Sophomore Spring: Laying the Foundation for the College Search and Selection Process

AAAGH! It’s spring of your sophomore year. What needs to be on your family’s radar?

When I was thinking about my own college application process ~ back in the time when we drove “antique cars” (because we had to crank the windows, as my kids say) ~ I think we made two trips (one North, and one West), I sat for the SAT once, wrote my essay, and applied to a bunch of schools, mostly those that had sent me the nicest catalogs. And let’s be honest, I chose the school I went to for two reasons: they were the #2 seeded basketball team (and lost the Championship to the #1 seed by one point) and were therefore on TV in March when I was making decisions, and the school I chose was the largest school I applied to and I decided after a breakup with my boyfriend that I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew my personal business. My parents had absolutely nothing to do with my application process and in fact, I somehow translated their lack of involvement to mean that they really didn’t care if or where I went. But that’s for another blog….

Clearly, things have changed.

Having worked with young people in myriad ways as both a social worker and a coach, I have learned that there are ways to decrease the angst and smooth the process for both parents and students. While it is possible to start as late as fall of senior year, the earlier you start (Spring of sophomore year), the more intentional and deliberate you can all be as you move through the college search and application process.

1. It’s time for The Talk. Parents, beware. Your assumptions about college are just that. They are assumptions. It’s time to have a conversation with your child. And students? You, too. Assume nothing about this process. Set aside some time when you are all at your best – with all of the stakeholders (usually the parents and child) – and ask yourselves some questions.

  • Is college something we all agree on as the next step after high school graduation?
  • If not, what is the next best step and what needs to happen for us to explore that?
  • If yes, continue on to the next step.

2. The Talk….the next chapter. “The Talk” above is often where people stop (if they even have that talk). What I have found is that parents and students benefit greatly from a conversation about “how they want to be” together in the process of the college search. I’d suggest a conversation early in the process and again as a junior and a third time as a senior (and as many times in between as called for). Designing something together will ensure that you are not making assumptions about who is responsible for what and clarifies the ownership for these initial steps in the process. This process may not look any different from how you relate to one another in other decision-making processes, but I have found that this is often the first time a student takes ownership for a major decision that potentially impacts the whole family. Questions to think about include:

  • Who owns the decisions about the process including the schools that go on the initial “list”, what visits take place, when they take place, and who schedules them?
  • How do we deal with disagreement in the process?
  • What is most important about this to each of us?

This is your opportunity as a parent to say “The most important thing to me is that you not graduate with an exorbitant amount of debt” or “The most important thing to me is that you find a school that will allow you to travel abroad”. And likewise, your student gets to say, “The most important thing in this is that I get the final choice where I attend” or “The most important thing is that you are not constantly on my back about college – I want to enjoy my senior year.”

It is possible that you do nothing about responding to these questions at this time; you may just put them into the space, write them down, acknowledge each other for what you are each bringing to the table and whittle away at the details later. Other families may want to address what gets shared: “I am more than happy to give you your space on this and let you take the lead, but how can I know that you are moving ahead and staying on task? Can we have a monthly check-in about how you are moving ahead and redesign this agreement if necessary?” “Yes but I don’t want to talk about it between check-ins.” Again, look at the key things that are important to each of you and move from there.

3. Testing. Make note of the dates the PSAT, SAT and ACT are being offered along with deadlines for registration. In my experience, PSAT registration is done through your high school and testing seats are offered on a first come, first served basis. You CAN get closed out of a test.

The PSAT is a tricky beast. Some students sit for the test as early as 8th or 9th grade (especially if students are looking at athletic recruitment). Others take it as sophomores. The PSAT doesn’t really “count” but the score report does provide a lens through which to look at the testing process moving forward: what are your strengths and weaknesses? How do you compare to your peers? And when taken as a junior, the PSAT is the determinant of some merit based financial assistance including the National Merit Scholarship Program and other scholarship partners. You will also be added to mailing lists of colleges who will make endless attempts to prove that their school is the best fit for you.

4. Get to know who you are. This might be one of the most overlooked aspects of the college application process. As a coach and as a mother, I have yet to find anything universal about the college application process. Students and parents alike identify myriad values when it comes to colleges: affordability, school spirit, rank, safety, homogenous environments, heterogeneous environments, climate, class size….really. Maybe the most universal thing I hear is “I want (my child) to be happy.” But how do you know what will make you (or your child) happy? Most students have no idea what will make them happy. Most students have not lived their lives with intention up to this point ~ they have followed the pack, done the next right thing, and done their best to blend in with friends. Now we are asking them to stand out among many, demonstrate how they are unique, and by the way, be the best high school students they can be while trying to figure all of this out. Setting your child up with a coach is perhaps one of the most efficient, cost-effective ways, to walk through the college process. A good coach will help them identify what motivates them, where their natural strengths lie, what that little voice in their head whispers to them and how it holds them back. A coach can look at learning style, thinking style, and communication style and the student gets to use their day to day life, as it is, as a lab in which to practice and learn. With all of this self-knowledge in their arsenal, students can quickly come up with those parts of themselves ~ their own unique genius ~ that they want to highlight in a college essay or interview. From this place they naturally come up with important questions to ask on tours and meetings with admissions officers. And finally, this self-knowledge helps them to identify schools that are most likely a great fit for them because they now know what drives them, what holds them back, and what they need from a school that resonates with who they are, not solely what they have done with the past several years of their lives. It is an investment in a student’s future not to be overlooked.

5. Support. If you are reading this and are in the spring of your sophomore year, start to think about what kinds of support you think you will need. Do you want to take a test prep class? What support will you need to take the most challenging classes FOR YOU as a junior while also managing your extracurriculars and the college search process? Are you someone who benefits from accountability? To whom do you want to be accountable? Your parents? A coach? If you are not someone whose strength is not in developing systems that include well-designed actions and timelines, whose help can you enlist for that? Look at the challenges you have had up to now and use them to anticipate what challenges you may have moving forward. Then come up with a list of people to help.

6. Perspective. When my children were applying to college, I had to choose a perspective that framed who I wanted to be for them over those couple of years this was on their radar. I used a core belief of coaching to help me: my children are “naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” I was fully aware that the process our family engaged in together to walk through this time was actually as important as the end result. It was important for me that they enjoy their senior year and kept engaged in their academics. Each of them identified owning the process and the final decision about what school to attend as being extremely important. If they could get through this, know when they needed help and know how to ask for it, I would consider it a successful search. And they did not disappoint. By honoring the process they each designed with me, I knew exactly when to check in, how they wanted support, and who owned what. In doing so, we all felt a measure of success ~ like we had accomplished something big together and we have learned that these simple tools can help us make any big decisions we have to make as a family. And with this perspective and our co-active design of the process, we all felt a little less stress, met deadlines, and not only tolerated, but enjoyed, the process.


Showing up for myself: A lesson in how knowing myself changes how I show up for what’s tough.

Trust. It’s such a tricky word. Nothing evokes fear in me like that word. And yet, when I can fully and wholly relax into trust….wait. Let’s face it, I’m not sure I can. But I know I have. So what was different between then and now?

As I write, I am aware that I like to think I trust in the Universe, trust in a higher power, trust in the goodness of the world to take care of me and my loves, I am also aware that I generally have a Plan B. If God doesn’t come through for me, I can always take the wheel. Even in the acknowledgement of this, my heart is racing, I feel edgy, and I really have no peace.

What is that all about? What influences my ability to trust in the Universe? Self care. When I am off the beam – not taking care of myself – all of these fears rise to the top. It is like carbonation bubbling up to the surface and disrupting my peaceful, smooth surface (if you know me, you know that there is very little on the outside that says “peace”, but really, I do feel it on the inside!). Self care looks different for all of us. It took me years to know what self care was for me. I remember thinking self care meant having a giant Snickers at 4:00 every day because “my body was telling me” I needed a Snickers and “we should trust in the wisdom of our bodies,” after all. Horseshit. Other things I played with were staying in my PJs all weekend (pre-kids), drinking, and “girl time”, which always seemed to translate into “gossip time” and I never, ever felt good afterwards. You want to see someone robbed of any chance at peace? Put them in Pj’s for a weekend (after their Friday afternoon Snickers – and not the little “fun” size and not even the grocery aisle size – these were GINORMOUS Snickers), give them lots of alcohol (and whatever other substance or food will help them to “know” they are responding to their body’s wisdom), and let them talk for hours with friends about other friends. Oh yes…and I was probably listening to some depressing music like The Cranberries or the soundtrack from Reality Bites. But I digress….

After lots of work and willingness to give up what I think I know for something I truly know (that word “trust” implied again), it is clear to me what it means to take care of myself. I don’t want the details to muck up the message, so I’ll share that for me, it involves exercise, some sort of spiritual practice, and the right food. It involves fully honoring values that I have discovered are important for me to honor in order for my insides to match my outsides. It involves living in resonance and relaxing into what “is” so that I can know how I feel and acknowledge those feelings (the hard ones are usually fear and embarrassment) in some way, shape or form. Things seem lighter and my attachment to them – my white-knuckled grip – begins to loosen.

So back to trust. I have recently had some “stuff” going on that requires me to rely heavily on the Universe because I am so incredibly powerless over the outcome, that I had to get into a place where I could trust that I, and those who are deep in these weeds with me, would be taken care of. I had to let go of my grip on controlling the outcome and find the trust so that I could surrender the results and trust that the right thing would happen. So what did I do? I took walks. I took care of my food. And my spiritual practice involved writing and a whole heck of a lot of “Lead me, guide me, show me the way.” To the outside world, the “stuff” in my life would have allowed me to say “not enough time”, “x, y, z needs to be taken care of,” and “don’t indulge yourself, you are too busy and need to fix this problem.” But I knew, in some very profound place, that I needed to continue to take care of my body and my soul or I would be useless to those relying on me. Was I afraid? Hells yes. Was it paralyzing? No. Not when I was taking care of myself.

Am I still afraid? Admittedly, yes, fear pops up. It’s here today but as I write (read: spiritual practice) it is subsiding. I’m not in the depths of it, necessarily, but I am still in it. And, ya’ know what? I haven’t been taking care of myself. I’ve been working a lot and making excuses for not getting outside or writing or having meaningful conversations with those I trust. Those are the things that feed me. And the carbonation is rising. It’s actually already risen. I can feel the bubbles disrupting the surface of my being. So I start with writing — here at least — and I make sure I get some exercise today. I have lots on my plate so I will ask for help so that I can do what I need to do to not feel that heart-racing, edgy (and let’s face it – irritable) feeling. And by tonight, my trust will return. My peace will be back. Everyone around me will benefit. And I’ll start all over again tomorrow.

What are you facing today, this week, this month that makes you call into question your ability to trust? Is it your high school senior choosing their next phase? A problem in a relationship that needs attention but your fear is keeping you from addressing it? A health concern of yours or someone you love?

Now ask yourself: “How am I taking care of myself?”

“How am I living in resonance today?”

“Does what I know to be true on my insides – my values, my soul-
speak, my core beliefs about who I am – match what I project on the

If the answer is no, stop thinking. Just do it. Do the next right thing. Do whatever it is that you know of (and you do know), that points your attention to caring for yourself. See what happens to that situation that causes you to question your trust. Trust that you are being taken care of. Trust that the next right thing will be revealed to you. Trust in the process. And trust that you and your loves will be fundamentally well. As you do, I trust that your grip on it all will loosen and you will start to feel peace. As you do, maybe nothing other than you will change, but that’s the exact right place for it all to start. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Happier and Nicer

About 7 years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for an introductory coaching class in New York City. TBH, my perspective at the time was that coaches were people who were too lazy to go back to school for a Masters degree. My friend, also the instructor, would tell you that I sat through that first day with my arms folded with a look of skepticism beyond compare. What I have learned since then, was that my perspective was really just a lack of humility. It was a choice to put my ego before my willingness to explore. This chosen perspective almost kept me from what I would later come to know is my life’s work.

By the time that weekend was over and I was heading back to Boston on the train, I was clear on one thing: I had changed. Part of the change was the learning — what I had been taught; but the change was really more about who I was and who I was becoming. I just kept going back, taking the next course and the next course and the next course and then when that program came to an end, I took the certification course. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other because, while I could not put a finger on what I wanted to be different, I knew that every time I received coaching, I made small shifts in the way I showed up in all areas of my life.

Younger Child: “Mom, please don’t go back to NY. Do you really have to go again?” Older Child: “Let her go. Whenever she goes, she comes home really happy and much nicer.”


No kidding. If that isn’t the most humbling feedback from a child, I don’t know what is. So I kept heading back and I kept getting coached through the process. And one class at a time, my parenting transformed and I became happier and nicer.

So how else does coaching serve me? Coaching has helped me see that I have choice in my life. I have learned that when the perspective I am in doesn’t work, I get to choose another. Do I still get stuck? Yes. But I have the tools that if I am willing to draw upon them, help me turn things around. I have learned what I stand for ~ what really, really matters to me ~ and how to design all of my decisions around those values for true resonance. I like to say, “My insides match my outsides.”

As I sat in those courses, a lingering thought never left me:
What if we could give the gift of self-knowledge to teenagers? What if, as children moved towards adolescence and adulthood, they had the clarity around what drives them? Where their natural strengths lie? What if they could make choices based on who they truly are and not based on who their friends or teachers think they are? And what if they could make choices about their future ~ college, gap year, military, employment ~ based upon this authentic self-knowledge?

So I have made it my life’s work to facilitate the transformation of others. From young high school students looking for better academic achievement to college graduates looking for that first job to adults re-evaluating their life purpose and next steps….it all starts with clarity on who we are deep inside. The answers are within but just waiting for the right questions to be asked. And with rigorous honesty, and in the most direct way possible, I will fearlessly ask. One client at a time, the world will be a happier and nicer place.

Lessons from a Snowstorm

As I put in my usual work week leading up to the forecasted storm, many clients seemed to look forward to the weather but for reasons having nothing to do with the beauty of a snowfall, the ability to enjoy the snow on a sled or on skis, or the exercise they would get from shoveling. Every single person who talked about the storm, including myself, made note, in one way or another, that there would be no expectations of them during the storm. Every. Single One. One even said, “I can do nothing and have no guilt.”

It made me wonder….what if we could choose when we did ‘nothing’ and not subject ourselves to feelings of guilt, without regard to the weather forecast?

So here is what has become abundantly clear to me: we can. Right now. What I know is that I make up all sorts of rules about what I give myself permission to do without guilt. I have come to understand that I have a little dude who sits on my shoulder and whispers “You don’t have time for that (to sit, to nap, to watch a movie, to read a book, to exercise….blah, blah, blah)”. He has always been there – and when I discovered him, (yes…he goes by “he” but is actually a small, green, wrinkly, thing — like the personification of fungus, actually), I also discovered that he holds me back from fully embracing what I want in my life. He keeps me small and safe and doing all the “right” things. What’s also true, is that many of these “right” things, don’t actually matter. I won’t bore you here with what actually matters, because it is irrelevant. What matters to me may not matter to you and vice versa. But what is clear to me, is that when I flick this fungus off of my shoulder (I literally put my fingers to my left shoulder and flick him right off as soon as I recognize his presence), the things that really, really matter to me are unable to be ignored.

Forget the snowstorm for a moment. Have you ever been on the beach with someone looking out at the ocean and they keep saying, “See those things sticking out of the water?” “Those things” are obvious to your friend, but all you see are white capped waves and foam. Finally, after squinting and cupping your hand over your eyes for shade, you see “those things”. You actually can’t believe you haven’t been able to see them all along. In fact, you can’t unsee them, now. The herd of seals swimming across the horizon….how could you have missed that? They are beautiful.

When I embrace all that is beautiful, and all that matters to me, and ignore my fungus (some people call them gremlins), I am surrendering my tendency to be a victim. A martyr. I am surrendering my frustration and panic about having to do it “all”. I am surrendering the story I have made up about what perfection looks like. I am replacing it with a shift towards what matters. To me. What really, really matters becomes the next, right thing. I cannot unsee it. And I joyfully choose that.

So regardless of the weather forecast, my life forecast is to live with intention and without guilt. And the freedom in that is as beautiful as a winter snowfall.

What is coaching anyway?

When I announced that I would be starting a new venture in coaching, I found that describing it was the most difficult part. It still is. I have had well-educated, bright, hip people make assumptions about coaching like, “Oh, it’s like having a personal cheerleader!” or “Oh, my boss started to dress differently — it’s when you give fashion advice to executives, right?” or “You help people who cannot manage their, time, right?”. While it felt frustrating to me, my “ah hah” moment came when I realized that coaching, or Co-Active Coaching, is all of that. It is whatever the client designs for themselves. Coaching is for people who are perfect, exactly the way they are, but still have room for growth, change, and shifts in their lives that help them step into their potential. It is for folks at work who are looking to be more efficient and effective, it is for folks at home who want the same. It is for people who have angst about something and for people who just want someone to walk through life with who will be completely honest with them no matter what. Don’t we all want that? Isn’t that a gift? Don’t we all deserve that?