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Teamwork in the Admissions Process

By Robert A.G. LeVine

We sometimes hear that “it takes a village” to raise a child. That proverb is especially true in the pursuit of college admissions.

Parents are not usually well-equipped to guide their students through the ever-changing morass of the admissions process. Colleges change their application requirements every year. Application forms also change annually, just as the Common Application changed this year. Standardized tests can change: in 2016, the SAT will have a new format. Even when parents have excellent, open communication with their teenager – which we all know to be the exception, not the rule – it is virtually impossible for those who are not in the business of admissions to understand all they need to know.

To navigate the process successfully, parents should consider college admissions to be a team endeavor.

The starting point for the team should be the student’s school. American high schools have counselors who are assigned the responsibility of helping their students through the process. At a minimum, school counselors oversee the sending of official transcripts to the prospective colleges. Counselors are also often needed to complete reports, and sometimes recommendations, that will be submitted along with their students’ applications.

Parents and students should recognize that high school counselors are extremely busy. Very few schools have the number of counselors that they really need. As a result, they create systems which the students must follow. When school starts in the fall, be sure that your senior pays attention to what the high school announces regarding college application procedures.

For those applying to more selective colleges, teachers will also be involved in the admissions process. Good schools require recommendations from teachers as part of the application materials. Because a teacher’s primary job is to teach, not to write recommendation letters, students should respect their teachers’ time and request recommendation as early as possible. If a high school senior needs recommendations for college applications but has not yet made requests to teachers, now is the time.

Yet even before the application season, parents should seek out professionals to help tutor their child for the SAT and ACT. These standardized tests are usually taken during the junior year of high school. Preparation is required to achieve a good score, because the SAT and ACT are more logic-based than the tests that are administered in a school class. There’s a method to the madness, and an experienced tutor should be retained to be part of the admissions team. Of course, to get the best result, students must practice diligently for the tests, not just show up for tutoring sessions.

College applications usually require essays. Few students (or parents) know how to write these “persuasive” pieces. You should not expect to receive significant help from the high school; they are too busy to give individual attention. Editors are available at a relatively low cost, but they often are unfamiliar with the grading rubrics of the colleges and usually have a policy not to go beyond simple proofreading and grammar correction. Beware of those who offer to write essays for students; besides being fraudulent, those essays often hurt an applicant’s chances by being either too mature or too generic. An experienced college consultant should know how to help a student in every step of the process, not only with essays, but also with completing applications correctly and preparing students for admissions interviews.

Finally, consider retaining a career consultant. High school students rarely have well-considered, intelligent plans for college, graduate school or career. They are too young and inexperienced to understand the job market or how to prepare for it. A qualified career consultant will utilize formal testing and one-on-one consultations to help guide students on an effective life path. The cost is minimal relative to the value received.

College is an evolutionary moment. A good team can help students develop in successful ways.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email or visit


On technology and family trees

By Anu Varma Panchal

My parents moved from India when I was 6, and until our first visit back when I was 9, any news from home or family came crackling over long distance lines or scrawled closely on blue Aerogrammes. Every tidbit crossed a vast distance and had to sustain us until we could go back home. And when we did set out on that Air India plane for that long-awaited holiday, a door crashed shut on the home left behind. We were transported, the connection with our normal life severed, granting us the excitement and magic of stepping into a completely different world.

Today, by the time my daughter has even washed off her stage makeup, her evening’s Bharatanatyam performance has been viewed by family from California to Calicut, courtesy of our family WhatsApp group. Technology and globalization have blurred geographical boundaries to degrees previously unimaginable. And while that’s a boon for those of us whose loved ones are scattered across the diaspora, the nostalgic Scrooge inside me can’t help but whine a bit about what has been lost: the wonder of true discovery that has been replaced by its duller cousin, mere déjà vu. A niece’s first day of preschool; cousins’ weddings; an uncle’s 60th birthday — every moment is captured and shared instantly, collapsing time and space to such a degree that when I visited India last month, I felt that I had already met all the new babies and brides who had entered my family since my last visit.

Consequently, my children’s experience of visiting grandparents in India was completely different from mine at that age. When we left Zambia for our summer trips to India, we’d entrust family friends with blank cassette tapes so they could tape the episodes of “Dallas” and “Dynasty” that we’d be missing while we were gone. We knew that in the early ‘80s, vacations in Kerala meant hardly any television for two months, other than the Ramayana on Sunday mornings. We didn’t mind; in lieu of TV, we wandered around in the tangled gardens and untenanted greenery that still existed then around our homes, and spent rainy afternoons reading whatever we found in bookshelves with our mother’s and aunts’ maiden names primly inscribed on the flyleaf: books by Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse, interspersed with Phantom and Tinkle comic books.

My children, however, found plenty to keep them on familiar ground. My younger daughter quickly found Sofia the First and Scooby Doo on Indian television with the instincts of a homing pigeon while the older one stayed immersed in books she had checked out from the New Tampa Library on her Kindle. And while I scarfed down biriyani after a shopping expedition, my daughter unrepentantly devoured cheese pizza from Dominos, which, she claimed blissfully, tasted exactly the same as the one here. (It shouldn’t have surprised me; even in a tiny grocery store in a medium size town, I found Kraft mayonnaise next to the Double Horse Ragi Vita and Gatorade by the Amul Kool Royal Elaichi.) It’s like they had one foot at home the whole time, I groused. These kids are so used to being in touch with everyone everywhere all the time, and finding their “stuff” everywhere they go, that they’re never going to discover a true sense of place.

But little by little, they began to make the same discoveries I made as a kid. They barreled joyfully in an auto rickshaw with perilous abandon between buses and scooters through the ruckus and roar of an Indian road. They adored the noise and chaos of constantly ringing doorbells and arriving visitors, and enjoyed walking around the crazy streets, dodging traffic and puddles. They loved exploring traditional old houses with their pillars and courtyards and spooky portraits, and one glorious afternoon in my maternal grandfather’s home, spent a fascinating hour hauling water out of a well.

Watching my aunts as they patiently helped lower that rusted old bucket into that well over and over again, reveling in my silly kids’ delight, I relived through my children the warmth of being that kid who was adored and spoiled during visits home. The world may have changed in a million ways, but I am incredibly fortunate in that the emotional sustenance of extended family has stayed constant. As loved ones age and disappear and move, I feel even more the compulsion to gather my children to bask in the shade and comfort of the family tree, however far I may need to travel. And while a line of text can never replicate the balm of being in their presence of loved ones, boarding the flight back is undoubtedly easier knowing that everyone is now just a Wi-Fi connection away.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of


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