MARCH 2017
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By Robert LeVine

Over spring break, then again in the summer, eager high school students and their families will travel across the country to visit fine universities to find the right “college fit.” It is not imperative that you visit colleges before applying – many prefer to wait until after receiving admissions offers – but if you do, I have some valuable but controversial advice for maximizing your experience:

Skip the information sessions!

Before you recoil in horror, let’s understand what happens during these sessions. They are designed not for you to learn about the school, but rather for you to be impressed by the school. These meetings are sales pitches, designed to convince you to apply. Everything they say is for their purposes, not yours. Think of them as infomercials, not info sessions.

You might be wondering “what’s the harm” in attending the meetings. The problem is that the info sessions start to sound the same. They are purposefully generic, designed to address the broadest subject matter possible to an unknown group of people. Our students tell us constantly and consistently: info sessions all sound the same, regardless of the college. True, the methods of presentation may vary, not just from school to school but also from presenter to presenter, but in the end, students (and parents) become painfully bored. Usually, somewhere during the third info session at the third college, students can’t handle any more.

When a student becomes restless and unhappy during an information session, you’ve wasted your time. To identify a great place to study, you have forced your student into a bad mood. Do you think they’re going to like the college when they’re miserable? Think about it: you have spent time and money traveling to a college only to have a poor experience. That’s not a good strategy.

Campus tours are different. Take the official tour, or take a self-guided one. Use your eyes more than your ears; remember, those happy, extraverted tour guides are trying to sell you, too. Take notice of the human spaces, everything from the sidewalks to the green spaces to the dining halls. Look where people congregate and how they interact. A college campus is a human environment, one where people associate and connect, or not. It should be a community, not just a collection of classrooms.

Because your first view of the campus is not likely to make perfect sense, do some research first. To enhance your tour experience, review a virtual tour online before you visit. Take a look at the campus before arriving so that what on the tour you see will make sense in context of what you already know. Remember, when searching for virtual tours, look for “drone” tours, which give a different view of how the campus fits together.

Still, you might be wondering: don’t the colleges give you credit for showing up and signing in for information sessions? No, they don’t. They don’t have time to cross-check the records during admissions season, and frankly sitting through a sales pitch is not a very compelling factor when contrasted with three years of grades, multiple test scores, resumes of honors and activities, endless essays, and perhaps an admissions interview. Besides, they know that many families can’t afford to travel to visit them, which is why they travel to visit you for college fairs and presentations. If you think that attending an information session “demonstrates interest” in a life-deciding way, you’re fooling yourself.

Use the time that you save by doing something truly valuable: venture off the campus. Find out what’s nearby, whether public transportation makes culture and internships available, whether you can see a movie or buy groceries easily. You’re going to live there for four years, so find out if the place has enough to satisfy your needs and help you grow.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email or visit


On cell phones and sacrifice

By Anu Varma Panchal

Sometime when my daughter ended fourth grade and started fifth, fellow parents began to capitulate to their children’s relentless demands for that ubiquitous accessory, a cell phone. I bravely resisted, but watched dismayed as, one by one, others fell. I softened my stance from “absolutely not” to “sometime in high school” and finally to a grudging “maybe in eighth grade” because that still sounded like a nice long time away. I compared notes with other parents, secretly writing off generous phone-givers as suckers and fervently counting on strict ones to hold out. Betrayal came from unexpected sources; one close friend’s father abruptly bought his daughter a phone because of an impending two-week visit to out-of-state cousins. I was blindsided, but rallied quickly. The friend is a whole year older, I said triumphantly. My daughter entered middle school tragically phoneless.

As a connoisseur of frightening news headlines, I was hyperaware of the dangers of cell phone ownership by the young and malleable. Cyberbullying, sexting—did I really want to put something in my innocent child’s hand that would place her in the crosshairs of such social ills? I wouldn’t be alone if I did: 78 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own cellphones, according to a 2013 Pew Internet survey. However, I knew that if I joined the ranks, there would be no going back. In a 2016 Common Sense Media poll, 50 percent of teens said they feel addicted to their phones, and 59 percent of their parents agree. Also, 72 percent of teens are compelled to immediately respond to texts and 78 percent check their devices at least hourly. A third of both parents and teens reported daily arguments about device use.

But is this just a kid issue? ‘Fess up: How many of you have dried your hands from washing dishes or got up from helping with homework just to check on that ta-da-dum sound of a text coming in? The CSM poll stated that 48 percent of parents feel like they should respond immediately to texts, social-networking messages and other notifications. A study probably isn’t necessary; the sheer volume of WhatsApp messages from family groups alone is evidence of our propensity for copious time-wasting on the phone. (India also has the dubious distinction of the largest number of selfie-related deaths.) Not only do 56 percent of parents admit they check their mobile devices while driving, 51 percent of teens say they’ve noticed us doing that.

Technology has undoubtedly permeated parenting. When I googled parenting apps and gadgets recently after a family baby announcement, I was astounded by the new gizmos that have entered the market just in the last decade. There’s a “Cry Translator” iTunes app that will inform you with up to 96 percent accuracy whether your baby is crying from hunger, boredom, sleepiness, annoyance or stress. A palm-sized contraption called a Raybaby uses something like ultrasound technology to monitor baby’s sleep patterns and breathing; it not only alerts you when baby turns over or if his respiratory pattern changes, it also builds photo and video collages and creates a health report that you can show your doctor from your phone.

Our increasing reliance on technology has brought with it its own cottage industry of internet safety officers and digital detox experts who have written books and even contracts to guide children’s cell phone usage. When my daughter proved her point halfway through sixth grade by having to use friends’ phones several times to call about school pick-up changes, we finally bought her a phone that she immediately covered in Harry Potter paraphernalia. Except for her emoji overuse, we can’t complain about the tech habits of a kid who responds “hi” six hours after a friend says hello. As with so many other milestones I had overthought, this one appeared to have been anticlimactic. So far. She doesn’t have social media yet.

As for that contract? Perhaps we parents are the ones who should take a look at that. Limit screen time, don’t put the phone beside our bed, never send nude selfies and don’t answer a ring during mealtimes—aren’t those conditions we should all abide by, regardless of age? I took the first tough step and deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Sure, it’s tough to sit idly at a red light not knowing what any of my 443 friends are up to that very minute, but I’m making the sacrifice in the interests of good parenting and the understanding that contracts and technology aside, the best way is, as always, the simplest and the most difficult one: to lead by example.

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