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If you have a college-bound kid, I know you’re feeling it. The anxiety. The competition. The intensity. The bombardment of well-meaning but sometimes conflicting advice from other parents. I almost lost my mind trying to keep up with the list of do’s and don’ts of college admissions.


The fact is, requirements vary radically across campuses. Some schools focus on the SAT, some on the ACT, some on both. Some want stellar essays, some really don’t care.

But there’s a few general parent misperceptions swirling about that are worth correcting.

Colleges want “well-rounded” students

They still do. But colleges prefer students who are a combination of “angular” (focused in one area) and “well-rounded.” Translation: “passionate.”

As a general rule, incoming freshman should have a number of extracurriculars (but not a ridiculous amount) that are somewhat related.

“Beyond the most selective colleges, well-rounded students are still being told that they are welcome, but they are warned not to get involved in too many activities,“ writes Fred Thys in his Boston NPR piece, “‘Well-Rounded Versus Angular’: The Application Colleges Want To See.”

I pushed my daughter Taylor to join a variety of clubs in high school to fill in her glaringly thin college resume. But college admission offices were probably more interested in her obvious passion: kids.

She took four years of high school early education classes (which included being a teaching assistant at the onsite preschool), volunteered as a camp counselor for three years, joined Best Buddies to assist special needs students at events, and baby sat for countless families.

It’s a good idea to encourage your elementary and middle-school child to try out a variety of extracurriculars to get a feel for what they like and don’t like. But once they find a passion, encourage them to join clubs and activities that are at least loosely related (e.g., 4-H science + engineering club + robotics competitions).

“My perspective is that there has been a shift from, ‘We want a kid who is so well-rounded they check off 25 boxes,’ to ‘We want to know what you’re passionate about,’” said Stephanie Bode Ward, mother of a senior at the Boston Latin School.

Lots of advanced classes are a good idea

Of course kids need to be challenged. Lost potential is tragic and gifted kids can fall through the cracks. But advanced classes – the wrong ones or too many – can backfire.

“If you are truly interested in the subject, there’s a good teacher and you’re surrounded by other motivated students, then you’re probably going to have a good experience from taking a more advanced class,” explains Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

Pope reviewed more than 20 studies on advanced placement (AP) courses. “But if you’re pushed into it without good preparation and without a safety net in place at the school to help you if you get in over your head, then it may be more harmful than helpful.”

The second week of Taylor’s sophomore year in high school, she told me her AP American History was so ridiculously hard she guaranteed it would lower her GPA. So she dropped down to honors-level instead. Her work ethic has always been strong, so I knew she wasn’t just being lazy. She was being strategic to protect her GPA.

Encourage your kids to take advanced classes, but be sure they set themselves up to succeed. Trust their instincts. Feeling overwhelmed isn’t the same as being a slacker. An academic schedule that is unduly difficult might sabotage your child’s high school transcript, or worse, harm her emotional and physical well-being.

For some kids, taking all advanced or college-level classes is the right work load (if they don’t have a ton of after school activities). But for others, it’s a guaranteed recipe to lower their GPA and increase stress.

“Many high-achieving high school students are really stressed out,” says Pope. “They have a lot to do between extracurricular activities and homework and trying to get the sleep they need. They need to be prepared for what an AP course involves. The extra tests, extra homework, on top of an already demanding schedule, can be brutal. And a very low grade on your transcript from an AP course may hurt you more in the long run than not taking an AP in that subject at all.”

Skipping grades and starting college early is bad for kids

We all know children who skip a grade (or two). They leap frog over their peers and start college early. But is this a good idea? It depends.

“There are two sides to every coin,” says Susan Assouline, co-author on the report, “A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students”. “One side reveals that acceleration is the most effective intervention for students who are ready for challenge and advanced curriculum.

“The flip side isn’t as shiny. Students who are not challenged become disengaged from school and their joy of learning goes away. Skeptics would have us believe that acceleration is not good for students. They will have gaps in their knowledge, they won’t make any friends, they won’t be able to keep up, or it’s a very costly intervention. None of these reasons are substantiated by research; they are nothing more than excuses.”

Flash forward to what this means for college students, and it gets a little complicated.

A 2011 study out of Bocconi University found that younger college students did better than their older peers. The younger students were less socially active so researchers think they spent more time hitting the books. Good news, right? Well, yes and no.

The younger students got better grades, but earlier psychological studies suggest being the youngest in a group may slow the development of personality traits such as self-esteem and leadership.

Here’s how 16-year-old college freshman Petra describes her experience:

“In comparison to my educational experience, my social life dwindled through murky waters. After I had written my op-ed for my college paper (admitting her age), I felt as though all eyes were on me. I had many people come up to me while I was walking around campus, asking how I felt being younger than most, and if I felt the pressure to fit in more now than ever. Being asked that question made me feel intimidated. Because one of my greatest struggles has been fitting into the ‘crowd.’

“…By the end of my second semester, I no longer felt guilty about writing my article. I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me and accepted me for exactly who I was. Without the support of friends and family, I would certainly have not felt the enthusiasm and motivation to attend college this coming fall like I do now.”

The bottom line is that kids need to be challenged to a level that keeps them engaged. But when skipping grades translates into being the youngest in a college peer group, students may feel tremendous social pressure to act like someone they’re not – at least until they find their identity and footing.

Starting college “Undecided” is undesirable

My sense is high school kids today feel intense pressure to start college with a major and a career in mind. There’s a practical argument to support this. Colleges appreciate focused, passionate students.

Also, being “undecided” can get expensive. Dan Johnston, Regional Director of Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency thinks entering college without a major is a bad idea. Students might take too much time (and too much money) to figure what they want to do.

Johnston recommends kids explore careers during high school and occasionally audit college classes. This way they’ll be ready to declare a major as an incoming freshman.

But a 2011 study out of Western Kentucky University found that students who begin college without declaring a major (and choose within the first two years) have the best chance of graduating in four years. Students who waited until their junior year did the worst.

Researcher Matthew Foraker suggests this is because early undecided students took time to explore majors, gather information and choose a field that genuinely interested them. While students who declared a major right away might have done so based on poor or incomplete information, or parental pressure. Many then drop out.

So is there a compromise between declaring a major right away or being undecided for too long? Absolutely.

Incoming freshman can take the required general education classes alongside a variety of electives (this might mean taking one or two summer classes on campus or online). At the same time, they can strategically narrow down their interests. Being strategic means students complete several free or paid online career assessment tools and regularly meet with a campus career counselor.

After a couple years, most students get a pretty good idea of majors (and possibly minors) that genuinely interest them. From there, they’ll naturally narrow down related careers.

After my daughter finished her freshman year in college, three weeks into her summer job as a camp counselor she told me she wanted to drop her Education major. She was 100 percent sure she didn’t want to be an elementary school teacher anymore.

After she told me, I full-on panicked. I told Taylor she wasn’t allowed to graduate on the five-year plan. I told her she had better figure out a major where she could actually get a job.

I thought, she’s already behind.

But behind in what? Underclassman are supposed to explore what they like and don’t like. When I went to college, that was called going to college.

So I got a grip and told her it was okay and, in fact, better to decide now to switch majors. Students do it all the time. In fact, half of all high school graduates change majors by their sophomore year. It’s not the end of the world or a guaranteed pathway to delayed graduation.

There’s no question the college admissions process has become ridiculously intense. Parents and students lose sleep over it. But rest assured there’s a spot out there for your student. It might not be her first (or third) choice, but in time it will be the right choice.

The most elite schools aside, most colleges and universities simply want passionate kids with a track record of decent grades, a solid work ethic, and a mind open to exploring who they are, one day, meant to become.

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.

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A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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