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Back to School: Tips for Parents

With just weeks to go before the first day of classes, now is a great time to get organized and prepare both mentally and physically for the school year ahead. High school can be an exciting and transformative time in a young person’s life, but it is often accompanied by busy schedules that can be stressful for students and parents alike. Take some time in the coming weeks to have a discussion with your student to coordinate schedules, discuss expectations, and outline priorities so that your entire family can hit the ground running come September.

Create a Family Calendar.
Between standardized testing dates, internships, and sports competitions, keeping track of a high school’s schedule can be difficult. Keep everyone on the same page with a highly visible family calendar to ensure that important appointments and deadlines are kept. Try an electronic version so everyone can check in no matter where they are; one option is Cozi, a free online family calendar that can also send appointment reminders and be accessed via a Mobile App on the Android, iPhone, or Blackberry. Consider color-coding events for each member of the family.

Be sure to update the calendar often and include academic dates such as class project deadlines, term paper due dates, and mid-term and final exam schedules. Also remember to schedule annual medical and dental check-ups, ideally before school starts, so that your child does not have to miss school for them. In addition to maintaining your student’s general health, these check-ups are often required for participation in extracurricular activities.

Encourage Your Child to Pursue His/Her Interests.
Parents and students often are concerned about what colleges want to see on a resume. Your son or daughter cannot feasibly participate in every club or activity, and furthermore, colleges are not looking for jacks-of-all-trades, masters of none. Encourage your student to pursue a handful of academic and extracurricular opportunities that match his interests, and ideally he will develop and deepen the commitment to these activities throughout high school. You may need to help your child edit his extracurricular activity list if he has too many activities. It’s hard to make an impact when one spends only an hour or less per week on some endeavors. Find out what truly matters to your student and have him only pursue those commitments.

If your child has a talent or interest that the school’s existing offerings do not address, consider looking outside of school for alternatives or even encouraging your student to start a group at school. At IvyWise, our counselors help each student create a strategic high school action plan that includes recommendations for courses, extracurricular activities, summer experiences, internships, community service, and more, to help keep everyone on track.

Keep It Up!
Colleges look at all four years of your child’s academic and extracurricular record. Regardless of whether your child is a rising freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, it is important for her to choose a challenging and appropriate curriculum, and work hard to maintain good grades. Now is a good time to sit down with your student and discuss work/study habits as well as academic expectations and goals. Remember, there is nothing more important to a prospective college than a student’s grades and performance in the classroom. In addition to instilling a solid work ethic, help your student create a good study space without TV, music, Facebook, and cell phone access, where she can concentrate without distractions. This area should encourage your student to stay focused while completing SAT practice tests, grinding out that final paper, and working on research and college applications.

Start Talking About College.
The four years of high school will fly by before you know it, so don’t put off college planning! While we start working on college applications with our students in the spring of junior year, it’s never too early for your child to begin researching and visiting schools. Start planning visits for school breaks so your child can get a better feel for the social and academic environments that will be the best fit for him. Great dates to consider are Columbus Day weekend, President’s Day weekend, Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and spring break. Visiting campuses during the school year, while classes are in session, will give your student a better feel for the campus environment. Maintain an open dialogue about what both you and your child want during the application process and throughout his college experience.

Help Your Child Manage Stress.
If your student is facing anxiety about the upcoming school year or the impending college admissions process, help them put things in perspective. Try to get your hands on high school course materials and syllabi before the school year begins, so your child can review textbook synopses before the topics are covered in class; early preparation may alleviate potential stress. Your student can also review notes and tests from last year’s classes to refresh the material before she embarks on the next level in a subject.

Also, consider planning family nights and other fun activities so your family can spend time together outside of the school year routine; taking some time off to relax and reflect will help your child be more productive and ultimately help him succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.

High school can be both an exhilarating and demanding time for students and parents. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy that accompanies a new academic year, so take some time now to prioritize and organize using this advice from our expert counselors. Best of luck from all of us at IvyWise!

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