Email of the Day: Problem Parents / Too Many Schools

These days it’s much more common than it used to be to find kids changing schools multiple times during their high school years. It’s something of an epidemic. I think it’s consistent with the overall mentality of immediate satisfaction in our society today, and it’s not good.

Here’s an email I wrote to some parents whose child must be close to some kind of record for number of schools attended (6 in 3 states), especially for a very good student.

 

Ron,

For 30 years I’ve guided families through the prep school and college process. It’s my full time job. I get paid to do it. I help families in similar situations every year, and my guidance almost always pays for itself. In your case, I wish I could help, but I can’t.

I’ve watched the highlight videos and I’ve been doing some homework on your situation. The pieces are coming together.

You and your wife are friendly, highly educated people. I’ve always enjoyed the conversations you and I have had, but you completely lost your sense of reality on this topic a long time ago. On my website, there’s a section of blogs entitled “Otherwise likeable, intelligent people”. You’ve made the list. If it’s accurate (or even close) that your son has attended six different schools in three different states since he started high school, that’s a huge red flag. It’s so bad in so many ways, I almost don’t know where to start, but here’s where it ends. I’m going to tell you what you don’t want to hear. You’re a problem parent, and that’s holding your son back more than anything else in this equation.

Your son has scholarship level athleticism (although he doesn’t play the game that well). It’s realistic to think he could get a D2 or NAIA offer, and he still might. However, if his academic profile is as you described (3.4 GPA, 1700+ SAT), the much better choice, the smarter choice, is a very good D3 school (a UAA, a NESCAC or similar school) for the next four years. He’d get a great education, have a great basketball experience, and, finally, get some stability.

Given your history, I expect you will choose a JuCo for a year or two, then yet another school after that. I said at the beginning I’d like to help, but I can’t. I’d have to tell college coaches about your son’s history and that they’re asking for trouble if they take him (although they almost assuredly would know it without me telling them). They’d ask me why. I’d tell them the parents are a big problem. Then they’d ask me why I bothered contacting them in the first place, and they’d be right.

Sorry for being blunt. I’ll call you later to discuss.

Thanks.

 

Mike

 

 

Share

Quote of the Day – Administrative Attitude

 

He’s a deadly combination of arrogance and insecurity.

 

A comment about the relatively new director of admission and financial aid at a well known prep school made by another person in the field. The school has seen a precipitous drop in the academic quality of incoming students under the new director, who is also single-handedly scuttling what was a top prep school athletic program. He dismisses any input from, or meaningful communication with, others at the school who want to fix the problem, telling them he’s the only one who could possibly understand what’s going on. A classic example of the Wizard of Oz mentality.

 

Share

Looking Back: Michael Wright – Missed Opportunities

As a college freshman, Michael Wright made an immediate impact on the football team. He became a starter after only one game before getting hurt and missing most of the season. In his second year, he picked up right where he left off. Not only is he starting as a redshirt freshman, he’s far and away the team’s best receiver. No one else is even close.

Most would say this is great and that in deciding on his current university he made the right choice. After all, he’s having the kind of success that every athlete and parent hopes for, but few ever find. He’s a star who’s going to have a great career. Everyone’s happy and excited. On the surface, it’s hard to argue with that. Let’s take a closer look.

Despite seemingly obvious talent, Michael had few options coming out of HS. Playing in a small town with limited exposure and support, not many colleges showed interest. At that point, prep school was an option. In the spring of his senior year he finally received a partial offer from one of the lowest D1 FBS teams. Ready to take it, he then received a full offer from a decent FBS program. Once he got those offers, his interest in prep school ended. He took the second scholarship offer, saying it was a great opportunity. On the surface, it was hard to argue with that. This kid from a difficult background was going to play D1 ball while getting a free education. Isn’t that the goal?

Prep school would have been a dramatically better choice. Here’s why:

  1. Better Education   (This is supposed to be most important, right?)
    1. He would have gotten two much better, life changing educations
      1. Prep School
        1. He would have attended one of the top five academic prep school in the world
          1. He would have learned to be a better student
            1. He would have been better prepared to get higher grades in college.
      2. College
        1. The prep school education would have propelled him to a much better academic college
          1. He would be at an Ivy or Patriot League school, or a place like Rice, Boston College or similar
            1. The college he’s attending now provides an average education
  2. Incredible Connections
    1. Prep school and college
      1. He would have made incredible contacts that would last a lifetime
        1. His friends would have been the kids who will be running this country twenty years from now
          1. He’s not getting anything close to that at his college
  3. Higher level of college ball
    1. This was a given after a year of prep school
      1. His immediate success at his current school likely proves that he could play at a much higher level
        1. Instead of playing for a non-noteworthy school, he could be playing at a big time school like Vanderbilt, Boston College, Northwestern etc.
  4. Better life preparation and perspective
    1. The extra year of maturity is an invaluable one time opportunity

This is not second guessing. This has nothing to do with the success he’s found at college. These were the options, and this was all discussed, from the start. The success he’s had only reinforces the point.

Some families would have taken the prep school option. Why didn’t Michael’s? Perhaps they didn’t listen to the right people. Or maybe, contrary to what he said, he just didn’t believe in enough in himself and his talent.

It’s not that this was a bad decision, it’s that there was a much better one. He and his family could have had so much more. They had an asset, an investment, that they failed to get the most out of. All parents want their child to develop as fully as possible. The Wrights missed an opportunity to do this. They also missed out on tangible benefits. It’s pretty easy to make the case that Michael’s lifetime earnings will be dramatically lower than they would have been if he’d opted for prep school.

 

Share

PG Year – Wasted Time and Money?

Cameron had a good senior year playing for a low profile high school and received only D3 offers. She and her parents decided to invest their time and money in a post-graduate year, believing she had the potential to get scholarship offers.

By all accounts, Cameron played very well in her PG year. At the end of the season she took two official visits to NCAA D2 schools, but did not receive a scholarship offer from either. She was also offered a preferred walk-on spot at two mid-level D1 schools, one of which she accepted.

Many would look at this situation and say the decision to attend prep school was a bad one, a waste of time and money. While Cameron and her parents certainly had some disappointment, a closer look reveals a very good decision.

  • Cost: This is often a big part of a PG year decision, and understandably so. Cameron’s family invested about $15,000 and got no scholarship to show for it. What they did get is an extra $12,000 per year in college financial aid. That’s what the school they chose offered compared to offers from similar schools that did not recruit her for basketball. That’s a payback of three times what they invested. That alone makes the PG year an easy justification and a great choice.
  • Lower basketball risk: Cameron could have walked-on at a D1 school after HS, but the risks would have been much greater. She would not have been a preferred walk-on, so she might not have even made the team. She’d only have about a week to prove herself. As a preferred walk-on she is virtually assured a spot on the team. She’s also a better player than she was a year ago. The D2 offers are objective proof of that. Those offers prove it’s not unreasonable to think she can play at the D1 level, and possibly earn a scholarship. (It’s hard to overstate the value of that information in today’s sports world, where so many kids and parents struggle to accurately assess the athlete’s talent level). The PG year closed the talent gap, while reducing the risk once she gets there.
  • Lower academic risk: A below average student, by all accounts she needed an extra year to figure out how to get her inherent intelligence to show up in her school work. As it turned out, she did just that. A different learning environment, in addition to being away from home, allowed her to achieve better grades than she did in high school. She’s now better prepared to handle the tougher course work in college. It also boosted her confidence in the classroom, which will increase her chances of success in college.
  • Lower overall risk: Most families don’t understand the time and other demands of playing a sport at the D1 level. Combined with the more difficult classroom work, the athlete’s maturity is tested immediately and often. College has also changed since today’s parents attended. A much larger percentage of students are not graduating, or are taking more than four years to do it. Certainly the financial risks are greater. College debt is arguably the largest financial problem in the country today. Cameron’s transitional year of prep school did exactly what a PG year is supposed to do. It gave her the opportunity to mature as a person while reducing all of these risks.

No, Cameron didn’t get a scholarship – yet, but the PG year was subtly a very good intermediate step towards overall success. It allowed her to keep the dream alive and saved her family over $30,000, while getting all the other educational and maturity benefits and minimizing the risks. They would tell you it was still an excellent choice.

 

 

Share

Quote of the Day – Adjusting to College and D1 Sports

 

Last year it was just difficult with the balancing of school, being in a new city; it was a lot to handle and it’s tough for freshmen to play well in Division I

 

One of the top golfing recruits in the country talking about struggling to play up to his potential as a college freshman.

 

Share

Don’t Leave PG Year Early

Leaving a PG year before graduating is almost always a bad decision. Not only do student-athletes lose educational benefits, they also call into question personal characteristics like integrity and dedication when they fail to live up to their commitments. Ironically, those that leave early are usually the ones who need to stay the most.

Education is about life preparation. Prep school, especially a PG year, and even more than high school, is all about life preparation. It’s not just what is learned in the classroom, it’s about maturity, responsibility, decision making and character. It’s about teaching the student-athlete what to do in college when there are fewer rules and more choices. It’s about how the student will react in certain situations. What will he or she do when no one’s watching? Bad decisions such as leaving a PG year before graduating pave the way for bad decisions in college.

Here is just one glaring example of a poor choice by a student and family, both of whom should know better.

Derrick had no scholarship offers after his senior year of high school. An average student, his grades were not keeping him from receiving a scholarship, but he needed to learn what it takes to make his grades and test scores reflect his natural intelligence. He opted for a post-graduate year at a school with an excellent track-record in his sport and a level of education that matched it. Three weeks short of his prep school graduation, and just days after receiving a good, mid-level D1 offer, Derrick left his prep school and went home, claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family before starting college summer school the following month.

His prep school coach, a former D1 standout and excellent student at one of the academically top rated D1 schools in the country, talked to Derrick at length about the decision. He accurately pointed out the flaws in his decision making and urged him to reconsider. So did the Director at the school. What came out in the conversations was not an issue of time with family at all. As it turns out, a two week family trip to Europe was already planned for the day after graduation, so there would be plenty of time with family. What came out in the conversation, the real issue, was that Derrick had been slacking off in his classes and would have to work hard to catch up. In addition, he was going to have to take end of the year exams. Despite knowing this before he agreed to do a PG year, he now claimed that was going to be too much work, especially since he had already done it last year as a high school senior.

Teenagers make questionable decisions. Parents are supposed to know better. Any parent knows parenting isn’t easy, but it’s part of the job description. Derrick’s parents supported his decision. They invoked the all to common refrain “he’s 18, we can’t make him do it” and offered no resistance. His prep school coach explained to Derrick’s parents how much more difficult college will be given the increased demands of sport and classes, and how they were setting a bad precedent by supporting Derrick’s decision to not live up to his current responsibilities. Nothing changed. Parents and child missed a valuable opportunity to increase their chances of future success.

Another adult in the support system who failed Derrick was the post-graduate director at the prep school. Contrary to the coach and school Director, he offered virtually no resistance to the decision, begging the question of what exactly he is responsible for in his position.

Derrick’s future college coach, more than anyone, had the power to change the situation if he wanted to. One simple sentence telling Derrick to finish prep school and that would have been the end of it. A future college coach’s word is gospel to a brand new recruit, and Derrick would have done whatever his college coach told him to. Instead, the coach did what’s all too common. He took the path of least resistance by not challenging the family. Like many in today’s litigious society, he chose to avoid confrontation and the possibility of offending anyone. Ironically, he cost himself, his athletic program and the college in the process. Even though Derrick had accepted the scholarship offer, the university admissions department had yet do admit him. Leaving prep school early was not going to help that. In addition, Derrick’s degree from a prestigious prep school would have reflected very well on the college athletic program and the kind of kids the coach is recruiting. This college generally gets few, if any, students from schools of that caliber, the athletic program almost none. More importantly, Derrick likely might have received some college credits from his PG year. With the demands on time at the college level, along with the increased difficulty of the courses, many athletes drop courses during the season or take a lighter load and less challenging classes to begin with. Having credit for some courses before he arrived on campus would be a significant benefit. It also might have allowed him to take graduate courses as a senior, which would again reflect well on the sports program. Finally, college is an academic institution first. The idea of a college coach signing off on this type of decision is at best ironic, at worst unacceptable. Both the kid and college would have benefitted if he’d stayed just three more weeks at prep school.

Some would rationalize decisions like Derrick’s by saying the student will make the right decisions when it comes time in college. History shows that’s unlikely. As in sports, the sooner a child learns life’s fundamentals and forms good habits, the better the chances of future success.

Others would say the prep school coach and the school Director are biased, that their reasons for not wanting the student to leave school are motivated by self-interest. While there’s certainly some truth to that, it’s dwarfed by the objective facts as stated above. These are people in educational leadership positions whose job it is to provide the best guidance they can to teenagers and parents. They got it right.

Not only do athletes cheat themselves emotionally and educationally when they fail to finish a PG year, they exhibit a lack of work ethic, commitment and perseverance that should be concerning to college coaches. They’re going to get the sport benefit either way. They might as well get the non-athletic benefits while they’re there. By leaving school early, not only did Derrick forfeit a degree from a prestigious prep school that would have followed him for life, he and his parents missed a great chance to improve his chances of success in college and in life.

 

 

 

Share

Should Your Future College Coach Pick Your Prep School?

Some athletes have already committed to a college when they decide to switch from high school to prep school. When their future college coach recommends a prep school or two, the natural reaction of the athlete is to accept the recommendation on faith. After all, if the athlete and family are willing to trust the next four or five years of the athlete’s life to the college coach, why wouldn’t they trust the prep school recommendation of that coach? This is a tough situation for the athlete and family. Here’s why.

Most college coaches don’t know that much about prep schools. Though they almost always know more than the families, that’s not saying much. Many know enough to be dangerous, but not enough to offer well thought out, objective guidance. Their awareness is limited to a relatively small number of prep schools and doesn’t include enough about the non-athletic parts of the schools. These statements are not made arbitrarily. College coaches have called Prep School Sports Connection for decades asking for insight, help and information regarding prep schools, and we have listened to them and studied at length what they know and don’t know, even those who don’t call me for help.

College coaches are looking out for themselves first. While you may trust them and think they’re great (and they usually are), don’t think there aren’t times when they’re going to do what’s best for themselves. This is one of them. They are most likely going to pick a prep school for two reasons. One, they want the athlete at a school where the chances are smallest that the athlete will get recruited away from them by another college before the athlete actually signs and matriculates at their school. That means a prep school situation and coach who will protect the college coach’s interests by shielding the athlete from possible recruiters from other colleges. Many families would respond that by saying it doesn’t matter as they’ve already made their college choice and it’s not going to change. They would be missing the point. There’s a risk, and the coaches know it better than you. They do this for a living. Most families have never been through this before. As much as the coaches like you and want to help you, they want to protect their interest more. So they pick a prep school that minimizes their risk, not one that maximizes opportunity or provides the athlete the best overall fit for this very important year or more of personal development. By the way, many families would be surprised at the number of athletes who change their mind and choose a different college. Why do you think the coaches are nervous? Prep school opens up options and thinking. It’s a big world. If you’re used to a local school, prep school is a real eye-opener for most families. If you don’t keep your options open, you’re cheating yourself out of a significant benefit of prep school. Why would you do that when you don’t have to? The second reason college coaches pick certain prep schools is that they like the prep school coach and want to help the coach out. Perhaps they have worked together in the past, are friends or were college teammates. While this could benefit the athlete, it generally does not put the athlete’s interests first.

Here’s a recent example. Allison O’Connor is a very talented athlete and student. When her father took a new job in a different state, she attended a highly regarded parochial school for one year. A very bad and emotionally trying experience there prompted the family to decide that she should attend prep school. After the year they’ve had, the family has made it clear that they don’t want to go through something like that again. They have to get it right this time, especially since the girl will be 900 miles from home. She will be entering her senior year and has already committed to an Ivy League (D1) school, turning down scholarship offers in the process. Any prep school would be thrilled to have her based on those factors alone, but she also happens to be full-pay (the family can easily write the check for the $55,000 for prep school), making her the student-athlete every prep school looks and fights for. Her college coach recommended just one prep school and it meets none of the criteria the family and I agreed to use for the school search. Specifically, the academic level of the school is significantly below the level that best supports the student, the school has no history of producing Ivy or other D1 players, the overall level of the sport and league is nothing special, the campus is below average, the geographic location is not good, and the endowment is relatively small, and the type of students the athlete would be around are not the type this child is looking for. In short, the overall environment is not a match, and there’s no objective reason for this to be on the list of possible prep schools for this student-athlete’s consideration.

Certainly there are times when taking the coach’s recommendation makes the most sense. Perhaps the prep school uses the same system, philosophy or training methods as the college coach. Maybe it’s physically located very close to the future college, allowing both athlete and coach great opportunity for interaction that will provide a big head start on their four years together. (The Hun School of Princeton and Princeton University being perhaps as good an example as there is).

There can also be other factors. For example, the athlete may be worried about offending the college coach by not taking the prep school recommendation. This could send the wrong message and no one wants to start off on the wrong foot. A simple conversation will usually relieve this situation quite easily.

As always, the choice of the best prep school should be one based on what’s best for the child and the child’s overall development, not simply on a sport. The process of picking a school should be one that minimizes risks while maximizing the possibility for success. In the reality of today’s world, where no one has enough time, most families will accept the college coach’s recommendation. Many don’t have time to go through the process the right way. Smart families will not put all their eggs in one basket. Instead, they will explore some schools in addition to those recommended by the college coach.

 

 

Share

We’re Not Talking About Painting the Dining Room

Prep school is a big decision. Few other family choices include so many components of such importance.

  • Your child
  • Your child’s future
  • Your child’s education
  • The sport your child loves
  • Your child living away from home
  • Your child’s college options

If you tried to save money by painting your own dining room and it didn’t turn out like you hoped, you could pay someone $500 to fix it a month later. The damage is minimal. A bad prep school choice is a much bigger problem. We’re not talking about painting the dining room. You need to get it right the first time.

 

Share

Sacrificing Education – One Example

James, a weak student and talented athlete, had two choices at the end of his senior year at catholic high school. One, attend a “football factory” for the fall semester where the level of football and exposure would be high and he would not have to take any classes. Two, accept an offer to attend a prep school where the football level would be lower and he would receive a life-changing education he would not otherwise have had access to without leveraging his athletic talents.

Paying for either option was an overriding factor for this family, whose financial troubles were such that just finding the money for the monthly utility bill was a challenge. The football factory would cost $10,000 – $15,000 for one semester. The prep school option would cost nothing, and would include the whole year, not just a semester. Without giving it a second thought or visiting the prep school, James chose the football factory. His parents, who had initially vetoed any consideration of a football factory, relented, committing to paying the money while admitting to having no idea where they would find it.

As it turned out, at the end of the season at the football factory James was no closer to a D1 scholarship than he had been a year earlier. He had no D1 offers. Instead, he had now been out of the classroom for a semester (it would become a year as he went home for the second semester and essentially did nothing) and his family was now significantly in debt. Had they prioritized education first, at least James would have received a top-shelf education while making friends and connections that would stay with him for life. They sacrificed an education James sorely needed and spent money they didn’t have, and ended up with essentially nothing to show for it.

Ironically, there’s a solid argument to be made that what kept James from receiving a scholarship is exactly what was missing at the football factory and abundant at the prep school. Physical talent was never James’ problem. Maturity, responsibility, discipline, hard work and personal growth were. By definition, those characteristics are all in short supply at sports factories. At the prep school he would have been immersed in them 24 hours a day in the form of his classmates, school faculty and coaches. How ironic that what he needed most to reach his goals was at the place the family didn’t choose, and would have come with the education of a lifetime.

 

Share

QB Position Dilemma

Andrew was a good enough high school QB as a senior to garner interest from a handful of D1 football programs. None actually offered him as a QB, but fairly mobile at 6’5″, 245 lbs., many had serious interest in him as a tight end or lineman. He refused, saying he was a QB and that’s the position he wanted to play in college.

Our search for a prep school produced very limited options. The QB spot is very competitive at the prep school level, especially as a post-graduate. Many of the schools we would have liked did not want him as a QB but wanted him badly as a lineman or TE. I discussed this option with the young man and his family. Their self-confidence in him as a QB was unshakable. I remember his mother telling me he had been to some D1 schools exposure camps and had received very favorable feedback from those schools regarding their interest in her son as a QB. We continued to look for a prep school and ended up finding one we were happy with, but at a cost. We had to make a significant sacrifice academically while spending twice the family’s budget.

As the summer progressed, and before he got to prep school in the fall, Andrew and his parents came to grips with his recruiting reality. They discovered that the colleges they thought were interested really weren’t, and the family was forced to make the tough decision many QBs face at some point. He called his prep school coach and told him he was ready to change positions.

Prep school was a great experience for him. He liked the school he chose and the school loved him. He struggled to make the position switch, but stuck with it and did well, receiving D1 offers as a TE/lineman from some of the best academic colleges in the country. He and his parents are happy with their decision and the outcome.

It’s hard to argue with the outcome in this case, but consider the alternative. Making the decision to switch positions in February that he ended up making in July would have yielded more and better prep school choices and changed two things. Instead of sacrificing his level of prep school education, he would have gotten a world class, life changing one, and gotten it for free, saving this family of limited means over $20,000.

 

Share