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5 Tips to Take (Some of) the Stress Out of College Planning

When my children were in high school, they received minimal college planning guidance from their school. So we stumbled along and learned as they journeyed through it. As a psychologist, I have heard similar stories of befuddlement: high school seniors and their parents bemoaning the absence of clear advice and lamenting what went wrong during the application process. And though I may try to help them weather their frustration and disappointment, I suspect that with better preparation, their options would have vastly improved.


Here are five tips that teens and families must consider when planning for college (and which just might save time, energy and heartbreak):

1 | Do the research

Families need to research colleges themselves and forego relying exclusively on schools to guide such a critical decision. Guidance counselors are notoriously overworked. Many are only familiar with local colleges and may be unaware of admissions standards at more distant schools. They may direct your child toward a particular college despite little chance of acceptance, while never suggesting other colleges that might be ideal. In some high schools, counselors barely have time to get to know your child, and may have little awareness of your financial resources or limitations.

You can find a wealth of information online and through college guidebooks, and can tailor the search to your child’s specific interests. Don’t assume the high school will help. You know your child best and are in an ideal position to sort through the information with your child.

2 | Plan far enough in advance

High schools are often negligent when it comes to recommending which classes, extracurriculars, or tests favorably influence college admissions decisions. Your child may be unaware, for example, that securing a high PSAT score in 11th grade can lead to National Merit Finalist status, increasing the odds of admission to “reach” schools and additional scholarship opportunities.

Other frequently omitted information includes: whether to pursue dual enrollment, what activities are viewed by colleges as resume padding, whether to submit a portfolio or audition recording, the relative differences between the SAT’s and the ACT’s, and when (and if) to take the SAT Subject tests. Guidance counselors also may not be prepared to offer sound advice about scholarships or financial aid. Don’t wait until the end of 11th grade to plan. Start early and become as informed as possible.

3 |  Set realistic goals

Some students set their sights on colleges where they have little chance of admission, bypassing amazing but less prestigious schools. They scan the college’s reported acceptance rates and, if their GPA or SAT’s fall near the 25th percentile, they might assume they have a chance. In reality, competition is just too intense, and many capable students are left out. Most of the highest “reach” schools expect outstanding additional qualifications well beyond grades and test scores.

Students could avoid disappointment if they assessed their chances more realistically, and appreciated what other colleges have to offer – not just the highest “reach” schools. Encourage your child to apply to a variety of colleges, but don’t waste time on schools well out of reach.

4 | Base decisions on a full range of factors

Students who choose a college based on any one overriding factor often face disappointment. Some fall in love with a particular campus and refuse to consider the other components of a successful college experience. College lasts at least four years and the right school needs to fulfill multiple criteria: academic, social, financial, and geographic. Each school has a different “feel,” and some factors, such as size, the influence of Greek life, proximity to home, or the flexibility of the curriculum, can make or break a decision. The more specific the information you acquire, the more factors your child can weigh in making an informed decision.

Visiting colleges and participating in campus tours and information sessions are a good start, but your child can learn even more by spending time in the student center, observing an activity he or she hopes to join, and sitting in on several classes. And overnight visits for accepted students also provide a glimpse into the campus social climate. Sorting out what is important, ranking all priorities, and then coming to a compromise is critical.

5 | Understand financial aid policies

Many families are blind-sided by strict financial policies. Despite financial aid calculators on college websites, some families assume they will receive more aid than what is stated. While some colleges will negotiate (for example, when a family hardship arises), it is unlikely that additional aid will be offered after your child is accepted. On the other hand, should you qualify for need-based aid, don’t discount some of the elite colleges if your child has the stats to gain admission.

Despite their sticker price, many elite schools are extremely generous, making it a more affordable option than some state-funded universities. Keep in mind, though, that many colleges are “need-aware:” they take financial need into account when making admissions decisions. Unless there is a firm “need-blind” policy, students who require financial aid may be rejected even if their academic qualifications meet the school’s admissions criteria. And don’t count on merit scholarships. They may only partially cover tuition, are typically offered to only the most outstanding students, and may not be available where your child wants to attend. Set your sights on colleges you can truly afford and plan strategically for maximizing your financial aid award.

The final decision about college belongs to your child. But as a parent, you are in the best possible position to offer guidance and encouragement, help with strategy, and provide those much-needed reality checks. Staying informed is not hovering; it makes sense to gain as much information as possible so you can help your child navigate this complicated process. I urge you and your child to do the research, determine which colleges offer the best social, academic and financial fit, and be realistic about admissions chances and your financial resources. This can ease some of the stress, offset unnecessary regrets, and help your child feel confident with this important decision.

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Finding the person you want to spend your life with is never easy, but when you're a parent, there's an extra layer of consideration. You're not just choosing the person you will spend lazy Sundays (and hurried weekday mornings) with—you're choosing the person your children will spend them with, too.

And when that person has children of their own, things get even more complicated. Blending two families isn't easy, but it can be beautiful, as Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez prove.

Each half of this power couple has two children each, and they're doing their best to make their relationship work not just for each other, but for those four children, too.

"We love each other and we love our life together," Lopez recently told People. "I was so loving to his kids and he was so loving and accepting of mine, and they embraced each other right away. [It was] 'I get a new bonus brother and sisters to hang out with all the time and it's nice.'"

A Rod agrees, telling People: "Our kids have become best friends and that keeps us both grounded and appreciative."

Here are five ways J Lo and A-Rod are totally #parentinggoals when it comes to balancing the needs of their blended family.

1.They bring the kids together

Lopez and Rodriguez each spend time with their own children, but they also bring all four kids (Lopez shares 10-year-old twins Maximilian and Emme with her ex, Marc Anthony, and Rodriguez shares daughters Ella, 10, and Natasha, 13, with his ex, Cynthia Scurtis) together for fun family outings, like ice cream dates and basketball games.

Research indicates that about 14% of kids in step families don't feel like they belong in their family, and report that their family doesn't have fun together. By bringing the kids together for fun family times, Lopez and Rodriguez are encouraging a sense of family belonging outside the relationship they have with each of the kids individually. Studies suggest an adolescents' sense of family belonging is linked to their overall well-being. So this ice cream date is actually healthy, in a way.

​2. They consider their children's other parents family, too

If their Instagrams are any indication, Rodriguez and Lopez have a great time hanging out with their blended family, but they understand that their children have other family members, too, and they don't mind hanging out with them.

A recent Instagram post proves Rodriguez considers Marc Anthony #famila, and that's how it should be.

Studies show supportive communication between a parent and their ex-partner's new partner is good for the family as a whole. Likewise, when the relationship between a parent and a stepparent is antagonistic, relationships beyond their own stuffer. It's truly better if a parent's co-parent and their current partner can hang.

3. They’re a united front with their co-parents

Rodriguez considers J Lo's ex family, and he also doesn't forget that (despite legal disagreements) his ex-wife plays a big role in his daughter's lives. So he celebrates their big co-parenting moments, like parent-teacher night.

Lopez, too, celebrates the times she and Anthony get together for their twins' big moments, recently telling Kelly Rippa the two are now in a really great place, and basically best friends. "The kids get to spend time with the two of us more together and see us working together," she said."It's just good for the whole family," says Lopez.

4. They make time for each other without the kids

Having all four kids together at once looks like fun, but hanging out with three 10-year-olds and a teen also sounds like it could be a little exhausting. That's why the couple takes time to unwind, without the kids, when they can.

As J Lo wrote in a recent Instagram post, "it's the lil quiet moments that matter the most."

5. They're doing it their way

Back in April Lopez was asked whether or not she and A Rod would be getting married soon (thanks to a Spanish language single "El Anillo," which is Spanish for "The Ring"), she told People, she's not in any rush, despite the song.

"I've done that before. I'm a little bit more grown up now, and I like to let things take their natural course," she said. "I know people are going to say that… we are really kind of good for each other and are really having the best time, and our kids love each other and all that."

[A version of this story was originally published July 12, 2018.]

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If you use U by Kotex tampons, you should check your box before your next period, mama.

Regular absorbency U by Kotex Sleek Tampons are being recalled throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the FDA, defective tampons have been coming apart when people tried to remove them, "in some cases causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body."

The FDA notes that there have also been a "small number of reports of infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury, and other symptoms."

In a statement on its website, U by Kotex explains that the recall is specific to the U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, Regular Absorbency only. The Super Absorbency or Super Plus Absorbency tampons are not part of the recall.

The recall is for specific lots of the Regular Absorbency tampons manufactured between October 7, 2016 and October 16, 2018.

The lot numbers start with NN (or XM, for small, 3 count packages) and can be found near the barcode on the bottom of the box.

To check if your tampons are part of the recall, type your lot number into this form on the U by Kotex site.


The FDA says if you've used the tampons and are experiencing the following you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • vaginal injury (pain, bleeding, or discomfort)
  • vaginal irritation (itching or swelling)
  • urogenital infections (bladder and/or vaginal bacterial and/or yeast infections)
  • hot flashes
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting

If you have a package of the recalled tampons you should not use them and should call Kotex's parent company, Kimberly-Clark at 1-888-255-3499. On its website U by Kotex asks consumers not to return the tampons to stores.

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I grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air so pretty much anytime Will Smith pops up on my Facebook feed, I click. (Also, I happen to live near West Philadelphia, so you know, there's a lot of theme song singing. My husband finds me hysterical.)

Anyway...

The last time I clicked on a Will Smith video, he was telling a story about when he went skydiving. He had made the decision to go with his friends, and then spent the whole night and morning leading up to it terrified, envisioning all the things that could go wrong.

When he was finally up in the plane, the guide explained that they would jump on the count of three. "One… two…" except they push you out on "two" because everyone throws their arms out and stops themselves at "three." So before he knew it, he was flying.

And he found it to be absolutely amazing.

He said, "The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It's bliss. The lesson for me was, why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? You're nowhere even near the airplane. Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day… the best things in life [are] on the other side of [fear]."

Motherhood is skydiving.

If someone came up to you one day and said, "Hey. I have this job for you. You are going to grow a human in your body, kind of like it's an alien. And then that human is going to come out of your body—and that process is really intense. And then the human will be really helpless and you will have to turn it into a fully functioning adult with an important place in this world. Okay… go!"

You'd smile politely and walk run away as fast as you could.

Because if you think about it, the idea of doing all of that—motherhoodis pretty terrifying. The amount of responsibility and work is sort of incomprehensible.

The grand scheme of motherhood is scary.

The thing is, though, that the grand scheme of motherhood is actually made up of millions of tiny moments in which you will be a total boss.

Whether it's a jump-out-of-the-plane moment, or a get-the-toddler-out-of-the-car-seat moment, you will face it with bravery.

Remember, being brave isn't the absence of fear, it's being afraid and doing it anyway.

Being brave is taking a pregnancy test—and seeing that it's positive. Or seeing that it's negative, again.

Being brave is waiting for the adoption agency to call you and tell you that she's here.

Being brave is watching your body change in a hundred ways, and lovingly rubbing your belly as it does.

Being brave is giving your body over to the process of bringing your baby into the world—yes, even if you cry, or complain, or cry and complain. You're still brave. Promise.

Being brave is bringing that baby home for the first time. Oh, so much bravery needed for that one.

Being brave is giving that first bath, going to that first pediatrician visit, spending that first full day at home, alone, with the baby,

Being brave is your first day back at work—or making the phone call to tell them you won't actually be coming back at all.

Being brave is ignoring all the noise around you, and parenting your child the way you know is best for your family.

Being brave is letting go of her hands when she takes her first steps.

Being brave is sitting next to her and smiling when you're in the emergency room for croup—and then sobbing when you get home.

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of school—and going home without her.

Being brave is saying "yes" to her first sleepover and "no" to her first car.

Being brave is hugging her the first time her heart breaks, when your heart might possibly hurt even more than hers does.

Being brave is listening quietly when she tells you she plans to "travel the world."

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of college—and going home without her.

Being brave is watching her commit her life to another person, who is not you.

Being brave is watching her become a mother.

And one day, sweet, brave mama, you'll look back and realize that you just jumped out of an airplane—you raised a child.

All of the things that seemed terrifyingly impossible—you just…do them. One at a time. You will wake up every day a little bit braver than the day before. And before you know it, you can look back on any aspect of motherhood and realize that little by little, you just increased your flying altitude.

Things that was seemed daunting are handled with ease. Ideas that once seemed impossible have become your reality one thousand times over.

So yes, motherhood is incredibly scary. But you are incredibly brave.

One... two... jump!

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Here at Motherly, we're all in on pregnant mamas. We love all things pregnancy science: from how a woman's body absorbs her baby's cells, and the effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss. We fawn over the latest + greatest in baby names. And we adore a good celeb baby bump picture.

So we're thrilled for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, royal newlyweds expecting their first child together in the Spring of 2019.

And recently, when the Duchess presented a British Fashion Award to the designer behind her wedding dress (Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller) we were not thrilled when headlines suggested Markle "showing off" her bump by cradling it during the awards show.

Here's the deal: When media outlets make note of a pregnant woman whose bump is visible, they often report that the woman is out "flaunting" her belly.

PSA: Pregnant women do not "flaunt" their bodies.

They aren't "showing off their baby bumps."

They're not "taking their bellies out for a day on the town."

They're simply women who are pregnant, going about their daily lives.

This might seem like a small point, quibbling about particular words about pregnancy.

But in reality, acting like pregnant women are "flaunting" their bellies reflects a society that sees pregnancy as a sideshow, rather than a natural part of womanhood. It makes pregnant women feel like weirdos, rather than integral bearers of the future of humanity. It tells women, yet again, that their changing bodies are up for public critique. And it implies to women that the natural changes in their bodies are strange, rather than a normal evolution in life.

So yes, Meghan's baby bump is visible. How exciting for her!

She's not 'flaunting it,' proud mama-to-be though she is.

Meghan Markle is simply rocking her life as a modern woman (and royal), and pregnancy looks amazing on her.

[A version of this story was originally published October 24, 2018]

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