Cultivating Collegiality with your High Schooler


This post is a recap of a recent presentation I gave on the topic of promoting healthier parent-child dynamics around academic coursework and the college planning process. Below you’ll find a revised transcript of the presentation, which occurred at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, on January 13, 2016. Thanks to Amy Romm of the counseling department at SMA for the invitation, and to all the parents of SMA students for their participation!

It’s really never too early to begin parenting for autonomy and self-determination, but I’ve observed that the transition between middle school and high school poses unique opportunities – and challenges – for a commitment to this practice.

Let’s start by exploring the ways we currently engage our high schoolers – how might the social pressures around success and achievement be informing our parenting choices in a way that hampers teens’ development into responsible, mature adults? In other words, what does the dominant parenting narrative have to say about how to interact with your teenage daughter?

What is “Overparenting”?

Some of you may have read the book How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lychcott-Haims, and many more of you have probably heard of it. Lythcott-Haims was the dean of freshman at Stanford University for 14 years, in which time she had a lot of experience observing the mores of college aged adults – and the habits of parenting that produced these adults.

In her book, Lythcott-Haims does an excellent job assembling a host of scientific and journalistic literature around the vicissitudes of parenting in the 21st century. Think of it as an updated manifesto against “helicopter parenting,” which Lythcott-Haims prefers to call simply “overparenting” because she’s most interested in the more subtle ways middle- and high-income families take the reins on their kids’ lives, thereby overshadowing the kids’ autonomy and ultimately keeping them in early adolescence, developmentally speaking – even as the outside world expects them to act the part of an adult.

It can be healthy to take an honest look at whether or not you’ve fallen into the “overparenting trap.” For instance, have you ever?

  • Driven your daughter somewhere within walking distance of your home?
  • Proofread (or outright written) her school assignments?
  • Made and packed her lunch?
  • Driven her backpack/binder to school if she accidentally forgot it?
  • Clean her room?
  • Do her dishes?
  • Answered for her when speaking to another adult?

Chances are, you said “yes” to at least one of these. That’s because they’re all fairly normal behaviors for a parent in our culture. But Lythcott-Haims claims it wasn’t always like this – there are some pretty formative cultural moments that have created today’s unique overparenting landscape.

How Did We Get Here? The Historical Context

Lythcott-Haims explains what historical events led to the culture of “overparenting”:

1. Increased awareness of child abductions (if you’re like me, you were likely raised with shows like Cops and America’s Most Wanted on TV in the background during family dinners)
2. The impression that our children weren’t competing well against their peers globally in important, career-related academic subjects (STEM, etc.). This is owing partly to the publication by a governmental agency in 1983 of a report called A Nation at Risk. (Can’t you just feel the anxiety in that title??)
3. The self-esteem movement of the 1980s promoted the idea that kids’ personhood, not their behavior or outcomes, was the ideal locus for praise.
4. The playdate, which L-H says encouraged parents to involve themselves in play (previously a kids-only arena) which in turn led to the idea that parents needed to be involved in all aspects of childhood – and teenagehood, and so on and so forth.

These factors have coincided to produce a style of parenting that emphasizes safety to prevent even minor accidents, curates activities to provide the most opportunity (Lythcott-Haims calls this “the checklisted childhood”), nearly suffocates kids with constant parental presence (either physical or digital), and interprets everything through the lens of potential college admissions.

Here’s an insightful observation from Lythcott-Haims about the parental impulse to “be there” for your kids:

“Where parents used to say good-bye when a child left the house for the day and trust in the capacity of the adults the child would encounter along the way – that teachers would teach well, that principals would run schools effectively, that referees would make good calls – today we don’t put much stock in the systems and authority figures governing the lives of kids. So we’ve created a role for ourselves, a position that’s partly personal assistant and partly like the role high-end publicists play in the lives of some Hollywood stars: observer, handler, and, often, go-between. We are a highly involved and sometimes formidable third party in all interactions that involve our children and other adults, always there, present physically or by cell phone, hovering, acting as our kids’ eyes and ears, poised to anticipate problems, provide paperwork or materials, and intervene when questions need to be asked or answered. We don’t trust systems or authorities. We don’t trust our kids to be able to work out their own problems.” (p. 44)

Parents often feel the need to take the reins to manage a situation, but they end up inadvertently crowding out their children’s voices, their children’s experiences. You can imagine the sorts of skills – comfort with speaking openly to a professional adult about your academic goals and challenges, for instance – those skills deteriorate over time, or maybe they simply never fully form.

The Collateral of “Overparenting”

What parents might not realize is that this trend tends to manifest some long-term consequences in kids’ lives. For instance, the data say that kids who have been “overparented” incur important collateral damage:

  • “Overparented” kids lack Self-Efficacy: Psychologist Albert Bandura defines this trait as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the course of action required to manage prospective situations.” When we manage kids’ schedules, set boundaries for them, coach them to do it like this or like that, their assessment of their own preparedness for future challenges is significantly undermined. They begin to believe that they can’t accomplish anything on their own – and they melt down when they finally reach true independence.
  • “Overparented” kids lack Resilience:Lythcott-Haims observes that parents have laid out their entire path for them and have avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles for them; thus, kids don’t develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again
    Consider two scenarios where the ability to cope is key: (1) when you’re away from home and you get sick, or (2) when your car breaks down. When your daughter leaves for college, esp. if you’d like to see her go out of state, you need to trust that she has the skills required to deal with these incidents when they occur. I’m not saying your 15-year-old needs to know how to change a tire by the time she gets her license – but she does need to know who to call and how to keep her cool when she gets a flat.
  • “Overparented” kids can be Psychologically Harmed: The Atlantic published a heartbreaking article in December 2015 called “The Silicon Valley Suicides,” about a recent cluster of suicides in Palo Alto, California. All the kids were of excellent means and bright prospects. The author, Hannah Rosin, focused on the stress that kids from high-achieving households experience, from a variety of sources – their parents, their peers, their coaches, their teachers and tutors and counselors. These kids frequently describe feeling trapped by their schedules and by their parents’ priorities, and having their minor and infrequent complaints of stress or exhaustion fall on deaf ears. 
    Here’s what one teen who survived a suicide attempt says about the climate:

    “I could never classify my mom as overly pushy or strict,” but she had some rules that were so obvious, they didn’t have to be articulated: You did your homework before playing; you always turned in your assignments.”

    “I was exhausted to the bone,” she said. “I remember just not being happy about anything, and I just couldn’t make it slow down. And I thought there would never be any escape.”

    Her first semester, Chiu got an F on a geometry test, which “totally traumatized me.” Her relationship with her parents started to fray, “because it just took too much energy to speak in a polite tone of voice.” She began to dread swim practice and even Girl Scouts and band, “but I didn’t want to be a quitter.”

    “I also felt like I was already saying that I was too stressed, and nobody—neither my parents nor my teachers—seemed to care or take me seriously.”

Let me pull back a bit – I don’t think the culture in Portland is as intense as it is in Palo Alto. But in my years of working with PDX area teens, the stress is often palpable. We owe it to our kids to be sensitive to the very real pressures they experience – and to combat feelings of loneliness with assurances that they are loved and supported.

Competing Metanarratives

How you engage the world and other humans is often the product of a story you tell yourself – about your role in the world, about other people’s roles in your life, about the purpose of your work, about your legacy, etc. This is what sociologists often refer to as the “moral imagination”; it’s the overarching narrative – the metanarrative – that provides context and meaning for our actions, and when it shifts or evolves, so does our behavior.

What I propose is that we shift our narratives from the current, societal one that promotes parenting as our kids’ concierge (or, to keep up the business world metaphor, the parent-as-middle manager) to a more healthier, peer-driven one: the parent-as-colleague.

Collegiality is the relationship between colleagues. Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. A colleague is an associate in a profession or in a civil or ecclesiastical office.

Let me be clear: I’m NOT saying you should remain emotionally distant from your kids, or you should discuss their lives with the professionalism and etiquette that you would discuss an acquaintance’s work history. By all means, embrace your kids as family.

The aim of healthy parenting, Avi Assor says (Ben-Gurion University in Israel), should not be to shower children only with praise and trophies, or to encourage self-esteem based on no real achievements. It should be to disentangle love from the project of parental or pedagogical guidance.

So conceiving of our kids as coworkers is helpful not as the primary emotional apparatus for your relationship with them, but as the guiding narrative to all that other stuff – the activity planning, the homework policing, the chores taskmastering. In other words, practice seeing your daughter not as the precious (and precocious) little munchkin she was a few years ago, but as an up-and-coming junior partner at the law firm of your household. She haven’t exactly proven herself yet – she hasn’t had the experience to do so – but she’s got promise, and you’re invested in supporting her career. That said, it’s her career, not yours.

Practical Solutions

Now that we’ve established a powerful vision for reshaping your relationship with your daughter, let’s explore some practical techniques for cultivating the maturity that distinguishes healthy adulthood.

1. Promote Intrinsic Motivation

The power of self-motivation, as opposed to external or extrinsic motivation, has been recently lauded by business leaders around the world. Intrinsic motivation drives me to do things just for the fun of it, or because I believe it is a good or right thing to do.

For instance, work psychologists often cite something called the “motivation paradox” or “overjustification effect.” The principle boils down to this: intrinsic motivation is actually stronger than extrinsic motivation, but extrinsic motivation can easily decrease – or subvert – intrinsic motivation and thwart performance.

To illustrate this effect, researches at MIT performed a study wherein students played games with one of three tiers of rewards for performance – low, middle, and high. The games tested creativity, motor skills, and concentration. When the student performed a task correctly, they got a prize commensurate with the difficulty of the task (again, low, middle, or high). The researchers found that when the game involved ONLY mechanical skills, everything correlated. In other words, the higher the price, the better the performance, as one might expect. But when the game involved even rudimentary cognitive skills, larger offered rewards led to poorer performance. In eight out of nine tasks, higher incentive lead to lower performance.

How does one harnessing intrinsic motivation? Motivation researcher Dan Pink says it has to be internal, “around a desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, they’re interesting, or part of something important.” (See Pink’s TED talk for more info.,)

Pink uses an example from the business world: the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). ROWE is a work model created by two American consultants that doesn’t include set work schedules. Employees can work when, how, and where they want, as long as they get their work done. How productive is ROWE? Almost across the board, there is an increase or high level of productivity, engagement, satisfaction and turnover.

What if we experimented a bit more with unstructured time? What if instead of asking our teens to sign up for the debate club, we said “You have to do one thing per year that involves public speaking. You get to choose what that is – and when it happens.” Would our kids engage with that kind of requirement more exuberantly?

2. Establish Boundaries

Another issue overparenting creates is the appropriation of success. “Enmeshment” is a maladaptive symbiosis between parents and children associated with overparenting. Parents often inadvertently promote dependence in their children by appropriating the success of the child as evidence of good parenting.

“Every time I pack my child’s lunch for him or drive his forgotten homework to school, I am rewarded with tangible proof of my conscientious mothering. I love, therefore I provide. I provide, therefore I love.” (Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure)

So how can parents combat this tendency? Parent for autonomy! Appreciate the positive aspects of hardship and allow children to benefit from failure.

For instance, learn to step back. It’s vital that parents give children experience being successfully (and unsuccessfully) autonomous. Their competency and resiliency comes from that experience.

Also, be available, but away. Be nearby, not on top of. Again, Jessica Lahey: “Show you kids that your life is not all about them; that you have your own interests, obligations, and responsibilities. And, more than that… Let them struggle, but make sure they know that if they are genuinely stuck, you will be there to help.”

Finally, set aside a time every week to talk about important (but potentially divisive) topics. Perhaps your daughter is growing weary of hearing you ask about her math course, because ever since she got that one C in Geometry, you’d been trying to anticipate every quiz, test, and homework assignment. Try this: schedule a weekly check-in (5pm on Sundays, for instance) when asking about Geometry is fair game. Then give your daughter the freedom to monitor her own Geometry commitments (studying for tests and quizzes, daily completion of homework, remembering to bring her book to class, etc.) throughout the week – for all 167 of the remaining hours in the week. We have a family who’s been implementing this strategy since 8th grade, to monumental success. AND… imagine how much free time you’ve just gained with your daughter to read, play, shop, or do anything BUT argue about Geometry!

3. Implement Socratic Dialogue

Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, was known for his interrogative style of instruction. Instead of attempting to tell others what to believe, he’d sit and ask question after question, until his hearers arrived at their own conclusions – directed conclusions, of course, by Socrates’ proddings.

But the point is that in the process of engaging in dialogue, the teen is learning how to think critically.

The technique works like this: Ask “why?” five times before you speak. This enables the teenager to get to the heart of their own issue, in their words, before you propose a solution. Then, if you can manage it, lead them into a solution on their own by soliciting their ideas first.

Lythcott-Haims describes a successful Socratic dialogue with a teen like this:

“We can get past a teen’s typical one-word response by repeatedly (but thoughtfully and creatively) asking ‘why’ or ‘how’ in response to their statements until they reveal the nugget of their experience or learning. When we engage in these critical thinking dialogues, we have as active listeners, an added benefit of which is that we demonstrate to them that we’re actually interested in them beyond the transactional issues of life such as whether they got their homework done, what grade they got, or whether their team won or lost. These conversations become quality time.”

4. Build Competence

As we saw earlier, competence is a key factor in intrinsic motivation. Lythcott-Haims mentions a set of criteria for building competence in life skills:

  • first we do it for you
  • then we do it with you
  • then we watch you do it
  • then you do it completely independently

The key here comes from child psychologist Madeline Levine: Don’t do for your kid what your kid can already do, or can almost do.

For instance, here are some advanced life skills your 14-18-year-olds should be able to master:

  • perform sophisticated cleaning and maintenance chores, such as changing the vacuum cleaner bag, cleaning the stove, and unclogging drains
  • fill a car with gas, add air to and change a tire
  • read and understand medicine labels and dosages
  • interview for a get a job
  • prepare and cook meals

5. Allow For Failure

This is the really hard one. Out of love and an instinct to protect, we remove obstacles in the lives of our children. But parenting that is extra protective and avoids failure undermines the necessary development of competence, independence, and cognitive potential.

However, the result is that this tendency removes a significant life lesson from our high schooler’s experience – failure. In fact, setbacks, mistakes, and failure are the very experiences needed to learn resourcefulness, persistence, innovation, and resiliency.

Jessica Lahey relates this experience about her son’s forgotten homework: Jessica Lahey relates wanting to intervene with her son’s forgotten homework:

“As her younger son, Finn, climbed onto the school bus one morning, Lahey noticed that he’d left his completed homework sitting on a coffee table. She wanted desperately to deliver it — her son faced losing recess without it. Lahey was scheduled to stop by the school later that day anyway, and she soon found that holding back from delivering it was “killing me.”

But she resisted, firm in her believe that the experience of failure would benefit him. What happened?
His teacher told him to bring it the following day, assigned extra math practice, and made him promise to write a note to himself. My son owned up to his mistake and got to talk to the teacher about solutions. He was encouraged to think about how to keep from making the same mistake again — and he devised a system that worked for him. If I had taken the homework in, he would have missed out on that.” (Article in The Guardian.)

On practical tip here is to praise the process, not the student’s abilities. What’s important is to emphasize praise that makes kids feel resilient. The problem with telling kids that they are smart or talented is that kids become frightened of failure. They’ve been labeled and they don’t want to do anything to lose that label. Carol Dweck has performed a lot of research on this topic. (Read more in this NY Times article about Dweck here.)

  • Praise your child for her strategies (e.g., “You found a really good way to do it”)
  • Praise your child for specific work (e.g., “You did a great job factoring on those math problems”)
  • Praise your child for her persistence or effort (e.g., “I can see you’ve been practicing” and “Your hard work has really paid off”)

The takeaway here is to point out specific previous circumstances in which the student responded well under pressure – keep a log of these success stories if you must, in order to craft a narrative of success for your child built not on vague pronouncements of their abilities but on concrete evidence of their efforts.

In addition, be forthright about your own interests – and your own struggles. Modeling independent behavior and self-directed learning/decision-making is key. But perhaps equally so is endowing your children with a perception of you that you are fallible, and that recognizing as much (taking failures as feedback) is part of what makes you successful.

6. Model a Balanced Work Life

Our teens look to us – the adults in their lives – to tell them how to pursue their dreams and enact their passions. That means we need to be reflective about how our ability to manage our schedules and our stress transfers over to them.

Thus, be willing to take a look at your own work-life balance. Does it promote a healthy engagement with your career? Does it leave time for leisure, family?

Work to ease the academic pressures of attaining excellence in all subjects and instead channel that into a promotion of specific academic or artistic passions. Let the student take the lead here – and be willing to let your preferences take a back seat.

Students that correlate the love and acceptance of their parents to their academic success will intensify their inner pressures to succeed.

In an Arizona State University study led by Suniya Luthar, students were asked to choose and rank their parents’ top five values, from a list of ten. Half of the values were related to achievement (“attend a good college,” “make a lot of money,” “excel academically”), and the other half to well-being and personal character (“are honest,” “are kind to others,” “are generally happy with yourself and your life”). When the kids chose a greater number of achievement-related goals, that usually correlated with personal troubles, Luthar said. The kids were also asked how much they identified with sentences such as “The fewer mistakes I make, the more people will like me” and “If someone does a task at work/school better than I, then I feel like I failed the whole task.”

Let’s allow our personal and professional lives to model healthy balance for the high schoolers who look up to us. As they gain independence, it’s important for them to be able to look to the adults around them for how to live the good life – as well as what life is worth living for. If they’ve been trained to care exclusively about success, achievement, and avoiding risk, their adulthoods will pan out to be major disappointments.

Developing collegiality with your teen is a process – no one is perfect! Use the insights above to start conversations with other parents about additional ways to better engage your high schooler.


The SAT and ACT Test-taker’s Guide to Merit Aid

Over the next few months, high school seniors around the country will be excitedly opening their admissions letters – at which moment their parents will be asking themselves one crucial question: How are we going to pay for this?

The Oregonian broke a story a couple years ago about a Southridge High School girl who received as much as $25,000/year in merit aid for an SAT score of 2100. This brought the issue of merit aid to the forefront of the PDX college-bound community. Until then, almost everyone knew that colleges and universities award financial aid based on academic “merit”; what most folks don’t know is that merit is in large part determined by performance on standardized tests. In fact, the question “Are you interested in merit aid?” is now an established part of our intake process with new test prep students. Why? Because merit aid scholarships determine important SAT and ACT score goals for students.

In this article, we hope to introduce clarity into the nebulous set of guidelines and red tape that represent “merit aid,” scholarships awarded to incoming freshman as well as transfer students at American universities who demonstrate outstanding academic performance, chiefly on the SAT and ACT.


While all non-profit colleges and universities provide financial aid based on student need, most schools also earmark some amount of scholarship funds to be awarded to students demonstrating academic achievement and promise. So how precisely are colleges assessing an admitted student’s “merit”?

As might be expected, most schools apply an inverse relationship to GPA and SAT/ACT scores in assessing merit aid eligibility. For instance, at Washington State University a 2.5 GPA required a SAT score of 1400 (CR + M) or an ACT of 32. These SAT and ACT scores represent roughly the 98th percentile of national test-takers, according to However, with a much higher GPA of 3.5, requisite SAT scores drop dramatically to 1000 (CR + M) and ACT scores to a 22 Composite.

What this practice entails for you or your child will obviously depend. Since decisions regarding test prep are often made in the fall or spring of a student’s junior year – when their final GPA is far from clear – it’s best to err on the side of caution and ensure a competitive SAT or ACT score.


Following the trend of increased transparency of cost and financial aid options, some colleges are embedding net price calculators (NPCs) on their websites. The College Board (maker of SAT and PSAT) powers the most popular NPC on the web. NPCs are a great resource for students looking to size up their chances of merit aid awards––though some caution must be used. For instance, as NY Times columnist Rebecca Ruiz noted in 2011 (when NPCs first launched):

A merit aid determination might be based, at least in part, on the strength of an applicant’s G.P.A. or SAT score relative to the scores of fellow applicants − an unknown until deadlines pass and applications are in.

That caveat aside, NPCs are a wonderful illustration of the balancing act college financial aid officers (as the admissions officers before them) perform when assessing a potential student’s academic “merit.” Any fastidious parent can deduce from this arrangement that the permutations of academic merit versus GPA are myriad.

Thus, instead of promoting a one-size-fits-all formula for achieving merit aid through test prep, I’m hoping to empower students to make their own decisions – or at least to have helpful info with which to consult the opinion of parents, college counselors, and tutors. To do so, I’ll present a few case studies in order to draw attention to the fundamental principles used by colleges to award merit aid. The schools I’ve chosen are representative of their respective sizes and profiles.


The best merit aid deals you’ll find are from small, expensive liberal arts schools. Why? Because “they have to in order to be competitive,” explains Troy Onink over at But they are notoriously close-handed about how this process works, most likely to give themselves utmost flexibility – the GPA/test scores combo that warranted merit aid for one incoming freshman class may not warrant aid for the following year’s incoming class.

Because it’s most often the office of admissions (not the financial aid office) that awards merit scholarships, a student with test scores in the top 25% of incoming applicants can expect to receive some amount of aid, whereas students in the top 10% will receive the most aid. Use your school of choice’s previous-year data on median SAT and ACT scores (CollegeBoard’s Big Future provides a helpful search tool for this info) to set score goals.

A subset of private liberal arts colleges that deserve special attention are religious schools, which are very generous with merit aid. At Gonzaga University, competitive scholarships (up to full tuition) require 3.7+ GPA and 1350+ SAT (CR + M) or 30+ ACT Composite; less competitive scholarships (still awarding $2,000-5,000/year) require as low as 3.1-3.5 GPA and/or 1200 SAT or 26 ACT. Link to scholarships page here.

*N.B.: Some very selective liberal arts colleges do not offer merit aid (e.g., some Claremont schools like Pomona College and Pitzer College). See below on top-tier schools.

Most public universities will offer different financial award packages for in-state and out-of-state applicants. Here we report only the in-state metrics; out-of-state thresholds are typically more competitive.

The University of Oregon has one of the largest public endowments on the West Coast, making it ideal for competitive students seeking merit aid. For in-state applicants, merit aid starts as low as 1150 SAT (CR + M) or 26 ACT Composite (plus 3.6 GPA) and ranges as high as 1240 SAT (CR + M) or 28 ACT Composite (plus 3.85 GPA). The latter requirements refer to the Stamps Scholarship, which awards a total of $110,000 over four years. More info here.

Similarly, for Oregon residents the most generous merit aid scholarships at Oregon State University require SAT and ACT scores: as low as $2,500/year for SAT 1800 (all sections) or ACT 26 (plus 3.85 GPA), and as high as $9,000/year for SAT 1900 (all sections) or ACT 29 (plus 3.85 GPA). Explore more OSU scholarships here.

*The Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) is a great option for students looking to go to an out-of-state public university. Because it represents a unique case for merit aid, I’ll explore the ins and outs of the WUE reduced-tuition program in another blog post.

Generally speaking, the most elite colleges and universities do NOT award merit-based financial aid. This is partly owing to a recent trend against “buying students” and partly owing to the fact that the applicant pool at these schools is so compressed that it would be difficult to use a metric like SAT/ACT scores to stratify students across a “merit spectrum.”

That said, there are a few surprises in this category, like Harvey Mudd CollegeUC Berkeley, and University of Southern California. Here’s a great NY Times article unearthing some great schools that offer generous merit awards.

The number of test-optional or test-flexible colleges and universities has grown over the last few years. maintains a complete and current list of schools. Some of these schools do not award merit aid, while others do.

For example, Sarah Lawrence College is test-optional, but has an extensive network of merit-based scholarships – at least some of which are determined by SAT scores. While SLC’s website claims, “There is no separate application for merit aid, and no formula that we follow,” the NPC on their website has a field for SAT scores. The field is not required, but a disclaimer appears that says the NPC will be “more accurate” if the student submits their scores.


Through all our research, we found that on average colleges that offer merit aid award roughly $2000/year per 60 SAT points and the same amount per 1 ACT Composite point. There are, of course upper as well as lower thresholds: this metric only applies once a student has surpassed the minimum requirement for merit aid (e.g., every point above an ACT 26 Composite “merits” $2000/year, but only within the score range of 26-32 Composite).

There may be some changes on the horizon in this practice as the Redesigned SAT rolls out, but perhaps not so many as one might expect. Current merit aid practices factor in the SAT Math and Critical Reading sections only, so the downscaling of the new SAT to (approx.) these two sections alone might make the translation seamless. On the other hand, since the SAT Math is emphasizing more higher-level topics, there will likely be a drop in the merit aid thresholds for SAT.

But as long as schools continue these or similar merit aid award practices, the directive to students and parents alike is clear: focusing on raising your SAT and ACT scores makes financial sense. Given that our students average about 20 SAT pts. gained per test prep session and about .25 ACT Composite pts. gained per test prep session, that’s a 400-500% return on investment!

For more college prep tips and techniques, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter, or contact us today to reserve your future academic success.


GUEST POST: Rapidly Reduce Students’ Test Anxiety + School Stress

We’re proud to highlight one of our education industry partners, Patrice Khan, in this guest post on techniques for reducing test anxiety. See bottom of post for background and contact info.


By M. Patrice Khan, PhD

Picture your child walking into a test – or a performance of any kind – feeling calm, prepared, and eager to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities. Think how much better they’ll feel and do if their mind and body are working in-sync together like a finely tuned instrument.

Everyone has the capacity to consistently function at this level. But how many people actually do? And how many students forget what they know when it comes time to take a test or to give a presentation? More than you might think.

The Issue

According to the American Test Anxiety Association (, the majority of students report being more stressed by tests and schoolwork than anything else in their lives.  

The Statistics: About 16-20% of these students have high test anxiety and 18% are troubled by moderately high test anxiety. This makes it the most prevalent scholastic impairment in our schools today. The AMTAA estimates that approximately 10 million students in North America alone are performing below their actual abilities because of what gets triggered in their nervous system when preparing for and taking tests.

Who is Affected? Test anxiety and school stress can be debilitating. They adversely affect not only test scores but also a student’s whole sense of competence and emotional well-being.  And the ripple effect goes well beyond classroom performance and the student’s own experience. 

Just ask any parent whose child is suffering from test anxiety what happens to them before, during, and after exams? There is a general feeling of frustration, overwhelm, discouragement, helplessness and hopelessness that can impact the entire family. It can also lead to unhealthy coping behaviors on the part of the student.

The Scientifically Validated Approach

Over the past two decades, neuroscientists have developed a better understanding of the complex ways that perception, emotion and memory influence (and are influenced by) the interactions of the brain, nervous system and heart.  Based on these insights, they have identified conditions and developed practices that lead to optimal mental, emotional and physical performances.

Among their discoveries is a distinct physiological mode that is termed physiological coherence.  When one is functioning in this mode, the reciprocal actions that ensue between the different branches of the nervous system becomes highly ordered and synchronized.

It is the quality of the activity in the nervous system that underlies our ability to focus, learn, reason and perform at our best.  In fact, the ability to synchronize electrical activity in the brain and nervous system is the very basis of cognition.  Research has clearly shown that emotions are a key driver of physiological activity and strongly affect the amount of synchronized activity in the nervous system. (Institute of Heartmath®)

Performance States in Low Coherence vs. High Coherence

High Coherence is achieved when students learn to create inner physiological harmony.  It shows up in their lives as significant improvements in academic performance, emotional stability, and behavior. 

Studies published in numerous medical journals validate the dramatic, immediate, and measurable results of shifting into a state of high coherence.

Below is a profile of a student in low coherence vs. high coherence. Where are you?

MENTAL (thoughts):
· I am going to fail
· I can’t focus
· I don’t remember
· I don’t like tests
· I am stupid
MENTAL (thoughts):
· I can do this
· I am focused
· I am ready
· I will do my best
· I am intelligent
EMOTIONAL (feelings):
· Anxious
· Worried
· Nervous
· Panicked
· Full of dread
EMOTIONAL (feelings):
· Calm
· Confident
· Poised
· Excited
· Eager
PHYSICAL (body):
· Perspiring
· Headache
· Stomach ache
· Sleepless
· Racing heart beat
PHYSICAL (body):
· Body is calm
· Mind is coherent
· Stomach relaxed
· Sleep is restful
· Normal pulse


Here’s the Good News: Coherence is our natural, optimal state. Gaining and maintaining it – even in the most stressful situations – is a learnable skill that can last a lifetime.  What kind of difference would this make in the life of your children as they develop toward maturity?

Head and Heart Intelligence™

The Program: Head and Heart Intelligence™ utilizes a research-based program developed by the Institute of HeartMath®.  This program helps students to increase their capacity to learn and improve their performance on any and all types of testing situations.

The Technology: We also use the Inner Balance™ and emWave® tech-tools that give you instant feedback on your level of Coherence. These show you – in the moment – your percentages of Low, Medium or High Coherence. Combined with the simple skills that we teach, students learn to increase their Coherence scores and boost their performance levels – under all conditions.

Who is M. Patrice Khan, PhD?

Patrice is an award-winning school counselor, having worked for over a decade in San Diego County, California before starting an international private practice.  Having suffered from school and test anxiety herself, Patrice has always been passionate about finding successful tools and techniques with the intention of helping young people avoid the pain and resultant problems that she endured in her life as a student.

Once she came across the Institute of HeartMath®, Patrice knew she had found the greater resources she’d been seeking for helping more students excel.  A Licensed HeartMath® Coach for more than two decades now, Patrice has successfully used HeartMath’s® tools and technologies plus other modalities to effectively create her own unique, successful program.  She has worked with students and adults in the U.S. and internationally; some of her students have improved their SAT test scores by 200 points in only eight sessions!

Dr. Khan’s practice is located in Oregon. However, thanks to modern technology, she works with students all over the world to prepare them to face the challenges in their lives.

Do you have Test Anxiety? 

The following website has free Test Anxiety Questionnaires: