Parents: Take the SAT Challenge!

I keep a box of tissues on the table where I tutor because,

as an SAT tutor and college application consultant, I listen to

high school juniors and seniors who are so overwhelmed

by college pressure that they begin to cry. Not just girls. Not

just Ivy League aspirants.

High school students are always convinced their parents

don’t understand them. This time the students are right.

Parents don’t understand because the college admission

process is so much more competitive than it was when

most parents applied to college.

These are the ten things I wish I could tell parents:

1. I am convinced that parents have to walk a mile in the

student’s moccasins to gain some appreciation for the

stress the students are under and to reverse the tension at

home. If parents will take an SAT practice test they will feel

some of the same anxiety, cringe at their results, and

discover that the test is hard. Instead of piling 25 pounds of

SAT study books on the desk, parents can commiserate

with students over missed problems. Parents and students

can become allies rather than adversaries as they face the

college admission process.

2. Hire SAT prep tutors who focus on the applicable

academic material rather than just the tricks. Increasing a

student’s academic preparation for the test in addition to

teaching the tricks increases their confidence on the test

and in the classroom; teaching only the tricks makes

students more insecure because they are relying on tricks

rather than on actual knowledge.

3. Have the tutors keep the parents informed about each

session so that the parent tracks progress with the tutor

rather than pestering the student for information.

4. Have the student try the ACT. All colleges accept it and

some students do better on it than on the SAT.

5. Make learning fun. For example, have the students

memorize vocabulary using the book Vocabulary Cartoons

by Sam Burchers, et al. Also, have the student do the

crossword and other word puzzles in SAT Vocabulary

Express, the fun book of word puzzles that will increase SAT

scores. I wrote it with Michael Ashley, a nationally known

puzzler, so that our students would learn to play with words,

an important skill for the new SAT.

6. Emphasize getting good grades rather than good SAT

scores. Bs in honors classes are better than As in regular


7. Hire an independent college counselor who will work

with the family to create a realistic college list, brainstorm for

essay topics, establish deadlines for the student, and check

all college applications. High school college counselors

are overworked and do not have the time to walk families

through the process.

8. Realize that the schools parents attended may not be

within reach for their child. The number of high school

students planning to attend college has increased

dramatically; the student may be well qualified for a

particular college and may still not get in.

9. Look for colleges where the student will thrive

academically and socially. Choosing colleges based on

their name recognition and prestige value is a formula that

will increase stress, not decrease it. Everyone else wants

to go to those schools, too, making them even harder to get

into; they are not necessarily the best place for the student.

Loren Pope’s book, Colleges That Change Lives, is a good

place to start.

10. Support your child through a difficult process. Leave the

prodding, nagging, and yelling to the tutors and college

counselor. The independent college counselor will tell the

student to work harder so the parent doesn’t have to. Why

ruin the student’s last year at home?

Parents can make decisions so that senior year is not be so

fraught with anxiety that family members begin to avoid each

other. And, I hate it when my students cry.

Communicating With Your Siblings About Money and Aging Parents

Many adult children are called upon to help their aging parents as life changes set in, yet only 65 percent of siblings report talking about money with one another, according to research by Ameriprise Financial. While only 15 percent of siblings have conflicts over money, when siblings do spar over finances, it’s usually about their parents’ situation. Financial conversations between siblings become inevitable, as brothers and sisters manage their parents’ money matters, including estate planning, healthcare, retirement income and wills.

In the event that you have shared responsibilities with your siblings down the road, it’s important to make sure your family is on the same page. Here are some tips to help you and your siblings have civil conversations about money-related family matters.

Set aside your differences. When your parents need help, don’t waste your time re-hashing old family feuds. Keep yourself in check if you are tempted to fall into old patterns of behavior that may alienate grown-up siblings. You may not be able to control how your siblings behave, but you can control your own actions.

Determine key priorities. You’ll accomplish more – and potentially spar less – when everyone is committed to common goals. Assess what financial matters you and your siblings will need to manage together. If your parents’ safety is a primary concern, find agreement about the support and services they need to remain safely in the family home. If it’s time for your parents to move to an assisted living facility, put your energy into seeking a solution.

Schedule time to talk. Schedule regular check-ins with your siblings to discuss pressing topics related to your parents’ care, including how finances are being managed. Frequent conversations can help diminish anxiety and improve collaboration. Ongoing dialogue will help prevent misunderstandings from blowing up into full-fledged battles and help keep your parents’ best interest top-of-mind.

Divide and conquer. It’s important to set responsibilities, with the understanding that each sibling may be able to contribute different amounts of time, money and expertise. Be forthright about what you can reasonably handle and open to taking on more tasks if you have the capacity. Keep in mind that responsibilities may shift over time, as circumstances change for you and your siblings.

Be open to advice. Bringing outside sources into your inner circle can help provide unbiased guidance as you enter this new phase of life. Your parents’ tax preparer, financial planner and other trusted advisors could provide an important bridge to understanding their current financial situation. Once you’re ready to plan the next steps for your family, consider working with a single financial advisor. This approach allows the advisor to help you create a comprehensive plan that addresses everyone’s needs and concerns.

Money conversations can be emotional and hard to initiate, but keep in mind that there are benefits to having open communication. Families who are willing to tackle money-related topics are often more confident about their ability to handle financial challenges and work toward their goals.