Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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Writing an Outstanding College Admissions Essay

October 8, 2014

By Judy Razo 

Write an Outstanding College Admissions Essay | An essay is edited with a red pen.

A college application usually includes the application itself and additional documents that help paint a bigger picture of the applicant. Those documents can include an official transcript, standardized test scores, a résumé, letters of recommendation, and the college essay.

The essay tends to be hard for a student to write because it’s a personal essay, not a report assigned in class. Guiding your child along this task will be especially important because most students have never written anything of the sort. Let’s talk about the basics of how you can help.


To start, keep in mind that a college essay should only be between 250-650 words; that is about one to two pages when double-spaced. Remember that 650 words is a limit, not a goal. Admissions counselors read hundreds of essays, so you want your child to stand out without writing a novel. The essay should be expressive but concise. It’s an opportunity for your child to demonstrate his or her writing abilities as well as showcase his or her personality.

Outline, Research, and Draft

It will take more than one draft to create the final essay, so make sure your child is working on his or her essay far in advance of the application deadline. He or she needs enough time to write, rewrite, and edit the essay without the pressure of a looming deadline.

Before your child starts writing, suggest that he or she sketch out ideas and do any necessary research in advance. If the essay is based on a personal story, ask your child to jot down a few main points that he or she doesn’t want to miss. Then, encourage your child to write a first draft in one sitting to put his or her thoughts down on paper. You can later help your child organize what he or she wrote into a basic 5-paragraph writing outline.


Is your child having a hard time choosing a topic or direction? Suggest writing about a challenge or failure he or she experienced and how he or she overcame it. If that doesn’t feel right, suggest writing about what makes your child unique. Your child should consider how he or she would contribute to the university culture. Why should the college not only admit your child, but also want him or her to be a part of the student body? Let the ideas flow and you can always go back and edit accordingly.

Don’t encourage your child to write about what you think the admission counselor wants to read. Let him or her write about something that has significance to your child. A sincere and honest essay goes a lot further than a contrived one.

Make sure your child answers the question or addresses the topic given. If the essay doesn’t cover what was asked, it’s a sure sign to the admissions counselor that the student doesn’t know how to follow instructions and has poor attention to detail.

Proof and Edit

A great way to help your child is by proofing the essay. Check for spelling, grammar, and typos, as this is very important. If proofreading is not your strength, find a friend or coworker who can help you proof the essay as well as provide feedback.


It is important for your child to receive feedback from someone other than you. As the parent, your advice might be taken as criticism instead of as helpful feedback. Have your child share the essay with a few trusted adults, including a teacher, or someone in your circle of friends that you think could influence your child in a positive way.


There are a few recommended resources for both you and your child to reference as you work on this ever-so-important essay. Big Future by College Board offers great articles with tips for your student and videos that college applicants will find helpful as well as appealing. The National Association for College Admission Counseling can also guide you and your child along the entire college application process.

Don’t worry, getting into a college or university doesn’t entirely hinge on your child’s college admissions essay, but it is an important component that neither of you should neglect. Aside from using it to showcase your child’s personality and writing ability, the college admissions essay can be saved and repurposed when applying for scholarships. Websites like College Greenlight are great resources to help your child find scholarships that will come in handy when paying for college.

Tags :  high schoolcollegeacademicteachers

Parent Engagement in College: Academic Success

September 10, 2014

By Judy Razo

Parent Engagement in College: Academic Success | A college student raises his hand and the teacher calls on him in a lecture hall.

The time has come for your child to head off to college. You’ve done a great job staying involved at his or her school, providing a loving home, offering help and support for academic success, and you even checked grades to make sure he or she stayed on track to graduate. Now your teenager is off to college and you hope to continue supporting him or her in the same way.

However, the circumstances will be different. You can’t volunteer at the school, he or she won’t be living at home, you can’t keep track of study habits, and the academic advisor is not allowed to give you, or anybody else, any of your student’s academic information.

That’s right. The only person allowed by law to receive your child’s grades and GPA is your child. Now that he or she is in college, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) classifies your child as a responsible adult and therefore protects his or her right to privacy. It is your child’s choice to share his or her grades and GPA with you.

So how can you check grades when your son or daughter doesn’t have to show them to you? I have some tested approaches that will help you out.

Start by acknowledging that your child is now considered an adult, and therefore, you should respect and trust him or her as one. This will only strengthen your relationship and keep the lines of communication open between you, which in turn will make your child feel comfortable enough to show you his or her grades, no matter what they look like.

Next, create a protocol in case he or she has trouble with a class or grades begin to slip. Try to establish this protocol before he or she starts college and present it as a “just in case” plan that both of you hope you won’t have to use. As a parent you have high expectations for your child. As a son or daughter, your child doesn’t want to hear that you think he or she is going to fail, so be tactful in your delivery. Acknowledge that going to college is very different than going to high school and this plan will provide wiggle room as your child adjusts.

Before your student leaves for college, make an agreement for when he or she will share grades. This will set expectations and help keep your child on track as he or she keeps in mind the agreement to share grades after midterms and at the end of the semester.

The agreement will vary depending on the relationship between you and your child. If you are able to, you could offer to pay tuition in exchange for a strong GPA. You could also incentivize your student by offering to increase the monthly stipend or upgrade his or her living or lifestyle arrangements each semester contingent on academic progress.

Lastly, you can take your parent engagement level a step beyond just grades by having your student walk you through his or her degree plan and sit down at the end of each semester to check off the completed classes. Stay open-minded to your child’s choices and always be supportive if he or she chooses to change his or her major or area of study.

Remember to be confident that you raised a well-rounded and prepared child. This is the opportunity to allow all of the things you taught him or her to kick in; you just have to be patient, open-minded, and give it some time. Your child will apply what you have taught him or her and learn new techniques that will hopefully pay off.


Student Budgeting: Inexpensive College Textbooks

August 13, 2014

By Nikki Cecala

Student Budgeting: Inexpensive College Textbooks | A student stares at her stack of college textbooks.

Heading off to college can be both a very exciting and very expensive adventure. Did you know that the average college student spends as much as $1,200 each year on textbooks and supplies alone? That’s a lot of money! Thankfully, there are many great resources outside the school bookstore that can help your student buy or rent books for significantly less money. Pass this list along to your student so he or she can use these sites every term and save some dough.

With Chegg, one can rent, buy, or sell textbooks. Renting is especially cost-friendly, as students can rent textbooks for a semester, quarter, or try a 60-day rental, saving anywhere from 30 to 80 percent off the price of a new textbook. Students can also ship their textbooks back for free with a prepaid UPS label. To put those savings in perspective, that’s about $360 to $960 saved each year!

Amazon features a textbook section with an enhanced search for used and new textbooks. They also offer Amazon Student, which provides free two-day shipping and exclusive student deals for the first six months. After that, your student can sign up for an Amazon Prime membership at 50 percent off, gaining access to even more features.

AbeBooks is an enormous online marketplace for new, used, and rare books that average 50 percent off retail. They also offer a 30-day return policy, which is great if your student decides to drop or switch a class during the first two weeks of a term. Like Chegg, they have a buyback program that includes free shipping. is like a massive second-hand bookstore. They have inexpensive textbooks, fiction and nonfiction, and are a great resource for movies, games, and much more!

This website is really neat. Students can type in the book they need and the site will pull prices from all of the above listed websites and more. Then they can simply click on the information that best fits their price range and they will be redirected to the appropriate website to purchase the textbook. Students can also search the name of the college to find deals with student sellers, trade books, or sell them back to Slugbooks. They will provide a sale price from a variety of websites on the spot.

School Library
A simple but overlooked option. The school library may have a copy of the textbook on reserve if the professor provided a few copies. Depending on the library’s rules, students may not be able to check the book out, but may be able to borrow it for several hours at a time and read it inside the library. If the textbook isn't available on reserve, your student can always email the professor and ask if he or she would be willing to place a copy in the school library.

Before your student considers buying a textbook, I highly recommend checking out his or her syllabi and asking the teacher how much the class will use the textbooks. Some teachers list books and have no intention of using them. Some books, such as literature, may be less expensive to purchase than the hassle of renting and returning the book, especially if it’s a classic that your student intends to keep. Help your student use his or her best judgment and research each textbook needed. That effort can save a lot of money!

Tags :  collegeacademicbudget

Going Away to College: How to Cope

July 8, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

Going Away to College: How to Cope | A freshman unpacks the car at the dorm as his dad looks on.

From the first moment I let go of my oldest child, as he took his first step, I realized that his journey away from me had begun. Before I knew it, I was traveling with him to college, helping ready his dorm room and saying “goodbye,” once again letting go.

As parents, the emotions that we feel at each of these moments are not that different—both can be filled with excitement, worry, and hope. We are excited for all the new things our children are about to experience. We worry that they will face difficulties and challenges. We’re hopeful that they will make good decisions as they experience all these new things.

Heading off to college is an exciting time for our children. Parents are involved as their children apply to college; we celebrate their acceptance into a university and help them move in on campus. But for many parents, the first time a child goes off to college can be challenging. As exciting as this is, we have a lot of questions.

How do we prepare ourselves before our child leaves?
Making a plan for the initial goodbye can be comforting and helps to ready everyone involved. When will you be dropping your child off? Who will be going? How will you travel? Once you are there, how long are you going to stay? Figuring these things out ahead of time means things may be less difficult on the day itself, leaving only the emotional aspect to cope with.

What do we do when they are away?
In actuality, the day you say goodbye may not be the hardest part. Instead, the daily reality of living with your child no longer at home may prove to be the difficult part. You will know less about your child’s life, where he is and what he is doing at any given moment of the day. And worrying about your child’s welfare can increase the feelings of loneliness and loss.

To help prepare and prevent these feelings, discuss expectations on communicating with your child before he leaves. Set up weekly call times. Plan to visit and participate in on-campus parent activities or sports events. These are all opportunities to participate in your child’s college experience without threatening his independence.

How can we best get through the process?
Communication is key; we parents need to give our children space to become independent and enjoy their new lives, but staying in touch and finding out how they are is healthy. Before you know it, your child will return home on scheduled breaks to reconnect with you and share his experiences thus far.

If your child going to school has a younger sibling, read my tips for helping transition the sibling when the older child leaves for school.


College Tours: Parent Engagement Activity

June 18, 2014

By Mario Vela

A group of parents and teens participate in a college tour.

For the last four years, I have been working with high school students in several underserved communities on Chicago’s southside. I’ve seen many students affected by violence, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and poverty. I understand what these students are going through, as I grew up in a similar environment.

I often see students with an incredible amount of potential derailed by difficult circumstances. Many students tell me that their parents prevent them from better education options, like good financial aid packages at strong schools, because their parents don’t want them to move away. Every single time that I interact with students in these types of situations, the most impactful advice I provide is the most simple: take your parents to your preferred college or university.

Each time one of these students takes his or her parents to visit the college or university, the student returns amazed by how his or her parents become the school’s biggest advocate. The student also returns with a greater sense of conviction in his or her education and an improved focus on finishing high school.

For parents, I understand that there may be challenges to visiting colleges or universities outside of your area, but recognize these benefits:

  • These visits demonstrate that you are invested in your child’s educational success.
  • Your child gains a sense of motivation by becoming future-oriented in his or her educational possibilities.
  • You personally will become better informed of the culture of the university. What does the school value? Fraternities and sororities? Diversity? Sports?

If you are unable to visit a particular college or university, many schools offer virtual college fairs. While these fairs may not provide the full visitation experience, they should be able to answer your questions and address your concerns.

A few questions you might ask when you visit the school include:

  • Demographics. Does the diversity match your personal expectations?
  • Culture. What does the university value? Does this match your expectations? If your child is bilingual, does the school offer bilingual sessions?
  • Employment post-graduation. What is the employment rate of new graduates?
  • Crime rates. Some parents argue that they are nervous that something may happen to their child if he or she goes away to school. Take time to review the school and where your student may live.
  • Financial Aid options. Many colleges and universities have great financial aid packages to attract students. Let your child apply to several schools of interest, regardless of cost, since he or she may be eligible for a scholarship or strong financial aid package.
  • Prepare your child. Help your child prepare for success by asking questions concerning his or her interests, including academic programs, extracurricular activities, and clubs.

Your time and efforts are beneficial in helping you and your child make the most informed decision. Visiting a university campus will offer a glimpse into your child’s future and may provide a better understanding of the values of that school.

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