4 Resources To Kick-Start Your College Search

Painting, University of Maryland, College Park

It begins in high school or even middle school for that matter, that panicky feeling in the pit of a parent’s stomach when you envision your teen’s future. What college will my child attend? Where will he get in? What will she study? What type of career can an art major lead to? What will it cost? All of those concerns, circling around in your brain can definitely stir up unwanted anxiety and panic.

When my kids were beginning high school I felt like I needed to know all the answers to these questions and more. Truth-be-told, I didn’t even know where to start and surely didn’t know which questions would help move me forward without generating more anxiety.

With that in mind, here are four smart and accessible resources to get your and your family started. It begins with conversations and asking questions – lots of questions.

  1. High School Counselor  These tireless advisors are true advocates for your children. Given the responsibility of guiding students through high school, they offer the ultimate in academic, personal, and developmental support. Traditionally they work with each student for four years, which gives them the chance to truly know your child and help with the transition to college. They offer specific college suggestions based on your child’s academic strengths, provide advice on grade point averages and standardized tests, and help with transcripts, recommendation letters, and much more.

    Wood shop, Carnegie Mellon University

  1. High School Art Teachers  Your high school art teachers are tour guides for your child’s creative exploration. They introduce teens to the basic principles of art and design and expand each student’s comprehension of the visual arts by familiarizing them with a diverse variety of artists, artistic styles, and media. As up-close observers, they assess your child’s creative skills, guide for strengths, and make suggestions for the future.
  1. Neighbors  If you have teens in high school then I’m guessing you have friends or neighbors with college age children as well. Although they haven’t walked in your exact shoes, they’ve been down this road before and should be a wealth of information. They can make recommendations based on their own experiences and offer up personal tidbits that you might not have heard of otherwise.
  1. Foley sound recording room, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film

    Art College Advisors  Yes, I’m tooting my own horn here, but I hope you’ll hear me out. Visual arts college consultants focus on the visual arts, period. We’re the ones engaging specifically with art colleges and with art and design programs across the country. We make it our business to learn the specifics about which program is top at which institution and the nuances that accompany each. And, because of our focus, we have a better understanding of what programs look for in future students. Gaining guidance in the details of course and portfolio prep, learning about the value each type of art program provides, and obtaining an understanding of future career opportunities won’t completely remove all that pre-college anxiety, but having a guide through the college search process will help you identify which path to traverse and help your teen find her best college fit.

As a parent, you’re the one with the front row seat to your child’s artistic strengths and passions. If you want to know how you can guide them to their best college fit, start talking. Even asking, “where do I begin?” or “how did you begin?” will get you going.

Stepping Off the College-to-Career Treadmill for a Gap Year

(Getty Images)

Today’s the day. Acceptance letters are in, deposits are paid, and audible sighs of relief can be heard from parents across the country. Woohoo!

Another year of graduating seniors are headed to college. If you’re a parent of one of these aforementioned teens the relief is real. I’ve known the joy and accompanying melancholy of it myself.

I’ve also known the other side of this coin, with a son who wasn’t ready to keep pace on the college-to-career treadmill. He, like many others, needed a gap year.

Gap years can prove to be life-changing opportunities of growth and opportunity, whether considered because of placement on a college wait list or just time off needed before launching a career. Their real value is the ability to press pause.

So what actually is a gap year? For starters, it’s not a frivolous vacation. It is strategic time for your teen to fine-tune his or her personal path. In his recent New York Times article, Kyle DeNuccio referred to his year off as “an opportunity to discover a sense of purpose outside of school.” A year on your own terms can do that for you. Whether traveling, volunteering, interning, learning a new language, or testing a possible career direction, gap years provide strategic time for teens to step out of their comfort zone to explore and uncover new things. The outcome of newfound skills, clarity, independence, and an appreciation for how others live can be transformational.

My son, teaching English in Vietnam during his gap year

Art and design majors have the benefit of being creative problem solvers by their very nature. A year off the treadmill will only enhance that skill set. The time away also proves that they’re not risk-adverse. Coincidentally, both those attributes are highly coveted by employers.

Traditionally gap years occur between sophomore and junior years at college – when I needed mine. But, they can be taken anytime. My son took his after college; he was fortunate to have a job waiting for him when he returned. We each paid our own way, benefitted immensely from the experience, and were clearly focused when we stepped back on the track.

Want to learn more? Kyle’s article is a great place to start understanding the realities of stepping off for a year. Only you and your teen will know if it’s the right thing to do.

Scholarship Season: Artists Paying It Forward

Obstacles, by their very nature, create frustration. They restrict us and often cause us to just give up. Thank goodness, every once in a while, someone comes along to change the status quo and create a new path forward. Alison Hess is such a person. She’s a trailblazer who’s paying it forward.

As a high school student, her heart was set on studying art in college. Yet she didn’t have the financial means to make it happen. Her obstacles were many, including finding scholarship after scholarship for prospective pre-law and pre-med majors but not for burgeoning artists. Having to rely mostly on her good grades and general scholarship opportunities, she made it happen. But that struggle stuck with her.

Fast-forward to 2014 and a new path emerged for students wanting to study art and design in college: Zinggia Ohio Art Scholarship.

Alison, with help from her husband Jason Salisbury, did the difficult legwork to establish the fund. Now beginning their third year, both are happy to report that they’re making a difference in the lives of others. Their goal, to “help art students in Ohio further their education in the visual arts field“ is clearly making a difference. Award winners in the first two years of the fund’s existence have applied their newfound financial resources to art programs at Ohio University and SCAD. The $2,000 scholarship is for Ohio-based high school seniors, and can be used towards art and design study at any college in the U.S. The deadline for this year’s application is March 5th.

passion quote - chasing it downWhen not paying it forward, Alison, an illustrator, can be found selling her artwork through her Esty shop, Canning Crafts.

Jason can be found applying his graphic design skills at Ohio Thrift Stores where he is in charge of marketing, graphic design, and advertising. Together they’re also creating coloring books and other kid-centered creative items.

At the risk of being repetitive, take the time to read Scholarship Season: Tips and Tools for some valuable scholarship insights. And make sure your Ohio-based teen looks into Zinggia. Both parent and teen will be glad you did.

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7 New Year Resolutions Juniors Can Use

New-year-2016-imageThe start of a New Year always gets me energized. Perhaps it’s the idea of a clean slate, or more realistically what I didn’t accomplish last year that’s nagging me. Either way, turning the calendar page to a new beginning is an opportunity to refocus and start anew. Parents of high school juniors need to take this to heart: before this calendar year is out your teens will be applying to colleges, and making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. That sounds overwhelming and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. The turn of the calendar also provides the opportunity to make a plan and focus on how you can keep your teen on task. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and if you guide your teen with reasonable and actionable goals they’ll reach the end of the school year feeling accomplished and on track. And, they’ll be a bit less stress and mayhem in your household. Here are some tips to get you both started:

  1. Junior year freak outKeep an eye on academics. There’s no doubt about it; junior year is tough. But to maximize opportunities, you’ll want to make sure you’re teen is stretching. That means taking – or on track to take – the most challenging courses in each academic area that she can. Grade point average is one of the most important factors that admissions representatives review when evaluating applicants. Honors and AP courses have weighted scores, which can help bring up GPAs.
  2. Not sure whether or not your teen is on target? Then make a date for a sit-down with your guidance counselor and learn your options. They are great resources.
  3. Paint, draw, sculpt, photograph, design, repeat. Building a portfolio is another top priority. The more your son creates now, the more his skills will improve. He’ll also have a larger selection of artwork to choose from when submitting his application portfolio.
  4. Plan ahead for standardized tests. If your teen hasn’t begun preparation for them yet, it may be crunch time. Prep tests and courses are ubiquitous. The new SAT debuts March 5th.
  5. Colleges also consider extracurricular activities. Has volunteering been a big part of your daughter’s life? Or has she worked through her high school years? Either way, colleges look for depth and consistency. Taking on leadership roles and positions shows dedication. Plan now for taking it up a notch during senior year.
  6. If you haven’t already started, make a plan for spring. It’s a great time for some serious college visits. The most optimal time to tour is when class is in session, i.e. not during their spring or summer break. But, realistically, that’s sometimes difficult. Information sessions and campus tours are invaluable tools for helping you better understand an institution, regardless of the time of year.
  7. Montserrat College of Art

    And if that’s not enough to keep you warm this winter, think summer! Summer college art and design programs, that is. Colleges will be posting their summer programs for high school students from now through April. Find your favorites, check back frequently, and book your slot quickly. The most coveted ones fill up fast.

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Decision Time For the SAT: In with the New or Stay with the Old?

Parents of high school students are most likely aware that changes are coming soon to the SAT. High school juniors and seniors especially need to be in the know. The last test date for the current SAT is January 23, 2016. In March, the new one takes over. Now is the time for strategic family conversations to either go with what you know or wait for the new version.

So what’s all the fuss about the switch? Plenty. For those who can take either, this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. If your teen has already been studying with prep-tests and seems to have a feel for the type of questions asked, I’d opt for the current version. On the other hand if your family isn’t at that stage yet and can wait it out a few extra months, I’d most likely suggest going with the new version. Arguments can be made for both sides.

The College Board has two SAT sites now, one for the old, another for the new. And a recent New York Times article explains the abundance of changes.

Here’s the bottom line of what you need to know:

  • March 5, 2016, is debut day for the new SATstopwatch
  • The test consists of two sections now instead of three: Math, and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
  • Students won’t be penalized for guessing answers anymore
  • The new test requires a lot more reading – even in the math section
  • Archaic and obsolete language are out of the reading sections, current language is in
  • Math sections dive deeper into each subject area, and more advanced math from a greater number of courses is included. This may tip the scale towards taking the test later in high school
  • The essay will become optional, and relies more on reading and comprehension than in the past

The new SAT is heavily based on the Common Core curriculum. Translation: it’s centered on what students are actually learning in school now. Again, if you’ve got the time I’d research both before making a decision.

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