Making Sense of a Spring Admission Offer

Why it happened and what it means for your student.

 By Anne Vaccaro Brady

DaffodilsjpgA growing number of colleges are offering freshman year applicants spring admission, foregoing a move to the wait list or, for Early Action candidates, a deferment to the regular admissions pool. I did some research to learn more about this trend.

The reason colleges are going this route It’s a business decision. With a significant number of students leaving campus after the fall semester due to December graduation, spring study abroad or dropping out/transferring, colleges have available space in their dorms and classrooms. By accepting a group of freshmen for the spring, they will easily fill those spaces, keeping their colleges at capacity.

These colleges accept applicants for spring as a policy The University of Maryland continues to increase its number of spring admits with about a quarter of its freshman class now accepted this way. University of California—Berkeley, University of Southern California, University of Vermont, Middlebury College, University of Rochester, Northeastern University, University of Miami, Boston College, Colorado College, Cornell University, Binghamton University, New York University, University of North Carolina—Charlotte, Tulane University and Hamilton College all have some type of spring admissions program.

The students who receive spring offers Students accepted for the spring semester generally have the same qualifications as those admitted for the fall. Despite the declining number of high school students nationally, colleges are receiving record numbers of applicants for the same amount of available spaces. They simply can’t accept every qualified applicant for the fall.

Why accept If this is still your student’s top choice school, their only college offer or they find the idea of starting in January appealing, then they should seriously consider taking the spring admission offer.

Why decline Your teen might want to pass if they’ve been accepted to other colleges they like just as much if not more, the financial aid package doesn’t meet their needs, they want to start college as a matriculating student in the fall or this college never sat near the top of their list to begin with.

Students accepted for the spring semester have the same qualifications as those admitted for the fall.

What’s next if you say yes It’s important that you and your student read all the instructions carefully, including the deadlines to accept spring admission and apply for financial aid. These may or may not be the same as for fall freshmen. Confirm that campus housing is guaranteed.

Check which of your teen’s AP and/or IB scores will earn credit so they’re not starting in spring with zero. Your student wants the best chance of graduating when they originally planned.

Colleges keep in touch with spring admits about deadlines, orientation dates, housing options, as well as the private Facebook/social media group they’ve set up for spring freshmen to get to know each other.

What to do in the fall Colleges with spring admission programs give the same suggestions:

  • Take classes at a community college or a four-year school as a visiting student (your teen can call the spring college for suggestions on which courses to take and the credits that transfer the easiest). The University of Maryland and UC Berkeley both have programs where spring admits can take classes off-site or during off-peak hours through their university. Some colleges, like NYU, limit the number of credits you’re allowed to earn at another institution in the fall. Taking classes will keep a student on track to graduate with the fall freshmen.
  • Travel or study abroad. Some colleges, like Northeastern, have study abroad programs set up for spring admits, while others provide info on American colleges abroad whose credits they accept.
  • Take a gap semester to work, volunteer or intern, preferably in a field of study or career path you’re interested in.
  • Attend campus activities. Some colleges provide free or student-rate tickets to football games for spring admits.

Ways to fit in on campus Have your teen check out the spring admits social media page to start connecting with other students before they arrive. Orientation provides another opportunity to get to know spring freshmen. Signing up for at least one extra-curricular activity will make it easier to meet students with similar interests.

Generally, spring admitted students say they find no difference in how they’re treated by fall freshmen, with whom they’re often placed in campus housing. Keep in mind that most intro-level classes are filled with students who haven’t shared a previous class together, so no one will notice if yours wasn’t there last semester.

Spring admission usually isn’t a student’s ideal acceptance choice, but it doesn’t have to be a roadblock to having the college experience they hoped for.

Share your family’s experience with spring admission, and your advice, in the comments section below.  

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Understanding Academic Probation

It doesn’t mean your college student has to leave college—yet.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady 

Carnegie Library

At the end of the last semester, your college student may have received an email from their institution explaining that they were placed on academic probation. This situation arises most often in freshman year, as teens try to adjust to managing their newfound independence. Now you and your student may be trying to make sense of what was outlined in that notice and what’s next. Read on to learn more.

What is academic probation? It’s a warning to a student to raise their GPA, otherwise they will be asked to leave campus.

Why are you placed on academic probation? Most colleges require students to earn at least a 2.0 or a C grade point average (GPA) for each term (quarter, trimester, semester) and overall. Falling below a 2.0 for the term, but not overall, will still land a student on academic probation.

Dropping or withdrawing from too many classes also puts a student on academic probation because they haven’t met the required minimum number of credits for the whole term.

What are the ramifications? Student athletes become ineligible until their grades improve. Scholarships tied to a minimum GPA are rescinded or temporarily suspended, as is federal student aid.

How do you get off of academic probation? By meeting the specific requirements outlined in the email notification, which should have also detailed why the student ended up on academic probation in the first place. Usually a student has one term to improve.

In addition to reaching a specific GPA and/or number of credit hours in the next term, a student may need to take a seminar on academic success, schedule regular meetings with their academic adviser and/or document use of campus resources such as the tutoring or writing center.

The goal is to get your child to understand and take responsibility for how they ended up in this situation.

What happens if you don’t meet the requirements by the end of the term? In almost all cases, the student will be dismissed from the college.

How can a parent help? Should you? The goal is to get your child to understand and take responsibility for how they ended up in this situation. Once they give you those honest answers, you can guide your student on how to find more success this time around. But ultimately, they will have to do the work.

Together review the email from the college to confirm the objectives your student needs to reach and what actions they’re required to take as they work toward these targets. Then explore the resources available to them and behavior changes they’ll need to make. This can involve simple adjustments like:

  • Studying in the library or reserving a study room to avoid distractions
  • Working less hours at a part-time job
  • Dropping one or two activities
  • Socializing or going out less often
  • Taking advantage of the tutoring and writing centers
  • Scheduling regular check-ins with their academic adviser
  • Visiting their professors during office hours

It may also mean taking more serious actions such as seeking mental health counseling, staying on their prescribed medications and/or changing their major.

With your child’s permission, you might want to talk with their academic adviser to let them know you’re aware of the situation, and to get answers to any questions you may have.

Ask your child straight out if they want to stay in college, specifically this college, and what they’re thinking in terms of Plan B or C in case they can’t get it together in the next term. Discuss the financial implications of the situation. No parent wants to pay for their child to party another term away and students who leave college will need to repay their loans within months of stepping off campus.

Academic probation is often the wake up call a college student needs to get back on track.

Share your experiences and advice on academic probation in the comments section below.

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The 2019-2020 Common App Essay Prompts

The current selections remain the same for next fall’s applicants.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady



The Common Application has released its 2019-2020 essay prompts for students who will be applying to college next fall. These applicants will have the same seven topics to choose from as students from the current admissions season.

The seventh option allows a student to write about a topic of their choice, helpful for teens who write their essay as part of a class assignment that isn’t focused on a specific prompt.

As an application essay coach, I know the keys to a good college admissions essay  (also called the personal statement):

  • Share something about yourself that’s not included anywhere else on the application. For example, instead of writing about the prestigious awards you’ve already listed in another section, discuss an experience that led up to earning one of the awards and show how that helped you grow as a person (Prompt 5).
  • Create at least a basic outline to know whether you have enough information to answer the prompt and to keep you on topic.
  • Write as if you’re having a conversation with someone rather than to demonstrate your extensive vocabulary. Admissions officers want to hear your voice. Let that voice be active, not passive.
  • Stay on topic and make sure to thoroughly address the prompt. I’ve read essays that start off with one or two engaging paragraphs that make me laugh or curious to learn more, but then continue with unrelated information or wrap up too quickly.
  • Revise, revise and revise. A first draft is rarely good enough to submit as is. The essay is an important piece of the application package and requires work to make it the best it can be.

I recommend students write their essay over the summer when they have time to focus on it. Once senior year is in session, classes, extra-curricular activities and the rest of the application process will keep them too busy.

Here are the 2019-2020 Common Application essay prompts:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

If you have questions about the Common App essay prompts, please ask them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer.

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Making the Most of the Holidays with your College Student

Embrace some changes to really enjoy your time together.

 By Anne Vaccaro Brady

Snowy neighborhood

We all have our expectations about how we’d like the holidays to go with our college student home again. Unfortunately, our kids often have different ideas. Read my post on Grok Nation for tips on how to ensure everyone gets what they want.

Share your thoughts and experiences on holidays with a college student in the comments section below.

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Fine-Tuning the Activity Sheet

Formatting activities for the application.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

I’ve written about putting together an activity sheet or high school resume in an earlier post. Once that’s done, your student should use this master sheet to create a new list of their top 10 extra-curriculars, ready to copy and paste into their college applications.

The activities section rounds out your student’s story. Along with the essay, this is a place for your teen to highlight what makes them more interesting than students with similar GPAs and test scores.

Marching Band2

Determine what goes on this list Anything a student has done outside of the classroom goes here: extra-curriculars such as sports and the arts, as well as volunteering and working. The list should include the activities that are most important to your teen, and the most impressive. Any activities mentioned in the essay/personal statement must be on the list.

Understand the parameters The Common App allows for 10 activities, the Coalition, 8. The Common App restricts the name of the activity/organization and the applicant’s role to a combined 50 characters, with the description of the activity maxing out at 150 characters. The Coalition doesn’t provide maximum or minimum character/word counts; I suggest using the Common App guidelines.

Colleges understand the limitations here, and don’t expect students to write in complete sentences. But avoid bullet points. Edit them from the high school resume into comprehensive statements. Using an “&” for “and” is acceptable, as are abbreviations and little to no descriptions for well-known organizations, i.e. Girls Scouts. Focusing on what the student did with or in the group, rather than the role of the group itself works best.

Prioritize the activities The activity most important to the applicant goes first. It helps if it’s the most impressive and one your student participated in all four years (although a volunteer project might be a one-time event). If they’ve achieved or accomplished something most other applicants haven’t, it belongs here, at or near the top.

Mix up the types of activities. A three-sport varsity athlete will want to show that their work on a community service project or student government mattered to them by listing it in-between the various sports.

For each activity, an applicant will be asked if they plan to continue it in college. The answer should be YES for at least one, preferably in the top three. This in no way commits your student to participating once they’re on campus, but shows the activity was meaningful to them and their desire to get involved in college. Answering YES to more than one is fine, too, but no reason to go overboard. Colleges want students who will find and explore new interests, too.

Construct sentences carefully Use active verbs. Vary the first words for each activity. Include a personal achievement when possible, like MVP of the track team. Otherwise focus on the success of the group involved, such as being a member of the marching band that won the state championship.

Show leadership where possible. Students who weren’t officers of the group or captain of the team but participated by doing more than showing up for meetings, can highlight that. Running an annual fundraiser might qualify them as fundraising chair, or finding or welcoming new members can qualify as membership coordinator. The team’s coach or group’s advisor can help with this. A promotion of any type at their job belongs here, too.

Your student wants to keep in mind how this is going to read as part of the overall package they’re creating to tell a college about themselves.

Know what to keep off or to the bottom of the list Volunteer trips or summer programs that Mom and Dad paid for instead of ones that were free or fundraised for are less impressive because they imply your student was only able to participate because they could afford to. Volunteer or community service projects required for graduation matter more if your student took an active role and can offer a personal or insightful reason for choosing this particular assignment.

Your student should review their master high school resume or activity sheet and then determine which extra-curriculars belong on their application. The list can be customized for colleges that don’t use the Common App or Coalition application. Having the details and descriptions in one file, ready to transfer to the application, will make the activities section a quick and easy one to complete.

Share your tips on finalizing the activity sheet in the comments section below.

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Move-in Day Etiquette and Tips

Politeness + planning = a positive experience for all.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

The day you bring your freshman to college is an emotional one. There’s no hiding from that fact. Some parents will say it’s tumultuous and stressful, too. But by showing some basic courtesy and using common sense, you can make this a good day for everyone.

Remember your manners. Keep in mind that parents all over campus are in the same boat—wanting to make their freshman as comfortable as possible in this ridiculously small space that’ll be shared with a stranger, while trying to wrap their head around the fact that yes, this is really happening.

Move in Day2I’ve heard stories of parents who show up intent on ensuring their teen gets more than enough storage and closet space (is their such a thing in a college dorm room?), the best bed, the perfect spot for their mini fridge and, you get the idea. The reality is this isn’t just about your kid, or even for you to decide how this works.

“Remember this is your student’s temporary home,” explains Andrea Winchester, who went through the experience with her son and daughter. “Let them call the shots. They need to figure it out and learn to work cooperatively to share space and compromise with their roommates.”

Encourage your teen to be welcoming. It’s tough being the “new kid” when your roommates are already friends. One mom told me that when she and her freshman daughter arrived at the dorm room, the two roommates and their moms told them not to unpack because they had requested a room together and didn’t want a third roommate. Make sure you and your teen arrive with a cooperative mindset and, as I said above, some manners. College creates a perfect opportunity to learn that life doesn’t always go your way, or as planned.

Anne Verrastro, a mom who survived two freshmen move-in days, reminds parents to avoid setting the bar too high on the roommate-friendship experience. “Kids and parents have heard (or remember) such good stories about college roommates being friends for life, but that’s not always the case. It’s hard enough for kids who haven’t really had to make friends to go out of their comfort zone and work at making friends. It’s not a failure on their part.”

Do arrive at your designated time. Many colleges assign freshmen specific times to move in to prevent congestion. Do your part and show up when expected. Also keep in mind “it takes longer than you think to get moved in and in most cases, you likely need a full day,” says Catherine Ostheimer, a mom of twins who went to different colleges.

Remember, you will need time to go buy forgotten items or things you decided to purchase once you arrived.

Pack smartly. You can’t fit as much as you think in the dorm room, or your car/minivan/SUV.  So pack accordingly.

Move in Day1“Take things out of boxes before you go,” advises Verrastro. “It seems tempting to keep the fan and the fridge and the lamp in their boxes for easy packing, but when you’re unpacking, it’s time consuming to take so many things out of boxes. And the amount of cardboard and plastic. Plus it makes more room in the car!”

Also “have scissors and/or box cutters on hand. You will need them to open packages/boxes,” points out Ostheimer. She had shipped some items to her kids’ colleges in advance, which she doesn’t recommend. “We could have saved a lot of money in shipping if we would have just bought dorm items on the ground there. Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target had everything that was needed. They were crowded on the day before and the day of move-in, but they seemed ready for the crowds.”

I learned after my first move-in day with my daughter to order items like the comforter, sheets, towels, mirror, etc. from our local Bed, Bath & Beyond and then pick them up at the store near campus with my son his freshman year.

Verrastro recommends bringing cleaning supplies because the room may not be in move-in condition. “It wasn’t dirty, just dusty and needed a cleaning.” She doesn’t recommend buying a year’s worth of health and beauty supplies since her daughter brought home half of the Costco toothpaste package at the end of the year. “There’s almost always a CVS or Walmart or whatever near the school [if they run out].”

Stay calm. “Bring a ton of patience with you that day,” advises Winchester. “Emotions are running high and it is easy to snap at the frustrations you will undoubtedly encounter. Just go with it and remember this is hard for your student, too.”

Follow your teen’s lead. You can’t predict your teen’s mood, reactions and motivations that first day. All three moms advise keeping your emotions in check as your freshman decides how to navigate this new experience.

“Try to gauge the timing of when you should make your exit,” advises Winchester. “Don’t expect them to center all of their time on you and plan to have every meal with you. They may want and need to branch off with their roommate(s) and begin their journey.”


Photo credit: Lisa C. DeLuca

Each child is different. Some will need you to stay awhile and others will be ready for you to leave as soon as the bed is made and boxes unpacked.

Ostheimer recommends having that “last meal” the night before they move in to allow them to settle in with the other kids that first night in the dorm.

Exit gracefully. “Try not to have a preconceived notion of how your goodbye is going to be wise, insightful and full of emotion,” advises Winchester. “It might end up being a quick hug and they are gone.”

Do you have move-in day tips? Please share, especially if you’re fresh off the experience.

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Why Your Soon-to-be College Student is “Soiling the Nest”

And how to survive the experience.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

IMG_3538Maybe this is the scenario in your house this summer: Your child heads to college in the fall. Your relationship was never perfect, what parent-teenager one is, but somehow your kid’s turned into someone you hardly recognize. Everything you say is wrong, the sight of you makes him turn in the opposite direction and/or he spends so little time at home you’ve started wondering if he left for college without telling you.

This behavior has been coined “soiling the nest.” And it’s perfectly normal. “A teenager’s job is to become independent,” explains Lisa C. Deluca, LCSW, a therapist in private practice who sends her second child off to college this fall and is experiencing the phenomenon again. “When it’s time to go, there can be very mixed feelings. They want to go, they don’t want to go, they love you, they hate you, they’ll miss you, they hate themselves for missing you, they hate themselves for being scared to go. It’s all very confusing.”

Knowing it’s normal doesn’t always help.“I did understand it was a natural thing,” Elizabeth Larsen acknowledged, discussing the summer before her oldest headed to college, in England from their home in Minnesota. “But I expected him to be nervous in a way that would’ve looked more like a kid who was anxious and nervous.”

Like many soon to be college kids, Larsen’s son didn’t want help from either of his parents about anything, including planning for his first semester, and even started pushing back on simple things like being reminded to walk the dog. “It was hard because I wanted to get along with him and I wanted to spend a lot of time with him and that was really going at cross-purposes with what he needed to do to take on this big challenge,” she said. “So it was an uncomfortable summer. There was a lot more tension in the air. We bickered more than we had.”

Parents need to address their own feelings. Sure, we all know our role is to raise our children so they can launch, but it doesn’t make this point in life any easier. The reality is that our role as a parent is often tied to our sense of value.

“Parents who are afraid of their child growing away from them or whose self-esteem is dependent on their childrearing role might feel crushed, wounded and unappreciated,” says DeLuca. “But it’s not about you. Manage this on your own time so you don’t feel flustered when they are being difficult.”

The other aspect is facing what this moment means for your family. “I was very aware that this was it for him living for a really serious period of time in our house,” said Larsen. “So that’s why I think it was painful for me. I had wanted to be able to get along a little bit better.” With her son going to college abroad, Larsen also knew that she wouldn’t see her son again until the end of his first semester.

There are ways to make this transition work better. You really do have to put your own feelings aside to make this time bearable. “The worst thing you could do is either run after and try to control the child more as they distance, or reactively distance from them, i.e. punish them with silent treatment or withdrawal from them,” says DeLuca.

For some families, the best tactic is facing the issue head on. Instead of getting caught up in what you appear to be fighting about, DeLuca suggests parents “call attention to the communication: ‘It seems we’re not getting along lately. I wonder if it has anything to do with you leaving soon.’ This way you make the unconscious conscious and invite conversation about the real issues.”

Larsen said that approach wouldn’t have worked with her son. “If I sat him down and said, ‘Hey, you know, it seems like you’re really nervous,’ that wouldn’t have gone well.”

DeLuca’s solution in this case is to joke about it. “If the child insults you, say, ‘Wow, thank God you are leaving so you won’t have to put up with my obnoxious behavior anymore.’ Or ‘Thanks honey, I will really miss you, too.’ Or ‘It sounds like you are really ready to go.’”

Larsen and DeLuca agree that the key is reminding yourself it’s not personal. As DeLuca points out, “It’s developmentally appropriate.” But you will need a thick skin. “Do not allow them to be abusive or disrespectful, but stand still and let them emote.”

Parents have to remember to be respectful, too. DeLuca suggests avoiding arguing in the first place. “If they are complaining, ask, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ Or ‘What do you want us to do?’ It’s a lesson in their upcoming decision-making. Consider what they are saying and let them have it, if it’s fair. Stop thinking you all have to do things the way you always have. Things are changing.”

Avoid paying attention to parents who somehow aren’t experiencing this phenomenon. Though DeLuca says there isn’t a difference between how boys and girls get ready to launch, Larsen disagreed. “Some moms of daughters were like, ‘We’re just spending every last little moment together.’ Moms of sons, we were sort of over in a corner.” But she was able to laugh with her husband and her friends about their shared experience. “I didn’t handle it as well with my son directly,” she admitted.

“Smooth transitions are helped along by letting them know it’s good to go, you believe in them, you love them, you will be right here if they need you. That’s really the key message,” DeLuca adds.

Remember there’s an end in sight. Generally, this surliness doesn’t last once your child is on their way. “The moment they leave, if you already enjoyed a nice relationship with them, it will be back,” Larsen said. “They just need to get over that hurdle.”

Share your advice on dealing with a teen “soiling the nest” in the comments section below.

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