Ease Your Anxiety, One Breath at a Time

Returning to campus after the holidays can inspire a range of feelings, from joy and hopeful anticipation to sadness and outright dread. Thanks to the recent Omicron upsurge, health worries, remote classes, and ongoing social isolation could make this spring’s transition back to school harder than ever. To help yourself stay calm and grounded during challenging times, start with the most simple thing in life: Your breath.

Breath is a powerful tool. It can send a message to your brain (and the rest of your body) that it’s okay to relax, that you are safe, and you can let go of the “fight or flight” urges that are causing you to experience symptoms of anxiety. There are many ways you can call on your breath to increase your sense of peace and well-being. Give these methods a try the next time you need to find your calm center.

Deep Breathing

When we’re stressed, our breathing can become shallow and “caught up” in the chest. Deep breathing is an effective way to quickly release tension and calm your nervous system.

  • Take a deep breath, letting your abdomen expand. Sense your body filling with oxygen.
  • Hold this breath for 3 – 5 seconds.
  • Release the air all at once (in a sigh, or a slow, steady stream…whatever feels good).
  • Consciously release your shoulders and jaw as the breath leaves your body.

Conscious Breathing

When are minds are cluttered with stressful thoughts, our bodies become stressed, too. By focusing on our breath, we can calm our thoughts and create relaxation in the body.

  • Close your eyes, and focus your attention on the tip of your nose.
  • Breathe in slowly, noticing the sensations of the air drawing into your nose.
  • As you breathe out, notice the air passing through your nostrils and out of your body.
  • Repeat this several times. You might also add a simple “mantra”, such as “breathing in…breathing out…breathing in…breathing out…”, or “peace…calm…peace…calm.”

Counting Breaths

If having a mental pattern to follow increases your sense of ease, try 8-4-7 to create mindful breathing.

  • Exhale through your mouth to the count of 8, making a sound (a sigh, a low whistle, etc.).
  • Inhale quietly through your nose to the count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Repeat this cycle 4 times, ideally at least twice a day (or as often as you feel the need to quiet your mind and body).

A Quick Guide to Getting Disability Services in College

If you’ve been receiving accommodations through an IEP or 504 plan in high school, it’s a good idea to seek continued support in college. College is a big transition for everyone, and even if you haven’t felt the need to use your accommodations much in high school, you might find that they’re a huge help in your college years. Getting services in place early on is a smart, proactive way to set yourself up for academic and personal success. 

It’s important to understand that your IEP or 504 plan doesn’t “follow” you to college. The laws that protect K-12 students with disabilities no longer apply after you’ve graduated from high school. This doesn’t mean, however, that you have no legal rights to accommodations or that you can’t access support in college. 

College students who have disabilities are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act and section 504 *, which states that educational institutions that receive federal funds or serve students who receive federal aid can’t discriminate against people based on their disabilities. Colleges do have certain legal responsibilities to their students with disabilities, but they are not accountable for providing and delivering support in the same way that K-12 institutions are. It’s up to you to be proactive and work with your college to get the help you need.

* Note: Section 504 is different from a 504 plan. Colleges may provide accommodations that will give you equal access to education, but they don’t create a plan for such accommodations that they are legally obligated to follow.

How Do I Get the Services I Need?

Start early (before you even get to campus). You can request accommodations at any point during college, but it makes things easier if everything is in place before you need help. If you wait until you find yourself struggling, seeking out help then will be just one more thing you’ve got to take care of and manage. Get the ball rolling over the summer before you leave for college or soon after you arrive at campus. Since colleges usually require current documentation of your disability, it’s also best to request services while the testing you received in high school is still recent.

Get in touch with the student services office (often called the Student Disability Office) at your college. Make connections with people in the office and get to know them so they can help you access the services that will support your success. There are many ways these folks can help, but to make the most of their support, you have to get to know them well enough that they understand your needs.

Provide documentation of your disability. Colleges aren’t obligated to identify and evaluate a student’s disabilities in the same way that K-12 schools are. You will need to give them current documentation such as a high school IEP or 504 or medical records to demonstrate your disability. 

Request reasonable accommodations. Under the ADA, colleges are legally obligated to respond to requests for accommodations that will provide you with “equal access” to education. It’s important that you are able to articulate the accommodations you need and explain how they will support your success. 

Obtain any specialized equipment on your own. Unlike high schools, colleges are not required to provide equipment or technology of any kind. The disability services team can, however, be a great resource to help you find what you need.

College is all about stepping into adult life and taking on new responsibilities, and it’s up to you to ask for and use accommodations. Once you are over 18, your parents aren’t actively involved in making this happen. Sure, they can give you advice and support, but when you work with the disability services office, they’ll expect you to manage your case on your own. 

You have rights as a college student with disabilities, and you owe it to yourself to get the support that will enable you to thrive. If you felt embarrassed about using accommodations in high school, it’s time to let that go! Don’t let your assumptions about what other people might think get in the way of your achievement. Be informed, be assertive, and be your own best advocate: it will pay off in your success!

Legal Housekeeping for College Students

There’s a lot to think about when you go off to college. In the scramble to take care of the big things — packing, shopping for dorm decor, negotiating travel logistics, trying not to have a nervous breakdown — it’s easy to forget some of the less exciting but nonetheless essential tasks…like signing advanced health care directives.

When you turn 18, you are legal adults, which means that your parents/guardians lose the legal authority to make decisions for you. They won’t legally be able to access your medical, academic or financial information or represent you in these areas. Should you have an accident or become otherwise incapacitated, they won’t be able to act on your behalf unless documentation is in place. They may not be even be able to get information from hospitals about your condition in the event of an emergency.

You’ll need the following if you’d like your parents/guardians to be able to continue supporting you with regard to medical and financial information and decisions: 

Durable Power of Attorney This document will able your parents/guardians to act of your behalf in legal and financial matters without you losing any ability to act on their own. It gives families the ability to do things such as pay bills, apply for loans, and access or transfer funds, which can be useful if you are studying abroad, sick or injured, or just overwhelmed with school work and in need of some help managing your affairs. This document can be drafted to become effective immediately upon signing and can be revoked at any time, as long as you aren’t under a disability. 

Advanced Health Care Directive If you have an accident or other health emergency and is incapacitated, this document gives your family the authority to make decisions on your behalf. It can also include information about your wishes regarding organ donation and end of life decisions. A HIPAA waiver will give your family access to your medical records so they are able to make informed decisions regarding care. 

You might also consider as a separate document an Advanced Directive for mental health care, which would enable your family to make decisions and direct care for you should you experience a mental disability and need your family to represent you. 

FERPA Release Parents/guardians are sometimes surprised to learn that they are not able to speak to colleges to discuss their adult child’s grades and academic progress. A FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) form must be signed for your family to access records and talk to colleges about you. The forms may be requested from colleges. 

While most families see the benefit of advanced health care directives and durable powers of attorney, the FERPA release can be tricky. Should students have privacy regarding their academic records and progress? Is it healthy/valuable for families to monitor adult children in this way? At what point do students become responsible for their own educations? 

While we all hope there will never be a need for our families to intervene on our behalf in a medical or legal situation, for many families, knowing that they have the ability to make decisions and direct care in an emergency is comforting. Clearly, whether or not to create these documents is a decision that should be made only after clear discussion and agreement between you and your family. As a young adult, your privacy is important to you (and might be a sticky subject with your family); strive to find a balance between assuring their ability to support you in serious situations and maintaining a comfortable level of control over your own life.  

Regardless of what you and your family decide, this is a worthwhile conversation about issues that all responsible adults should address. None of us can predict the future, and thorny situations and emergencies unfortunately do arise. Investing a small amount of time and energy now can enable your family to contribute to your well being in critical times, and by negotiating and navigating the process, you’ll be taking another important step on your path to adulthood.  

Is Community College Transfer Right for You?

Not all students can or should go straight to a four-year college after high school graduation. Maybe cost is a concern, or you’re uncertain about moving away from home, or you just aren’t ready to choose a college yet. For kids who want to begin college but find the timing isn’t right for a “traditional” college experience, following a transfer path at a community college can be a smart choice.

How Does It Work?

Increasing numbers of kids attend community college as a pathway to transfer to a four-year college or university. State community college systems are designed to enable students to complete the first two years of general education and prerequisites required to transfer to a state college or university; by offering courses that are “articulated” to specifically fulfill the lower division requirements of a four-year university, they offer a straight “pipeline” into earning a four-year degree. Many state colleges and universities even guarantee a spot to community college students who successfully complete a transfer program and meet a minimum GPA requirement.

Many private and out-of-state public colleges and universities also welcome transfer students. While some, like Stanford, accept only low single-digit numbers of transfers, others, like USC, accept close to a quarter of those who apply. Some private colleges have “articulation agreements” with state community colleges that are similar to those shared between community colleges and state public four-year institutions, which facilitate a smooth transfer of credits.

While students traditionally choose to transfer to a four-year college as juniors, some colleges do accept students as freshman or sophomore transfers after they have completed a semester or year of community college courses. This is more common at private colleges; at some public colleges, like the University of California and CSU system, it is very rare that a student will be accepted as a transfer with fewer than 60 credits (junior standing).

Working with an on-campus transfer counselor is crucial for students planning a transfer to four-year college; it’s essential that kids take the right classes to fulfill the requirements of their future college or university, and the path can often be challenging to navigate on their own.

The Benefits of Community College Transfer Path

Lower Investment

Community college can save thousands of dollars off the cost of the first two years at a four-year college. Completing two years of lower division coursework at a community college is inexpensive (and, in some states, may even be free). In California, the cost of one year is around 11% of the cost of attending a University of California campus and 20% of attending a California State campus. At a state college where the cost of four years of attendance is $100,000, for example, spending two years at a community college before transferring would bring the cost to nearly half. Because students typically attend community colleges near their homes, many choose to live at home while they complete their degrees, lower overall costs even further.

Support & Connection

While community colleges are bustling places, class sizes are generally small and afford students close contact with professors and peers. This is great for kids who value teacher support and the chance to build connections that can result in outside opportunities and strong letters of recommendation that can be useful when applying to four-year colleges.

Growing Room

Some kids need more time to mature before moving straight to college, and community college can be a great “stepping stone.” Kids build academic and personal independence, but generally still live at home and have the benefit of family support as they prepare to launch. Just as a gap year can be a great way for kids to mature and find their feet before heading off to college, community college provides the same opportunities in a more academic, structured (and less expensive) way. For kids who have faced mental or physical health challenges in high school, this interim educational phase can be even more important, as it affords additional time to adjust after high school and make sure everything is in place to meet a student’s needs before she moves on to the independence of a four-year college experience.

A Fresh Start

In addition to providing a slower transition to college, community college can also give a student who has had academic challenges a “clean slate”. In most cases, once a student begins community college classes and has earned a certain number of credits (which varies by college) they are no longer required to submit high school transcripts or SAT/ACT scores when applying for admission to a four-year college. This means that regardless of what happened in high school, a kid who does well at community college can end up being accepted to many great four-year colleges that would have denied him admission as a freshman.

Improving Your Odds

In states like California, where admission to top-tier public four-year universities is increasingly competitive and out of reach to even the most highly qualified high school students, spending two years at community college can greatly improve the likelihood of acceptance. In fact, the UC recently announced that it will now guarantee a spot at a UC to all qualified transfer students. Currently, this benefit is extended to some California community college transfers through the Transfer Admission Guarantee program (TAG). Several UC campuses participate in TAG, which guarantees students a spot at a single campus of their choice provided they meet all general education requirements and achieve a minimum GPA. Students can “tag” one campus and still apply to other UCs in the system. UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego don’t participate in TAG, but it’s an option at the other six campuses.

If you are shooting for a top-tier school like UC Berkeley or UCLA, attending a community college can also make admission to these campuses much more attainable; a student who wasn’t eligible for admission to these UCs as a high school senior will find it easier admitted as a junior transfer as long as his or her grades are very strong.

No matter what path you choose to get your undergraduate degree, there will be pros and cons. Community college transfer students do miss out on some things, like the experience of living in a dorm and the sense of pride that can come with attending a prestigious college as a freshman. But for many students, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Community college can be a smart choice for kids in a variety of situations and who have a wide range of goals and ambitions. In college, as in life, there are countless ways to get where you want to go; community college might be the right one for you.

Making the Most of Summer

Not so long ago, summer vacation meant hanging out at the local pool, working at a part-time job, and maybe taking a family trip where you spent half your time having fun and the other half wishing you had a different family. But today’s teens all too often see summer not as a well-earned break, but as yet another thing they have to “maximize” to create college applications that will stand out from the competition. They stress about what they should do, if it’s “unique” enough, and whether it will impress admissions officers. They feel pressure to do international service trips or find professors who will take them on as research assistants. These things can be awesome, of course. But the best approach to summer is often simple, and involves just three things: Recharging, learning, and having fun.

Recharging. A teen’s life can be stressful and non-stop. The school year is packed with classes, homework, extracurriculars, and family responsibilities These days, adults and kids alike have to make a conscious effort to stop and rest. Adults and teens often have different ideas about what “resting” means. For kids, it could involve sleeping for long, hibernation-like stretches, relaxing in nature, pursuing creative projects, binge-watching Netflix, hanging out with friends, or (sigh) playing video games. Whatever they do to rest, it should result in an energy-gain, not an energy drain, and as long as it’s part of a well-rounded summer plan, parents should do their best not to judge.

Learning.  Learning can mean many things. Maybe it’s reading those books you haven’t had time to enjoy all year. It could be studying for the SAT or ACT, taking an academic class in a subject you’d like to explore or one that will help you feel prepared for the coming school year. You could get a job at a local cafe, start that podcast you’ve been thinking about, launch a small business doing something you’re good at. Take a cooking class, be a lifeguard, make an app, learn to silkscreen t-shirts, visit all the regional parks in your area. Learning doesn’t have to happen in a classroom or a research lab: valuable opportunities to grow intellectually and personally are all around you. And here’s a secret: Colleges are interested in hearing about whatever you do, even if it’s not an “organized” activity. It gives them great insight into who you are and what kinds of talents and interests you’ll bring to their campus.

Word to the wise: Avoid the temptation to overload. Summer is only ten weeks long (and in many school districts, it’s shrinking every year). You can’t do everything. Pick two learning activities and make the most of them.

One more thing: If you’re planning to apply to a competitive major that you’re passionate about, use part of your summer to deeply explore that subject so you can show colleges that your interest is genuine (and so you can confirm that interest for yourself). This is especially true for majors like engineering, business and the arts. Invent, launch, create, collaborate! At competitive colleges, you’ll need to demonstrate your “strong interest and aptitude” if you want to have the best possible shot.

Having Fun. Ideally, whatever you do to recharge and learn will bring fun along with it. But it never hurts to make room for even more fun, either planned or spontaneous. Enjoy the long, warm days of summer, and don’t feel guilty about it. Sure, you could spend all day everyday doing “productive” things to add to your resume, but in the long run, you’re likely to accomplish more and be inspired to give your best effort to your activities if your life is balanced and you invest in creating your own happiness.

However you choose to spend your summer, it should reflect what’s right for you. If you think taking on an intense, competitive internship will help you recharge, learn and have fun, go for it. If you want to study for the ACT while road tripping with your family and then learn how to use editing software to make a video documenting your travels, that’s great, too. Keep in mind that the best summer opportunities don’t have to be complicated, and they are often just a bike ride from home.

Don’t worry about what colleges want to see on your applications; focus instead on what will bring you the greatest personal reward. Colleges welcome students who are curious, self-aware, and willing to take risks in order to learn and grow. What that looks like is up to you.

It’s Okay If You’re Not Okay

For many young people, the past nine months have been the most frightening, confusing, lonely, frustrating, sad, anxious and disappointing of their lives. Sure, the vaccine means there is finally an end in sight, and you can look forward with hope, but it’s hard not to think about all of the things (and maybe even people) you will never get back. For some of you, it’s still challenging to face each day, and to manage school and responsibilities as effectively as you did back in the Before Times. It can be even more difficult when the message you’re hearing from those around you is that you should be used to the situation by now, and you should just get on with life in this “new normal.” 

Continue reading “It’s Okay If You’re Not Okay”

College Application Anxiety? Take A Breath

Applying to college can be one of the most stressful experiences in a teen’s life. If you’re doing it in the middle of a pandemic (and possibly a natural disaster or two), you might be experiencing major anxiety this fall. While you probably can’t control the things that are causing your worries, through the practice of mindfulness, you can manage the way you handle them…and bring more calm and positivity to your life now and in the future. 

Continue reading “College Application Anxiety? Take A Breath”

Finding the Right College to Support Your Special Needs

No two people learn the same way. For those who have learning styles or challenges that aren’t compatible with a traditional high school approach, finding a school that is a good match (or finding ways to make your current school better serve you) can be its own challenge. That’s what makes planning for college so exciting: It’s a perfect chance, and maybe the first one you’ve ever had, to choose the educational environment where you will thrive. 

Your success and happiness in college depends in great part on how well your college meets your needs. If you already have an IEP or 504 plan in high school, you probably have a good understanding of what those needs are. If you’ve never had formal diagnostic testing but just know there are things that could help you do better in college, pay attention to those. Whatever you need, there are colleges that can provide it. 

Continue reading “Finding the Right College to Support Your Special Needs”

The Problem With Prestige

It’s human nature to want to be “the best” sometimes, and to have other people look at our accomplishments with admiration. The desire for prestige can be especially prevalent when you’re thinking about college. It might feel really important to attend a college that is considered “elite” — one whose name people will recognize and whose exceptional reputation will make you proud. But sometimes, the desire to attend a prestigious college can complicate your college process — and your life. If you’re finding that anxiety about getting into a “big name” college is rising, it’s time to take a step back for some perspective…and to learn how to manage the pressure for prestige.

Continue reading “The Problem With Prestige”

Wondering What to Do About the SAT/ACT?

If taking the SAT or ACT is on your “to do” list this year, you’ve probably found yourself navigating a chaotic situation. Spring test dates were cancelled. There might be additional test dates in the late summer and fall. There might be online testing options. There are a lot of “mights”. Things seem to be changing every week, and there isn’t any certainty about what will happen, or even whether you’ll get a chance to take the test before college applications are due. 

Continue reading “Wondering What to Do About the SAT/ACT?”