Ashburn, VA (December 29, 2016) – Jayne Fonash, the counseling director of the Loudoun Academy of Science, had a question for the delegates of the Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents (LEAP) on Wednesday, December 14th.
When a couple is expecting a child, what does everyone ask them?
Answer: “Are you having a boy or a girl?”
The standard reply: “We don’t care as long as it’s healthy.”
Fonash said that attitude should carry over too when parents help their child select a college. Parents need to model stress-free behavior during this time. “Your child does not need to begin preparing for college in the third grade. The important thing is that you are selecting a place where they can feel comfortable and excel. …There’s a place for every student.”
College enrollment is one of many roads your child may take in life, said Fonash. It is not a destination.
An officer with the National Association for College Admission Counseling, Fonash had some tips and statistics regarding the college-admission process.
She told parents not to make inquiring about the status of college applications a daily ritual. Set a time every week or so when you can check in on what progress has been made.
Fonash reminded parents that the student controls two-thirds of the college admission process. Colleges decide whom they will admit, but the student decides which colleges they will apply to and which offer they will accept.
Factor in cost and location when applying to a college. There are online tools that will compare your family income with tuition costs, then calculate the amount of student loans needed to attend that institution. The amount of potential debt incurred may make a college an unsound investment.
Getting into an elite college is tougher than it used to be. The number of college applications has jumped from 5.2 million in 2000 to an estimated 20.5 million this year. “Everyone should have a dream school, but it’s a little like playing the lottery,” Fonash said. That said, there are 4,000 two- and four-year colleges to choose from and colleges accept two-thirds of first-time freshman applicants. For every elite college that accepts a small percentage of its applicants, Fonash said, “there are far more schools that accept a higher number of students who apply.”
When you apply to college, be prepared to fill out an online application (94 percent of applications are now online). “The pencil and paper days are gone.” When you fill out the application, include only the information and documents vital to your application so that the admissions officer who reviews it will not be drawn away from important information. “Sometimes more is not better, it’s just more.”
Don’t be afraid to consider transferring colleges. Colleges need transfer students to make their finances work.
If a college puts you on the wait list, it might be best to consider other options. Fonash said the likelihood of being accepted off a wait list is low. The college is saying the student is capable of doing the work, but there isn’t a seat.
Geri Fiore, the counseling director at Woodgrove High School, gave LEAP delegates some tips and tools to make college selection a more realistic, stress-free experience. Fiore said the first thing parents need to do is, if you have a question, talk to your guidance counselor. “Your counselor is like the heartbeat of the school that has veins going out throughout the school… We try to reach the needs of every student…We also are there to calm some of the fears.”
Meeting the needs of students means that students and their parents have to be aware of the opportunities available to them. Fiore urged parents to read newsletters, Blackboard Connect messages and emails to know what opportunities – test dates, shadowing days, college visits – are available to students.
Fiore also urged delegates to become familiar with the Naviance/Family Connection tool. Naviance scattergrams give a realistic view of a student’s probability of being accepted by a college based on their grade point average and SAT and/or ACT scores when compared with accepted applicants. (The scattergram will show where a student’s grade and test scores place them among applicants to a particular college.) This will allow students to develop target and backup schools based on realistic assumptions. Naviance also has a feature that allows students to print out classroom passes to meet with college representatives visiting their school.
The guidance staff also has tools to help parents and students interpret PSAT scores. This can allow a student to analyze areas that need to be improved so that they can be addressed in subsequent tests.
Fiore said parents should look at other high schools’ counseling websites for features they can use. If those features aren’t on their home school’s website, it should be brought to the attention of the counseling director. She said the director won’t be offended, because they are always trying to get better tools for their school community.
Fiore also offered some guidance on recommendation letters. Some people believe that a recommendation letter from a member of Congress or other government official raises a student’s chance of gaining college admission. She said that unless the official personally knows the student, such letters are often discounted by admissions officers. Fiore said it is better to have a letter from a teacher who can describe how a student met or overcame a challenge and showed personal growth.
Fiore also said parents shouldn’t become too involved in the admissions process as this is a rite of passage for students into adulthood. “We want them to provide for themselves. We want them to be able to take care of themselves.”
Monroe Technology Center Principal Tim Flynn told the delegates Monroe can give students a marketable skill and a realistic career path for their future. “We are not the vocational-technical center of 20 or 30 years.” Monroe’s 26 programs have – at their core – some basic similarities, said Flynn. “We talk about work. We talk about career. We talk about what you are going to do.”
Monroe students earn industry certifications that often carry with them both college credits and the ability to earn a solid living while attending college. (Flynn said 81 percent of Monroe graduates go on to a two- or four-year college.) Monroe’s programs also offer defined pathways to high-paying professions. After two years of Monroe’s nursing program, two years at Northern Virginia Community College and a year at George Mason University, a student can have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and be a registered nurse.
Flynn noted that 19 of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in America are covered by programs at Monroe.
Taking part in Monroe shadowing dates is a good introduction to the technology center’s programs. This year 1,431 underclassmen took advantage of this opportunity.
Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Supervisor of Elementary Education Elaine Layman gave the delegates an overview of how preparation for college begins in the younger grades.
First, she cleared up a popular misconception: the screening test given to incoming kindergartners is not an “entrance exam” for kindergarten. This screening is used to determine a child’s skill level so they can be appropriately placed where various supports are present.
When it comes to curriculum, Layman said the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) determines the skills to be taught at each grade level. Each of Virginia’s school division’s use the VDOE curriculum framework to build a scope and sequence that organizes all standards to be taught into a year of study. LCPS’ curriculum for elementary, middle and high school is online at LCPS.org. In each subject area, the curriculum guides are organized by the four quarters of the school year.
“We don’t select the curriculum, we organize it into a curriculum guide,” said Layman.
When the time comes for elementary students to make the transition to middle school, students are introduced to the course-selection process. They also are given a math readiness assessment and an IEP transition team meets for students with disabilities.
Fifth-graders make a visit to their future middle school during the spring. Fifth and sixth grade teachers also meet to make sure their curriculum is aligned.
The next LEAP meeting will be held January 11th at the LCPS Administrative Offices in Ashburn.