The College Conversation: Several tips to help students overcome back-to-school jitters

I always expect our phone lines to be busy the first two weeks of school.

It's true that reality sets in for families after the long summer break, as they realize it's time to figure out the college list, college entrance exams and applications.

But that's not the main reason I hear from so many clients at the beginning of the school year. Instead, I get a barrage of calls from students complaining about a class that is way too hard, a teacher who is way too mean or a schedule that is way too overwhelming. They call us seeking our blessing to drop a class, level down or do something that was not part of the college admissions plan we originally developed.

There are the typical adjustments and complaints that come at the start of the school year that parents should be ready for and students should understand.

Here's my advice aimed primarily at students:

Don't give up so easy. There's something to say about struggling and then overcoming. Colleges look for this in applicants. Keep in mind that your class schedule is the most important element of your candidacy in college admissions, so dropping a class might have some serious implications.

Don't freak out if you're struggling in a class. Get help early and often — having a tutor is not a sign of weakness.

Adjust your study habits. Turn off your Facebook chat online status and phone. Instead dedicate focused time to your work. You'll be amazed at what you can get done without interruptions.

Don't be stupid. The start of the school year means back-to-school dances and football games. Making the conscious choice to drink or otherwise "party" before school functions is just that — stupid. And even though your brain might not feel ready to ace a test, don't be tempted to cheat. Academic dishonesty is something that colleges won't tolerate. Most applications have a disciplinary question that both the applicant and counselor must answer.

This issue is so important that all students should read the way most of these questions are phrased: "Have you ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any educational institution you have attended from the ninth grade (or the international equivalent) forward, whether related to academic misconduct or behavioral misconduct, that resulted in a disciplinary action? These actions could include, but are not limited to: probation, suspension, removal, dismissal, or expulsion from the institution."

Remember that once a rule is broken and you are caught, many people know about it — including your hundreds of friends and their friends on Facebook. Hiding the truth can also be devastating. Three years ago, we worked with a student whose prom incident was "expunged" from her record. She did not report the incident to the colleges. Neither did her counselor. But, tucked in a teacher recommendation was something about how the student handled herself following her suspension. A red flag went up and the assistant principal received a phone call with many questions about the student's discipline file. Difficult as it is, it would have been better for that student to come clean in the first place.

Finally, the start of the school year also prompts a lot of college admissions chatter since application season is in full swing. Don't let your friends freak you out. Their plan is not your plan. Their ideas are not your ideas. Just as we tell parents to avoid parking lot gossip about who's applying where; students should not believe everything they hear about who thinks they're going to get into a given school.

There are certainly aspects about the beginning of a new school year that are frustrating, such as the inability to get a class you want, due to it being full or the reality that you have to now wake up to an alarm for the next nine months. But, if students take the necessary precautions to not create drama for themselves, they will feel far less defeated and more emotionally focused for what the next 180 school days will bring.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs Sundays. Please send college admissions questions to Lisa@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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