June 17, 2021

Summer Vacay and College App Essays

Friends at Beach

Hi Soon-to-be-Seniors,

Happy Last High School July! 

That’s a big deal.  Next year at this time you will be a Graduate, getting ready to begin your college experience, taking on even more of the responsibilities and freedoms of your adult life. 

If you have been planning to get a jump on college applications this summer, it might be starting to feel like a big cloud on your summer that seems to get bigger every day.  But you can get on top of it by doing 2 things.

Thing 1

Spend an hour and make a Time Map for your applications.  Basically, this is a list of your schools, in the order of their application due date, soonest to last, with all essay prompts next to each.  Many of the college planner programs do this for you.  If you don’t have access to one of those, just Google the info and then copy and paste. Many schools will post their essays by August but a lot of them can be found on their websites right now — including UC’s and the Common App.  

Once you have this you will always know where you are with all your applications, what’s the next writing you have to do, and where the pileups are.  It will help you to work this into your life once school starts.  It will also show you where one essay might work for more than one school.  At a glance! 

Thing 2

Write your essay in 10 minutes*.  That’s a LITTLE bit of an exaggeration, but not much.  It’s a great writing trick that I’ve used for many years and it REALLY works.  It can help you get the ideas out of your head and on the page – which is the hardest part of any writing. 

Think of it.  By the time school starts you’ll be mostly in the polish stage.  And you will still have had plenty of time for job, 😎 beach, family and friends.

If you want to try the 10-minute essay*, or if you have other questions, just click the link. Mary@Handfelt.com



Alcohol and Young Adults

Speaking of high risk behavior…..how about young adults and alcohol. Maybe you’re a bit weary, having held the line on teens and drinking through high school and maybe even middle school.  By high school graduation, you might be thinking, what’s the point?  When they leave they’re going to be drinking anyway no matter what the drinking age.  Besides, they’re young ADULTS.
But here are some facts to renew you for the last mile of your parenting journey where kids and alcohol are concerned. They are sobering and even downright chilling. 

Life, Health, Suicide

  • 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
  • 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
  • More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem, and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use.

Maybe you’ve decided it’s okay if they don’t drive….but it doesn’t always work that way.

  • 2.1 million students between the ages of 18 and 24 drove under the influence of alcohol last year. 

What About Alcohol and Sex?

  • More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.

Alcohol Affects their Education

  • About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

What would it mean if your kid got arrested?

  • About 11 percent of college student drinkers report that they have damaged property while under the influence of alcohol.
  • More than 25 percent of administrators from schools with relatively low drinking levels and over 50 percent from schools with high drinking levels say their campuses have a “moderate” or “major” problem with alcohol-related property damage.
  • About 5 percent of 4-year college students are involved with the police or campus security as a result of their drinking and an estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are arrested for an alcohol-related violation such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.

College Drinking can be the Start of Lifelong Problems

  • 31 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence in the past 12 months, according to questionnaire-based self-reports about their drinking.

So what are you supposed to do about all this?  

Every reliable authority on the subject of teens and alcohol states that nearly 75% of kids cite their parents as the primary influence in their decisions about whether they drink alcohol or not. 
To influence them you need to communicate.  That’s hard for most of us.  We might enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.  Are we being hypocritical when we tell them no alcohol at home until they are 21?
In our family, alcohol use is a big issue.  Shake any branch of our family tree and down will fall a problem drinker, Mike’s Hard Lemonade in hand.  So this is what I’ve told my kids:
  • Genetics has a big influence on whether alcohol becomes a problem for you and, sorry to say, you are at a big disadvantage there.
  • Every year you hold out means that the performance-compromised kids around you are a little bit older, a little bit more mature. An inebriated 21-year-old might make slightly better decisions than a drunk 17-year-old.  
  • Before you make that decision to drink, observe the kids who are drinking.  What are they doing?  What do you think of them?  Is that who you want to be?
  • I will go anywhere, anytime, wear any disguise, to bring you home. I will doze on the couch, cellphone in hand til you are safely home. When you are away at school, find a buddy who will do the same.
At home, we’ll stick to the law…meaning no drinking before age 21.  And then, only in moderation.
How’s this approach working?  With one half-way through college and one going next year, so far so good.  Having seen adult family members fall from the heights of success has brought the message home, too.
It’s a big topic that we need to open up in conversation. Beneath the glamorous and outwardly benign veneer of social drinking is a hairy monster.  Those of us who have seen it up close know that every kid who leaves home is walking into the belly of the beast.  What have you done to equip them?  What has worked? What hasn’t?  
If you can, direct open-minded kids to a great quick read.
For teens try this link at kidshealth.org   
If you’d like more information, here’s a great source from the Federal Government’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Acoholism

Grammar Again



Yes, you know this.  Somewhere up there between your ears is a rule that you just can’t quite get to……

So in the meanwhile, you can find that quick answer here.  I’m starting my list of the most common grammatical errors I see on those college essays.  I’ll keep adding to the list so check back whenever you just can’t quite remember that past pluperfect participle of …

Who – That – Which are  NOT interchangeable.  Really.  Which do you use when?  Who / That / Which

PREPOSITIONS are those LITTLE words that tell us WHERE and WHEN                   

Prepositions are always followed by a NOUN (or pronoun or noun phrase or gerund) and,

YES, in informal writing it is okay to end a sentence with a preposition.  

These preposition are a lot to keep up with.

Just don’t add an unnecessary preposition at the end of sentence: Where is he at?   (OUCH!!!)

       Instead, keep it simple:  Where is he?

There you go.  Consider yourself “Prepped”.  


RUN ON SENTENCES are a common problem in college essays they can be the result of fast thinking and careless proofing they make me kind of breathless when I read them.  Slapping a period in the middle isn’t always the right way to go you have some choices about how to fix them once you think about the tone you want to set think about the rhythm of your words, too.  ahhhhhhhhhhh!  (Just catching my breath.)   Here’s the low-down on run-on from one of my favorite go-to gals….. Grammer Girl.  






Time for one more Facebook Check……


The rumors are true. Colleges DO check your Facebook page.  Maybe a few don’t.  But you need to assume all of yours do.   In fact, U.S. News andWorld Report found that a large number of college admissions officers use Facebook to get a sense of a student, especially before an interview. 

According to 2011 survey by Kaplan Test Prep “24 percent of admissions officers report using Facebook or other social networking pages to research an applicant”….up from 10 percent in 2008.   And it doesn’t take a college degree to understand that status updates about (underage?) drinking or ‘other’ (a-hem) activities, especially when expressed in salty language, “negatively impacted a prospective student’s admissions chances.”

Who’s Looking?

And it’s not just the admissions committee checking you out.  Here’s the “Best Case”:    

  •    ·      Potential employers
  •    ·      That teacher you asked to write a recommendation
  •    ·      Scholarship committees
  •    ·      Future college Roommates and Classmates
  •    ·      Future RA (Resident Advisor)

What about the “Worst Case? 

  •   ·      All of the above PLUS….
  •   ·      Campus Police (if you give them a reason)
  •   ·      University judicial board

The Pro-Active Applicant

But here’s a new twist.  NBC reports on another Kaplan survey which revealed that: 

80% of college admissions officers or a colleague in their admissions office had received a Facebook friend request from at least one applicant — an increase from 71% in our 2009 survey.  This would imply that applicants are at least open to admissions officers checking them out and it shows that students are indeed driving this kind of new communication.

And it seems that many university profs and staff are receptive, even like connecting to students. 

So take one more look and remove “those photos”.  If you aren’t entirely sure what qualifies, check THIS out.  

Then highlight some of your prouder moments for all your  friends – and future friends, teachers, mentors, employers, and roommates – to see.



College Application Crunch Time

Thanksgiving vacation and, if you’ve got a high school senior, have I got an “App” for you!  How about a “College App” as in those 8 or 10 or 12 college applications that must be completed right down to the last “Club participation”,  and 925 character essay on  “Why do you think the journey to be oneself seems the riskiest of all journeys?”

If you are lucky enough to be at one of those great private high schools that makes it their mission to step every student through the college application process to completion, go right now and thumb through those cancelled tuition checks with an attitude of gratitude.  If you’re the parent of a child enrolled in an exceptionally rare public school with a well-staffed, well-trained guidance office that actually focusses on something other than truancy and getting everyone to graduate, get on your knees and thank your Lord.  You still have some work to do on the college application front but you are in better shape than most.

Now for the rest of us, supporters of public education in all its permutations, its time to move “college stuff” to the top of our priority list.  You may have made a good effort so far to keep up on ACT test dates, SAT Subject Tests, college nights and all the rest.  But unless you have a 4′ x 8′ spread sheet on the kitchen wall with a dry erase marker keeping track of due dates, scholarship apps, essay prompts and reference letters, you need to step it up.

College Application Process Got Complicated

When you applied to college just a few short decades ago, it went like this:  Guidance counselor “helps” you pick 3 schools.  You send away for catalog and application.  You fill out application in blue ballpoint, including your 2 SAT scores and a short blurb on why you want to go to their college.  Counselor writes a recommendation. Parent writes a check.  Into the envelope.  Apply stamp.  Mail and wait for your acceptance letter.

It’s NOTHING like that now.  You’ve figured out that your kid has taken 16 tests in 6 different sittings which, thankfully, have been auto-sent to the schools your child listed. Make sure you’ve updated this list at collegeboard.com, to reflect the latest short list of schools. You’ve also used the database at collegeboard.com to find out which schools use the Common Application, which require supplemental information and essays, and which have their own application.  You’re putting all this on the spreadsheet, right?

Letters of Recommendation and Transcripts

You’ve noted which schools require Letters of Recommendation and which of those must be from a teacher, from a counselor, from both or from either.  Get these going RIGHT NOW if you haven’t already.  They take a minimum of 2 weeks to turn around, longer as the deadlines get closer.  Your child might have a “Brag Sheet” in the bottom of their “bookpurse” which should be filled out and given to the recommender, along with stamped addressed envelopes to every school that requires one. Many schools have a form for the recommender to fill out.  Include that.  Mark on your spreadsheet when you gave the stuff to the teacher and follow up before they are due.

Your student needs to get their official transcripts, including class rank, from your high school registrar.  They will come to you in a sealed envelope and will be sent with each application.

The College Application ESSAY

Finally, the dreaded essay.  You want to cruise through all 6 or 8 or 11 applications/supplements and cut and paste the essay prompts and instructions into a document that you can print out.  With this overview, you’ll be able to see where topics overlap and you may be able to rework a couple of essays a couple of times to get the job done.  

College Application Deadlines

Not entirely sure why the early decision/early action movement came about.  To end the suspense?  Save money on unnecessary applications?  Our college planner likes to avoid the whole “early” business all together, for a very interesting reason:  the awarding of scholarships and aid is really a negotiable process.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t a few years ago when my son was doing all this.  I thought you hope and pray they accept you and then you gratefully accept whatever money they choose to give you.  Not so.  Financial Aid offices regularly negotiate aid to pull in good students who might be courted by other schools.  Early action/decision tells them you are VERY interested and might weaken you just a bit next spring when you are negotiating your financial aid.  Something to consider.



College Essay Writing Zen

If you look online for help with your college application essays, you’ll find plenty, some more helpful than others.  This admissions advice for those applying to Yale University is at the top of my list! 

What makes it so great?  First, it’s an excellent recap of all the points that trip up students the most. Second, its a nicely done video featuring an experienced member of Yale’s admissions team.  5 minutes and completely worth it!   Have a look… 

Yale University – Putting Together Your Application Essay


Paying for College

Paying for college is kind of mindblowing. Based on our high school senior’s “Target List”, she is looking at annual college expenses (that’s tuition, room & board) of $24,700 for the in-state University, on up to $52,000 for the out-of-state private school. Per year! Times 4 years. Or maybe 5 (which seems to be pretty common these days). YIKES!

For those of us with high school seniors, our window for Saving for College has closed. Right now it’s all about taking advantage of every break. To do that, you probably need some help because this stuff is complicated!

College Financial Aid Basics

First, you need to know something about how the system works. I found this at the on-line magazine Suite101.com:  “Colleges do not exist from students making full tuition payments. They can’t because most students cannot afford to pay full tuition…The federal government has a formula in place to equalize the availability of college to everyone. The FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, decides what a family can afford to pay for college. The college dips into its investment funds to offer grants and scholarships to fill in the gap. The sliding scale that the FAFSA provides is how so many students and families can afford college.”

Help with College FINANCIAL Planning

Filling out the FAFSA is complicated with a lot of the information coming from your 1040 (which you will want to file in January so that you can complete the FAFSA on time). The tricky part is what counts against you –what assets of yours are added up to determine how much you should be paying for college. We got a little help with this part. There are a lot of college planners around. I had heard mostly about the ones who strictly focus on helping your child pick their schools and complete their applications. We were more in need of someone who knows the ins and outs of paying for college.

College Planning Source here in San Diego has actually helped us in both areas by first working with our student to focus in on areas of interest, career goals and then schools with the best programs to help her meet those goals — all of this without parental intervention, which is, no doubt, why it has worked so well. With the target schools list, our counselor, Michelle, took our financial information and used her expertise and software tools to calculate our Expected Family Contribution (EFC) at each of the schools. There it was in black and white with tears all over. But there was hope. She was also able to give us really specific historical information for each target school about how much aid they give and what form it takes– grants (don’t pay back), loans and work/study. Looking better……

Next she had some tips on how to get our EFC down even further, by changing some of our assets from the kind that count against us to the kind that don’t count at all. Better still.

Don’t Miss The New Tax Credit for College Students

And just this week, she sent me an email about a new higher-education tax credit, which was part of the stimulus bill signed into law in February. We could get $2,500 for EACH KID right off our taxes next year. We don’t even have to fill out any extra financial-aid applications to get the new money — just file our tax return. Get more info about this one here!

The point is, paying for college is a tremendous feat and a lot of us are paying more than we need to. Negotiating all the ins and outs of what we are eligible for can be a full-time occupation. If your time is already pretty booked, look for some help. It may be well-worth the investment. Make sure your college counselor is a member of the National Association of College Funding Advisors and/or the National Institute of Certified College Planners.