How to submit a question

If you are a parent with a child either in or going to college and have a question about any aspect of higher education, send it to me in confidence at I will select questions to be answered and then place the answers on this blog for public view but without the name of the person asking the question. I have access to many college and university faculty and administrators (deans, health care professionals, coaches, admissions and financial aid officers) and they will assist me in answering your questions. Neither I nor my company, Academic Collaborations Inc., receive compensation for this service.

Monday, July 17, 2017


Last year I was asked by a mother, whose son had been accepted into an elite Northeastern university and was preparing to leave for college in August, whether it was a good idea to share his health information with the university’s health center. He had a history of depression and her concern was that the university might use this information against him by, for example, withdrawing his acceptance. Many parents I talk to share the same concern whether or not their child has a mental or physical health issue.

Marilyn Downs, director of outreach at the Tufts University Counseling and Mental Health Center has some important advice on this front. Pointing out that 25% of young people have experienced clinical depression by age 24, she told me that it can be helpful for the Counseling and Mental Health Service to be aware beforehand of a student’s prior mental health difficulties if the student planned to use its services and/or if he or she needed assistance with a referral to other resources in the community. She said that, ideally, this type of information is shared by the student or with the students’ knowledge and permission.

The same thing can be said of other health conditions. For example, if you child is bulimic, consider suggesting that she share this information with the college health service before she arrives on campus. Dawn Nordoff, former clinical director of Washington College’s Health Service once told me, “If your daughter or son has a serious eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, please have them tell us before they arrive on campus. We really need to know about these conditions so that we can deal with them. We want to work with these students to put a plan in place that will allow them to be successful here. If we aren’t aware of a problem when they arrive then we can’t help. I think some freshmen want to start out with a clean slate and so keep their health problems secret. But this can be a big mistake.”

Parents should not be concerned about this information being inappropriately shared with other university offices. For example, health information shared with the health and counseling center is strictly confidential will not be shared with the admissions office (or any other university office) without your permission or (if they are over eighteen)the permission of your child.

Next week I will write about students leaving for college who, like me, have a learning disability.

Monday, July 10, 2017


In my last post I talked about students who are having second thoughts about leaving home for college. In this post I talk about parents who, similarly, are grieving that they will soon be empty nesters. This often begins to happen immediately after their child has been admitted to college and it only intensifies as the time for their child to leave home for college approaches.

Grieving is quite natural. One mother told me that after her son left home she would go upstairs into his room and just sit on his bed, crying in the darkness. However after doing this for a few days she asked herself what the positive option would be. Having her son live at home forever? In Off to College I write about a father who the day after he and his wife delivered their son to orientation felt that someone in the family had died.

These parents aren’t alone. I privately grieved for some time after my second daughter left for college—and I was a college president! But grieving ends quickly enough. After the first visit home you begin to realize that going to college is what makes your son or your daughter happy and, in fact, they will always be in your lives, perhaps not every day as before but frequently.

In my next post I will answer the question “Is it wise to share my child’s health information before they arrive at college?”

Monday, July 3, 2017

INDECISION: Getting cold Feet about leaving home for college

I once received an email from friends who were in sheer panic. "Our son is having second thoughts about going off to college. What should we do?"

This post is about children who are suddenly having cold feet about leaving home for college.

Leaving home to go to college is not easy for every kid. The family just quoted has a son (an only child) who had never really been away from home. Going off to Boy Scout camp, only a stone’s throw from where they live, was painful enough. Going 500 miles away to college was becoming almost unthinkable for this young man as college approached. So, the day before the family was to drive out to July orientation the son had a panic attack. He didn’t want to leave home. He told his parents he wouldn’t go.

Now, some parents I know would cave in to this situation because, in reality, they really don't want to see their child leave the nest either. This happens. But the results can be unfortunate. Growing up and becoming an adult requires cutting the metaphorical umbilical cord at some point. And this will never happen if parents can’t let go.

My friends sat down with their son and basically listened to his reasons for having cold feet. They then logically explored with him the pluses and minuses of not going to college. Reason soon prevailed and their son finally decided to stick with his plan. He attended July orientation (which made him feel better about college) and when he finally left home for for freshman year he never looked back. Today he is a second year law student.

There are options, of course, to deciding not to go to college right away like taking a gap year or getting a job. But the key to a child having cold feet is to get at the real reason why they now don’t want to go off to college. More often than not it’s just a natural fear of the unknown. And this is when being a supportive and loving parent makes all the difference.

In my next post I will discuss the flip side to indecision: Parents who are beginning to grieve that they will soon be empty nesters.

Monday, June 26, 2017


The natural inclination for kids who are contemplating leaving for college is to want to room with someone they know. Leaving home is hard enough. Living with a total stranger is outright scary. So 25% of new students will go to Facebook’s roomsync to find the perfect roommate or, more usually, their parents will call the housing office to request that either someone familiar be assigned as their child’s roommate or at least they be assigned a roommate who is like them (e.g. of the same race, or having the same religious or ethnic background).

When I was writing my book Off to College: A Guide for Parents, Sheri Hineman, assistant director of residence life at Morningside College in Iowa, told me that about 10% of first year students request that they live with a friend. She almost always turns them down. Why? “Because living with a stranger is an important part of a student's education,” she tells me. “It provides an opportunity for them to learn how to deal with people who comes from a completely different ethnic, social or religious background, or who have different tastes, or who subscribe to a different political philosophy. In other words, by living with someone they don’t know, students are being prepared to live in an increasingly diverse and multicultural society.”

So how your child is assigned a roommate? Some colleges send students an extensive survey to be filled out and returned well before Orientation. Your child might already have received one of these questionnaires. Housing offices then try to pair students with roommates who come from a different background or a different part of the country. Care is also taken to pair students who go to bed and get up roughly at the same times. 45% of roommates have difficulty rooming together and, of course, by sophomore year your child can chose with whom to share a room. But I would agree with Sheri Hineman that figuring out how to live with a difficult or not perfect roommate is an important part of one’s college education and, indeed, of growing up.

In my next post I will write about children who are having second thoughts about leaving home for college. In the post after that I will deal with parents who grieve, as my wife and I did, when their child leaves the nest.

Monday, June 19, 2017

HELPING YOU CHILD GET READY FOR COLLEGE: Using the Summer to Good Advantage

As your child anticipates leaving for college, here is some advice that might help them (and you) make the transition.

If they haven't already, your child should consider getting a job this summer. Even if you can afford to pay full tuition there is a virtue to your child helping pay the bill. It will give them a sense that their education wasn't for free. I came from a family of means but my mother and father insisted I work both before and during college. Working was perhaps one of the more valuable college experiences I had plus is gave me something to put on my resume after graduation.

They need to avoid doing stupid things that might get their acceptance into college withdrawn. Recently, Harvard rescinded admission to ten high school seniors for posting obscene and racist comments on a Facebook page Harvard created for the class of ’21. Just know that if discovered, any untoward behavior after being accepted into a college can lead to being dis-invited.

Start preparing them to become independent. When they are in college you won’t be around to tell them what to do. They need to start this summer taking on responsibilities they didn’t have before, perhaps getting themselves up in the morning, doing their own laundry, tidying up their room (thus the photo above!), etc.

In the same vein, they need to start managing their finances. When writing my book Off to College: A Guide for Parents a director of financial aid told me: “Young people are often clueless when it comes to personal finance. We send them off to college without knowing what a budget is or how to balance a checkbook. Worse, we sometimes lead them to think that credit cards are an endless source of free money. The result is a generation of college graduates who are incapable of managing their finances.” If your child falls into the category of financial illiteracy, this summer might be a good time to get them to assume responsibility for their money. You will not be able to do this for them once they are at college!

My next post will be on mixed emotions once your child leaves the nest.

Monday, June 5, 2017


I'm going to temporarily take a break from writing about college admissions and, after a short intermission, start writing posts for parents whose graduating high school seniors will soon be leaving for college. My post next week will be about college orientation and especially about how parents can participate in this traditional rite of passage.

In the following weeks, posts will include:

• Grieving when your child finally leaves home.
• Is it smart to try and arrange a roommate? (It isn't!)
• Going off to college with a learning disability
• Having a conversation with your child before they leave for college
• Dealing with mid-night phone calls
• Homesickness


Mid Fall, I will then return to the college admissions process with posts for the parents of next Fall's high school seniors.

Monday, May 29, 2017


Many parents think that the most important criteria for admission into a good college are ACT of SAT scores. But as is known among educators, these tests, which were designed to predict how well a first year college student will do first semester, actually predict very little by themselves (see my recent post on ACT and SAT scores) so much so that many colleges make them optional (see

I would rate the importance of college admissions criteria as follows:

# 1. Grades: The most important criteria for admission into a competitive college are high school grades, and not only grades, but the difficulty of the courses taken. So Advanced Placement (AP) or honors courses carry more weight than regular courses.

#2. Letters of Recommendation from teachers and counselors: Second place goes to letters of recommendations especially from high school counselors and teachers, so its important for your child to request these letters from teachers and counselors who know them well. These letters serve a number of functions among them the ability of a teacher or counselor to explain,for example, why grades from second semester junior year declined from first semester (ie the death of a parent) or why board scores were not optimal (ie a earning disability).

#3. Extracurricular Activities: Selective colleges like students who not only have done well academically but are also well rounded meaning that they have been involved in athletics or in high school clubs or in service through a church or synagogue or some other organization. Quantity here is not important. Listing 15 clubs in which your child attended only one meeting is not as impressive as one club in which they took a leadership role.

#4. Board Scores: For reasons mentioned above, Boards are not as important as they use to be except at some elite colleges and universities concerned about their standing in publications like U.S. News and World Report.

#5. The Interview: Many colleges these days do not require an interview. However, if you child is good at interviewing, they should try to do one especially if it is with an admissions office professional. It can only help.