
  7. Decor. To decorate? Or not to decorate? We tried to homey the place up enough so she would be comfortable, but not so much that she'd need a professional moving service to bring her home (that didn't work out exactly as planned). A few pops of color help to tone down the institutional nature of the place and give those babies a little practice nesting themselves. Look! I brought that full circle. 
  8. Storage. Because the dorm is so small (about a quarter of my girls' room at home), organization is key. After assessing the closets and shelving, we bought a bunch of different sized bins to keep stuff together -- some with lids, some open. We also bought two large under-bed boxes for ski clothes and bulky sweaters/jackets that she didn't need to access everyday. 
  9. Dishes. And silverware! Jordan's dorm had a full-service cafeteria where she ate all of her meals, which led us to believe she wouldn't need any dishes in her room. But she had a small refrigerator, so she would bring home leftovers when she ate out. And she ended up eating cereal in her room most mornings, which necessitated a bowl and spoon. Then she told me one day she was making hot chocolate in her cereal bowl. Ummmmm, get a mug sistah. 

One of my favorite things in Jordan's dorm last year was a watercolor painting of our home. It was done by Rebekka Seale, an incredible artist who includes a digital copy along with the original painting. I just printed one up, threw it in a Target frame, and  . . . voila  . . . instant don't-forget-your-momma art. I'll be making another for Maddie for sure. (Yep, that's our dog, Indie, out front). 

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A spoonful of sugar. . .

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Okay, here's some launch business for you.

Two days ago I got a call from Jordan, my oldest daughter, who is a freshman in college several states away (BYU. Go Cougs!!). She reported that she'd woken up with a crick in her neck. Well, we Texans call it a crick. Others might possibly use the term "sprain," "strain," or hey, even "pain." At any rate, a crick is a super painful little malady. I know because I am the queen of cricks. I've gone entire MONTHS without being able to turn my head from side to side. This makes changing lanes super dangerous. 

I digress. Not only did Jordan have a crick, but she had stiffness and pain through her shoulders and partway down her back. As the day progressed I received more texts and calls from her -- the pain was increasing and she was becoming semi-hysterical (sorry Jordan!). She was laid up. Flat out. Can a 100 pound, nineteen-year-old throw out her back? Really?

I instructed her to take some Naproxen Sodium (Aleve), which she didn't have handy in her dorm room. She did have ibuprofen, so I told her to take that and work on procuring the Aleve. But because she doesn't have a car, AND it was getting late, AND there was no Naproxen Sodium at the little "store" at her dorm . . . she was out of luck. So there she was, writhing in pain. And here I was, wringing my hands and racking my brain for ways to help her. And guess what? I couldn't. I could only offer my sympathy -- which was exceedingly heartfelt and ultimately useless. [To make a long story short, she was moderately improved enough the next morning to walk herself to Walgreens. She now has a testimony of the power of Naproxen Sodium.]

So, here's my launch advice, and it's two fold:

  1. Teach your teens about how to take care of themselves when they are sick or injured. Make sure they know about what over-the-counter drugs are appropriate for various ailments. Especially talk to them about hydration and what types of foods/liquids to partake of when vomiting. I wouldn't say my girls are clueless about this stuff, but I now realize I need to be much more specific.
  2. Put together a comprehensive medical kit for kids who are leaving home (grad gift anyone?). When we moved Jordan into her dorm we made sure she had her inhaler (and an extra), some ibuprofen, and benadryl. Who knew she had the back of a 60 year old? You can google "medical kits for dorm rooms" and a bunch of different lists come up (not one of which included Naproxen Sodium). Here's what I came up with (feel free to add on in the comments section).
  • Ibuprofen and Naproxen Sodium
  • Benadryl (for allergic reactions)
  • Cold medicine (day and night formulas)
  • Flu medication (something that addresses fever, aches and pains, and cold symptoms)
  • Thermometer
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Cortisone cream
  • Band aids 
  • Ice pack
  • Heating pad

Luckily, I was able to talk to Jordan and consult with her regarding her best course of action. However, she will be leaving in June to serve an 18 month mission for our church in France, during which time we can only e-mail once a week. I'm planning on putting together an industrial-sized first aid kit to send with her, AND I'm going line all of her clothes with bubble wrap. She'll be fine! No, really. She'll be FINE!