Feb 142013

Summer Camps - helping kids grow upFor better or worse, the ways that older teens spend summer vacations have become just as important to the college application process as grades, essays, recommendations and SAT scores.  Whether its volunteer service, family travel, a summer job or a summer camp program, these experiences demonstrate what is important to the teen and are likely to became fodder for the all important common application college essay, which this year will ask students to bare their souls to admission staff, in 650 words or less, by crafting a highly personal and  insightful response to one of the following questions:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Teen summer camp options range from short sports showcase and development camps to six or eight weeks living in college dorms and taking college level classes.  Many camps offer returning older campers counselor in training (CIT) or leadership development options while service or travel camps provide opportunities to explore around the world.  The asking price for these sorts of peak experiences range from $500 for a long weekend, non-residential sports showcase to as much as $6,000-$8,000 for extended residential college campus programs or $10,000+ for lengthy  international travel and service experiences.  Month long CIT programs, shorter on campus or day programs at local colleges, and some service trips can be a bargin in the $3,000-$5,000 range.

Each teen summer camp program offers a unique opportunity for self-discovery and expanding horizons.  The choices are almost endless.  In our recent experience we have seen friends of #1 son spend their summers hiking across Australia, exploring theatrical and science career options at a leading colleges and universities, crewing on a tall ship, digging deep into creative writing and philosphy in residence at a world recognized prep school, and showing off athletic talents at national camps scouted by dozens of colleges.

Amid all these options, we have been surprised at how few teens prioritize local volunteer work or getting a summer job where they can actually earn some cash and pay their own summer entertainment expenses.  #1 Son has held a local summer job working 30-40 hours a week for each of the last 3 summers and before he went off to college had managed to bank the cost of a pretty pricey summer camp program.  When it came time to complete his college applications, the fact that he had held a job actually caught the eye of more than one college.  One even specifically mentioned it in his acceptance letter.

A few teens with families lucky enough to be able to travel for the whole summer will be able to learn from that type of experience.  But, for many families, the vacation will be a week or two at the beach.  For older teens it really should not be an option to spend the rest of the summer at the pool. It is only February, but, now is the time to start getting your teen to think about summer priorities and decide whether they should be looking for a job, signing up for a camp, or connecting with local volunteer and service opportunities.

In making these decisions it is important to think about a number of issues including:

  • Cost – no family should be going into debt to fund their teen’s summer camp experience.  If the teen is going to be expected to contribute to the cost of college or to put gas in the car, summer is a great time to start earning and saving
  • Interest – does the teen want to focus on academics, sports, service, making money, travel or something else?
  • The teen’s maturity level – many college-based programs provide minimal supervision and expect a 16 year old to be able to make the right choices about how to spend their free time.  Programs may be on urban campuses that allow for access to a wide range of options – how prepared is your teen to make the right decisions?
  • College goals – if your teen aspires to play college varsity level sports, summers are critical times to get seen by coaches.  If they are trying to refine thoughts about which major to pursue, some exposure to college level classes and opportunities to learn about different majors could be invaluable

The choices that teens make about how to spend their summers show a lot about what is important to them and will directly impact how they approach the college application process.   There isn’t one right or wrong choice, as it all depends on what the teen wants to get out of it and what is realistic for a particular family.  The key thing is to develop a plan to get the right balance of summer fun, enrichment, service and employment and make sure the teen has the opportunity to gain some deeper insight into their own priorities and the realities of the world around them.

Aug 162012

For 19 years we have tried to pack light when traveling but not this time.  College move in day  is two weeks away and we can’t believe the pile of stuff we have accumulated!  Linens, storage containers, school supplies, clothes, computer, text books, and lots, lots more  …

Packing for college .. forget about traveling light!

Packing for college .. forget about traveling light!

For families that have a child going to college several states, or even countries, away, the best strategy seems to be bringing the clothes from home but  ordering as much as you can online from one of the big box stores and picking it up when you arrive at the college.  Then, plan for a blitzkrieg run to the local drug store or mall for the rest of whatever you need.   Since #1 Son is going to be just two hours from home we took the approach of gradually collecting things over the summer.  We plan to spend just a few hours on campus dropping him off and helping him get his room set up, then he is on is own.  Assuming it will all fit in the car…..

Wish us luck!

We added this to the Delicious Baby Photo Friday as well.

Apr 092012

The question about whether to take kids out of school so they can travel always evokes a firestorm of discussion in the family travel blogsphere.  Parents of younger children often feel the kids learn more while traveling than they do in the classroom.  For some parents, family travel is such a high priority that they embrace homeschooling or even unschooling so the family can travel year-round.  Still others plan a year off to travel the world and figure their kids can pick up where they left off when they get back.

Alternatively, for many of us more traditional traveling families with teens and tweens, family travel options often get squeezed by the demands of school, sports, sleep away camps and the pull of teenage friends at home.   Our family has a standing rule that we only travel when the school vacation calendar allows .. but just this once we made an exception so the Princess could participate in the USA Hockey Tier II Nationals recently held in Dallas.

The Princess taking a faceoff at USA Hockey Tier II Nationals

The Princess taking a faceoff at USA Hockey Tier II Nationals

The hocky experience was truly once in a lifetime as her team faced the best teams in the country at their level, winning against Michigan, Illionis, and Greenwich, CT before falling to Team Alaska in the quarter finals.   The team of 15 girls, many of whom have played together for years, had a great time pushing themselves to play the best hockey possible and afterwards hanging out at the hotel pool.  Off the ice, they had the opportunity to participate in opening ceremonies, go horseback riding, see movies, eat BBQ, shop and once in a while even do a little homework.

Despite our best intentions, fitting a week’s worth of school work into a few hours in between games and activities meant that the Princess faced a major schoolwork hole to dig herself out of once we returned.   Ten days later she is almost caught up with just one major science project to go.  Along the way, we’ve had a few meltdowns, some tears and a number of nights with way too little sleep, as the demands of her spring crew team and the daily grind of classes and ongoing homework left few extra hours for make-up work.  Even with supportive teachers who cheered her on it has been a challenge to get back on track – we don’t think we would do this again for an average family vacation.

It was worth it!

It was worth it!

If we had it to do over again, we’d still take her out of school for this truly unique experience, but, we would have been a lot more aggressive about getting the homework done, even at the price of being the unpopular parents.  Having said that, this experience really underscores why we advise against taking teens out of high school to make room for family travel.   The stress and angst of make-up work, at least at a high power high school like ours where honors classes resemble freshman college classes and seniors fill their schedules with AP classes, is only worth it in very rare instances.

As we have learned with #1 Son’s college quest, despite the fact that many colleges say they take a holistic view of the applicant, students who have opted for mainstream, in-classroom education strategies are evaluated first and foremost on the basis of their grade point average.  It only takes one or two poor grades to bring a whole quarter of effort down a notch.  For homeschooled and unschooled families the road to college and career is likely to take a different shape, but for mainstream families be sure to have a make-up strategy in place before you hit the road.

Do you take your teens and tweens out of school for family travel?  If so, what is your strategy?

Feb 202012

As teens get older and start to travel on their own the question arises as to when should mom and dad foot the bill and when should the teen pay for himself?  Main Street USA welcomes you to the Magic Kingdom

We’ve been asking this question as the older teen’s spring and summer travel plans are adding up.  Specifically we are talking about:

  • A week in Italy on a school sponsored trip
  • A week in Florida on a church sponsored service trip
  • Revisit travel to anywhere from 2 to 5 colleges for accepted student days
  • A family trip to the beach in July
  • A trip to Disney with classmates to celebrate the end of High School

And thats just what we know about at the moment…..

Clearly family trips are on mom and dad, we’re lucky he still wants to join us!  The Italy trip was a graduation gift and the college re-visits are just part of our ever increasing college budget.  That leaves the service trip and the Disney adventure.

The service trip requires teens to participate in several fund raising activities to help defray the costs and we see the family contribution as money well spent and a donation to a good cause.   We see his willingness to devote time to the fund raising efforts as a way of his helping to pay for a portion of this trip.

So, that leaves Disney for him to pay out of pocket.  This is a particularly interesting trip planning experience for mom and dad in that the graduating teens (aka young adults) are planning the whole vacation themselves, from researching and booking the hotel rooms and flights to deciding on meal plans and park tickets.    As might be expected, this particular trip has created a lot of debate about whether the teens are really ready to travel on their own but in the end the families involved decided the teens are adults, they have fairly decent judgment, they will be going to college on their own in a few months, and…at least in our case, they can pay for it themselves!

Unlike many teens his age, our #1 Son has worked 30+ hours a week at a summer job for each of the past two summers and works on and off during the school year as well.  He has shown that he can be very responsible with a checking account and pays for most of his own entertainment expenses.   He is perfectly able to pay for his Disney adventure on his own.  He knows exactly how many hours of scooping ice cream and cooking french fries it took to earn the money and he sees it as money well spent.

Asking older teens to pay for some of their own travel – whether through fund raising and/or through money earned from a job, or saved from birthday and holiday gifts, is a great way for them take the next step up the ladder towards independence.  Who knows, in another year or two he may be backpacking across Europe or Asia for a summer.  We hope he will be pretty well skilled at planning, managing and paying for his own travel by then!

What are your thoughts on when teens should pay for their own travel?

New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

 Posted by on December 30, 2011  Comments Off
Dec 302011

As we approach New Year’s Eve its clear that many changes are coming to the Travel with Teens and Tweens household in 2012.  With #1 Son going off to college in the fall, things will never be the same — but — rather than focus on past, we’re looking ahead to 2012 with the following list of resolutions to celebrate this coming year of change!

  • Resolution #1 : Celebrate #1 Son’s graduation from high school and transition to college – somewhere!  With two acceptances in hand, and several more on the way (we hope) it is just a question of where and when rather than if…
  • Resolution #2 : Squeeze in one more family vacation with the four of us to one of our all time favorite destinations – – the house at the Jersey Shore is already booked for July 2012!
  • Resolution #3 : Take a mom and dad alone trip – haven’t done this in 19 years so its about time!  Vegas anyone?
  • Resolution #4:  Let the baby bird spread her wings – the Princess is begging for more weeks of sleep away camps and service trips.  As she turns 15 its time to let her take more responsibility and gain a new level of travel independence
  • Resolution #5: Start a new blog focused on a new era of family life – this one is actually well on its way as Mary T just launched her new venture:  My Half Empty Nest

With #1 Son transitioning to college and the Princess doubling up on summer sleep away camps and school year service trips, Mom and Dad are going to have a lot more time to ponder such issues as how to pay for college and camps and to think about topics like downsizing and time for the two of us.

For Mom and Dad 2012 will be a bittersweet year filled with great excitement about proms, graduations and hockey playoffs, tinged with a sense of loss and transition.  We’ll still be posting here at Travel with Teens and Tweens throughout the  year as well as over at My Half Empty Nest.  We hope to see you at both sites!

Happy New Year to all our readers and sponsors – we enjoyed your support in 2011 and hope it continues into 2012.

A Halloween Fright – Your College Application is Due Tomorrow!

 Posted by on October 31, 2011  Comments Off
Oct 312011

For high school seniors, Halloween isn’t just a day on the calendar that provides a reason to dress up and attend parties.  Rather, it marks the deadline for filing Early Decision and Early Action college applications since most are due by November 1st.   For those readers who are not as far down the college application rabbit hole as we, are a little context might explain why tonight is such a scary time for so many teens.

At many colleges, the applicant’s chances of getting accepted can be significantly higher if they make an early application and it can be further impacted by the type of Early Application that is filed.  Specifically:

  • Option A: Early Decision is a binding process that generally results in the highest percentage of applications being accepted when compared to any other group that applies to a specific institution in a given year.   Each student can make only one Early Decision application and is bound to attend that college if accepted, as long as the school is able to meet the student’s financial needs as defined by the gods at the College Board CSS Profile and Federal Fafsa programs.  Students are generally informed about the outcome of their Early Decision application sometime near the end of the calendar year while those who file regular decision won’t get notified until as late as April 1.
  •  Option B: Early Action applications provide the student with an opportunity to get a decision by mid January or sooner.  They  are not binding and students can file as many as they want, with many students doing several in a mad rush during October.  Early Action candidates can often have an edge over the regular decision applicant pool, although how much of an advantage can vary widely from school to school.

Some schools offer only Early Action, some offer only Early Decision and some offer both — turning the mere act of deciding when to apply into a stressful exercise.

Making  things even more frightening for high school seniors is the fact that Halloween probably represents the peak of academic stress during their senior year.   Most are taking heavy course loads filled with AP and Honors classes and are facing a barrage of end of quarter tests and projects, knowing that many selective colleges will want to see the first quarter transcript.

Halloween Used to Be a Lot More Relaxing

For the average 18 year old who is applying to selective colleges, Halloween means that the Common Application essay has to be cut down to 500 words, the activities resume has to polished until it shines, college specific supplemental essays need to be fine tuned, transcripts, SAT reports and teacher references that were requested months ago need to be on file and the in-person interview has to have been completed.  And of course, it all needs to be done while keeping up those grades and participating in a full range of sports and service work.  No wonder most of them get about 5 hours of sleep this time of year!

By comparison, watching the little ones coming to the door for their candy tonight, I thought back to all those  years when the most stressful thing we had to worry about was finding THE costume and figuring out how to cope with those candy-induced sugar highs.  For high school seniors, Halloween is a whole lot more alarming and complicated than it is used to be.   The good news is that they will get those applications done, just as the early Halloween snow on our lawn will melt in a day or two.

For all the high school seniors out there that are finishing up applications today we wish you luck and hope that a few months from now your email box will be filled with acceptance treats!

Happy Halloween to our hardworking high school seniors from the gang at Travel with Teens and Tweens!

Jun 142011

      Regular readers know we spent a good part of the winter planning  a family cruise vacation to Alaska to coincide with the end of the school year and the princess’s graduation from Middle School.  Although we built some buffer time into the schedule, the brutal Northeast winter of 2010-2011 was more aggressive than we expected.   As the snow days piled up graduation and end of year events got pushed further and further out on the calendar until we had to choose – graduation or the cruise?!?

     We know there are many family travelers out there who would probably have ditched graduation but we went the other way.  With a myriad of work, camp, college visits and personal commitments hemming in the rest of our shortened summer travel season we bit the bullet, canceled the cruise and transformed our trip into a fly and drive vacation leaving the day after school gets out.   While we are all a little sad to miss the cruise experience we’ll still get to see glaciers and bears fishing for salmon.  We’ll fit in our flightseeing trip and visits to Native Heritage sites.  And we’ll get to see the Alaska and Seattle cousins as planned.

     Needless to say, scrambling to totally restructure a major family vacation trip on less than 2 months notice proved to be challenging but ultimately worth it.  We successfully got back the cruise deposits but learned more than we wanted to know about airline change fees.  We dumped the trip notes for Juneau and Ketchikan and rapidly  researched options within driving distance from the cousin’s hometown of Anchorage.   Many thanks to all our travel blog  and twitter buddies whose Alaska posts we turned to for inspiration.  We want to particularly thank Erin from AK on the Go — the site is a virtual treasure trove of great ideas for family activities in the 49th state.  From museums to hikes to coffee shops and activities she was a major help in getting us oriented.

     As you’ll see in just a few weeks, our itinerary is shaping up nicely.  After a quick weekend in Seattle to check out Pike Place Market and the Space Needle we’ll jet to Anchorage for a day or two seeing local sites with cousins then go play tourist on the Kenai Penninsula while they go to camp and work – – since we changed plans so late they had some conflicts too!

     During our travels we’ll  take a day cruise to view the glaciers of Prince William Sound from Whittier.  We’ll stay in Girdwood for a day or two and ride the tram to the top of Mt. Alyeska and look for Beluga Whales along the coast.  Then we’ll explore the Kenai Peninsula, stopping to fish, flightsee and hopefully view bears.  From there we’ll head back to Anchorage for more time with the the family and to take some cousins’ choice daytrips north of the city.  Camera Guy can’t wait!

     Have you ever faced the choice between school and vacation plans?  How did you handle it?  If a graduation hadn’t been on the line we might have made a different decision but after 9 years since kindergarten with the same wonderful group of friends and families it didn’t seem right to miss all the festivities associated with such a major teen transition!  Wish us luck on our adventure!

Photo courtesy Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport