Thursday, May 14, 2020

Extracurricular tips for college admissions during a pandemic

One of collateral damages from COVID-19 is the ability of teenagers to participate in extracurricular activities before applying to college.
Right now, you can’t participate in a school marching band or play Shakespeare on a stage. Showing athletic prowess on a track, ball field or court ain’t happening either. You can’t debate in competitions or run a school club.
While the pandemic has made pursuing extracurricular activities more difficult, it is by NO means impossible.
Teenagers just have to be more creative when thinking about extracurriculars they will ultimately share with colleges. Give it some thought and they should be able to come up with great extracurricular ideas!

Extracurricular Activities During COVID-19 Pandemic

To help generate extracurricular ideas during this surreal time, I talked with Shirag Shemmassian, an independent college consultant in San Diego, who helps teenagers with undergraduate admissions, as well as medical school admissions.
I’m sharing some of this evergreen about how teenagers should pursue extracurriculars and then I’ll highlight what he said about activities during this time of crisis.
You can see the entire interview here:

Evergreen Extracurricular Advice for College Admissions
Students need to know the best way topick activities in normal times before tailoring the advice to the pandemic. The basic advice holds for now too, but some activities will obviously need to be tweaked.
No. 1. It doesn’t matter what extracurricular teenagers select.
What is important is what teenagers do with the activities they pick.
Here’s an example for teenagers who play a musical instrument. What can set a student apart is getting involved in music beyond playing. A teenager could start an after-school music class at a local school, launch a fundraiser to buy instruments for kids who can’t afford them or think of another activity linked to music.
No. 2. Low-threshold extracurricular activities aren’t impressive.
If an activity is easy to join and easy to explain, then it’s not that impressive. It’s a low-threshold activity.
“Let’s take the  typical student who wants to go for well-rounded,” Shemmassian said. “Science quiz bowl, model UN, decathlon, track team, five AP course. All of this is very easy to explain.”
No. 3. High-threshold extracurriculars will impress colleges.
Focus on high-threshold extracurriculars, which are by their very nature hard to explain easily.
“If I told you that there is a student who started a statewide network of art kit distribution to cancer centers, explain that,” Shemmassian said.
“Work backwards and put together those steps. You may be able to, but at various points you’re going to stop and you’re going to think, I don’t know, what’s the next step? How do they do that? If the activity sticks together in your mind, it’s not impressive, but if it’s harder to explain and think through, that becomes more impressive.”
Shemmassian is working with a teenager, who loves art and teaching children. She brought both loves together by creating an art kit for young children with cancer. She is looking to partner with local hospitals to distribute the art kits.
No. 4. Ditch extraneous extracurriculars.
Time is precious for teenagers, which can make extracurricular activities a pain to squeeze in.
Shemmassian suggests cutting out fluff activities and focusing on just a couple that are meaningful to the student.
“What do students do who aspire to attend top colleges? They enroll in every single AP course maybe their school offers, which is tons of hours of homework.”
They’ll spend one hour a week “here, two hours a week here, three hours a week here in all these various clubs. Then at the end of the day, they don’t really have much time left. None of these activities in and of themselves will differentiate the applicant in any way.”
No. 5. Use the application to amplify the activities.
The Common Application has room to briefly include a long list of activities, but remember quality always trumps quantity. Students can use the additional comments section of college applications to share what they did and how that reflects their character, their values and their qualities.

Extracurricular Ideas During the Pandemic

Even with a pandemic, the foundations for college admissions, specifically extracurricular activities, are unchanged, Shemmassian says.
“Just as before the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said, “colleges want to make sure that students are achieving a lot of depth with their extracurriculars rather than trying to become a jack of all trades and trying to do everything. That still applies.
“So, things like commitment, achievement, depth, impact, all of those things still matter. It’s just that the options are quite different now versus what they were prior to this.”
Luckily, it is possible for students to pursue some of their own interests today, but much of it will be virtual.

Pandemic Extracurricular Ideas

Here are just a few ideas:
Extracurricular idea: Instead of continuing to volunteer as a tutor for children in an after-school program, explore doing it virtually.
Extracurricular idea: Start up or join a fruit and/or vegetable swap. I got this idea after reading in the San Diego newspaper about a community fruit swap.  Homeowners with excess harvest from their trees – oranges, grapefruit, guavas, figs, lemons, kumquats, avocados, to name a few – drop off their unwanted fruit and people who need food come by and pick up a bag of fruit.
Extracurricular idea:  Create raised beds for vegetables and herbs for senior citizens and others in your community who would like fresh produce but don’t have the ability to start their own gardens.
Extracurricular idea:  Make bag lunches for people who need food. (As a volunteer in Vermont, my son, who is a tremendous cook, is doing this three times a week for dozens of needy people.)
Extracurricular idea:  Become a virtual babysitter. Figure out what works and perhaps create a guide for other teenagers who want to do virtual babysitting for free (for first responders for instance) or as a paid service.
Extracurricular idea: Let’s say you had plans to travel to Europe this summer for a program that included museum tours and art lessons. Museums have virtual exhibits and with the money saved, parents could hire an art teacher for virtual lessons.
Extracurricular idea: Find a place in social media. Start a blog. Create fascinating TikTok videos. Use Pinterest to show off and deepen your creativity. Consider starting your own YouTube channel.
Extracurricular idea:  Students who are interested in politics, will have many opportunities to get involved. Campaigning will be largely online for the 2020 fall election. Candidates from the local, state and federal levels would love to have help!
Extracurricular idea: Students can take a deep dive and learn or do something that they never had time for before. Some ideas…
  • Jewelry making
  • Photography
  • Quilting
  • Woodworking
  • Learning Latin
  • Composing music
  • Robotics
  • Coding
  • Chess
  • Writing comedy and performing online

Share your own extracurricular ideas!

I would love to hear more extracurricular ideas. Please share any that you have in the comment box!

Extracurricular activities and summer program guides

To learn more about extracurricular activities, check out Shemmassian’s great (free) guides:
Obviously, the second guide won’t be relevant for in-person programs now, but this pandemic will end some day!
 Reposted from the blog The College Solution -

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Dear Friends,

We are open and accepting appointments. We are here for you wherever you are.

COVID-19 presents daily challenges to the mental health and well-being of families and children across the country. In response, the Child Mind Institute has become a truly borderless resource for not only children’s mental health and learning disorders but also for the social and emotional support of parents.
About Our Telehealth Services
Our team of expert clinicians is providing remote consultations and telehealth treatment for children, teens, and young adults struggling with mental health concerns including anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism and OCD.

In addition to this existing clinical care, we are providing tailored support where families need it most. This includes:
  • 30-minute phone consultations with an expert clinician from our team
  • Remote neuropsychological evaluations for children 6 years and older
  • Bereavement and grief support with a trained grief counselor for those who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19
  • Tutoring and support for remote learning skills
  • BEST (Behavioral and Emotional Skills Training): Webinar and live consultation for parents and caregivers seeking specialized instruction on behavior management
  • Virtual social skills groups for individuals on the autism spectrum
Please give us a call at 212.308.3118 or email to discuss how we can support your family during this time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Resources for Parents Related to Covid

For Parents:

How to Survive being Quarantined with Your Kids

The Mindful Mama Podcast

March Madness or Sadness? Dealing with Disappointment Due to COVID-19 Cancellations

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

A Message to Our Learning Community

Trauma Learning Policy Initiative

The New Work/Life Balance: When the Office and School Come Home

American Association of Suicidology

Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Psychological Resources Related to Covid-19

Cleveland Clinic Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health

Talking to Your Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource

National Association of School Psychologists

Supporting Children and Adolescents Isolated Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Louisiana State University Health

When the Worst Happens: Loss In Isolation

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

Junior Night: What can I be doing right now? (Part 1)April 22nd, 4pm-5:00pm PT (7pm-8:00pm ET)
Special Guests:
Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission @ Georgia Tech
Susan Tree, Former HS Counselor & Former Associate Dean of Admission @ Bates College
In this interview-style webinar, we’ll focus on two themes: de-stressing and focusing on things we can control. Call it A College Admissions Serenity Prayer.
We’ll cover:
  • What impact is COVID-19 likely to have on the admissions process? What’s likely to be different? The same?
  • How should students and families approach the college admissions process amidst some uncertainty?
  • Are juniors at a disadvantage? Why or why not?
  • What can juniors be doing right now?
    • An overall timeline
    • What we do and don’t know about standardized testing
    • Teacher recommendations
  • What can parents be doing right now?
  • How to begin developing a balanced college list (even if you can’t visit campus)
  • Q&A

Did you notice I didn’t mention essays at all there?
I’m saving that for the following week:
Planting Seeds for Your College Application & Essays (Part 2)
April 29th, 4pm-5:00pm PT (7pm-8:00pm ET)
Notice I didn’t call this a “College Essay Kick-off” or “Hurry Up and Write Your Essay Tomorrow” Webinar. Why? Because you do NOT have to start your essays yet. You’ve got plenty of time. Focus on finishing the year strong with grades/finals/APs.
On this session, I’ll cover:
  • Big Picture Stuff: 5 Tips for Keeping Stress Low and Creativity High
  • A Sane College Application Timeline
  • The Importance of Finding and Showing Your Core Values
  • How to Create a Great Activities List
  • What’s the Additional Info Section, Anyway?
  • The Purpose of the Personal Statement
  • Two Fun Ways to Find Your Personal Statement Topic
  • 50+ College Application Resources
  • Q&A Time with Ethan
Sound fun? Love to see you.
If you can think of anyone else who could use a little de-stressing, feel free to forward this along.

COVID-19 Emotional Support Line

Starting April 20th, any Monmouth County residents in need of COVID-19 related emotional support can contact the Monmouth County Department of Health hotline at (732) 845-2070. After initial contact with DRCC at the hotline, anyone in need of additional support will be directed to call Mental Health Association of Monmouth County at (732) 542-6422  to be connected to a licensed professional. MHA Monmouth County will answer calls live Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm.

MHA Monmouth County has put together a network of 60 volunteer licensed professionals who are providing up to 6 free telephonic support sessions. After 6 calls, if the resident is in need of ongoing behavioral health services, they will be referred to one of our community agencies.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Facebook Live on Financial Aid, Merit Aid and How to Pay for College
Join Grown and Flown blog expert, Jeff Levy, for a special Facebook Live TONIGHT, Tuesday, April 14 at 8 PM ET. Jeff will discuss paying for college for this year’s high school seniors, and what families need to think about if they have teens who are sophomores and juniors. 
What questions do you have for Jeff? Here's a little bit about him. Email us at and join us on Tuesday night where Jeff will take questions LIVE.  
Join Here

Monday, April 13, 2020

Addressing the Social and Emotional Well-Being of the Whole Family

NJSCA is very pleased to be collaborating with the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) and the New Jersey Parent Teachers Association (NJPTA) to be offering a free webinar on Tuesday, April 14th at 7:00 PM. It is designed to offer suggestions and resources to help parents through the current crisis. Please encourage your parents to register at: 

Addressing the Social and Emotional Well-Being of the Whole Family
April 14, 2020; 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm