Road to College: Holiday Edition 

On the Road to College, we must occasionally take stock of what we have, appreciate who we are with, and look back with pride on what we have accomplished as educators, parents, and students. Sometimes, by looking back, we can look ahead, mindful of what we know we must do to be our best self. Change is difficult. I have discovered that the adoption of well-honed study skills by students mirrors the same difficulty parents face in guiding their children–habitual reminders and warnings often spark conflict without change. Seek different outcomes? Try different approaches. That goes for the whole family!  

As we look ahead to 2020, we must think back on this year in terms of what worked. For students, are your grades what you expected based on effort? Do you feel smarter than the grades you are getting? Or, perhaps, you feel you are not sure what you need to do differently, but feel pressure to perform higher? For parents, is the drive to see your child succeed and feel a sense of peace about their future clouding your vision by falling back to habits for how you speak to your child that ultimately are not sparking true and sustained change?  

Students, take stock of your expectations. Do you desire to have your grades go up? Do you find your lowest grades are in classes where you do not connect well with the teacher, and you are letting that prevent you from meeting with the teacher to resolve what is holding you back? Do you have control over your digital devices?  

Here are some tips:  

Make sure “Screentime” App is turned on and, after a week or two, look at the activity log. You will be shocked at how many notifications you receive, how many “pickups” you have, and how much your phone is controlling your attention, while not always bringing you happiness. I often tell students: Do you ever eat ice cream while you run? Of course not. Why? You cannot at the same time run well and truly enjoy ice cream, an activity that requires one to be sitting, or at most, strolling. Purposeful relaxation is key, with you as the student working before play, having that phone (your ice creamcharging downstairs in a common area until your work is done. No student needs their phone to get an A — that is just the “sugar” talking! I have found that students can shift their phone time until after work is done and get their homework done in less time, with more focus, and with deeper learning, and concurrently relax with purpose.  

Parents, some tips for you: 

Have clear rules and expectations, goals, and concerns. If you find yourself repeating the same desired outcome and are not seeing a result, consider a new approach. Let us make 2020 a year where we endeavor to be more in control of our focus, our purpose, and how we allocate our time. Have clear expectations, clear outcomes, and clear consequences that allow all to know the rules and thrive amidst them. With clarity, we can look ahead, as we do occasionally look back, and build the future we want, for ourselves and so our children may build theirs, too. Wishing everyone a safe and healthy, happy holiday season!

Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D. is an educator and founder of Novella Prep. He has 20 years of experience working in admissions, development, teaching, and research at various universities. Prior to launching Novella Prep, Tony worked at the College Board, where he led and managed research on the SAT, PSAT, AP, and other programs.  You can reach him at


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About the Author: Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D.