December – A Month of Joy and High (Academic) Anxiety

Posted by Neal Schwartz on December 08, 2022


With thoughts of a winter break in sight, December is a month filled with academic notifications for a great number of students of all ages. The three most powerful outside measurements of a student’s abilities that impact December are:

  1. Academic performance for the first quarter for elementary, middle, high school and even college
  2. PSAT scores for high school students
  3. College acceptance or denials from their “early” application submissions for high school seniors

Whether positive or negative news arises, the student has some control over each factor’s outcome. Let’s take a closer look:

Academic Performance – Most would agree that the burden for this falls on the student. Each student must own what they are doing (or not doing) in school. Certainly, other factors can impact the situation like a student illness, adjustment to a new school, new grade, etc. We noticed, as an educational firm, that during peak Covid years there were some major misses in development–particularly in math. The layering of math in subsequent years on top of a weak foundation has negatively impacted grades for a great number of students.

It is also easy to blame a teacher who might be underperforming in the classroom, but this is usually limited to a single class. The overall cause for poor academic performance across all classes is often rooted in the student not doing homework or asking for help.Untitled design (9)

If grades come out around Thanksgiving, it typically takes until December for parents to decide to meet with their child and assess if they will gain commitment to change or seek outside tutoring support.

For college freshman, their first term can signal whether or not they are ready for college courseloads of if they have made the right choice in school.  In all cases above, a lot of emotions can come into play.

PSAT Scores become available

PSATIn this neck of the woods, the ability to take a PSAT is somewhat analogous to a student getting their driver’s license. It is a right of passage into adulthood and the (nearly required) step to go to college. For many families, the PSAT can act as a wakeup call, alerting to a student’s reading, math, and grammar abilities. A particularly eye-opening moment is when a parent realizes that the PSAT score does not match their child’s grades or their hopes and aspirations. It is not uncommon for a straight A student to receive a less-than-impressive PSAT score. And even if it is a very good score, why isn’t it perfect? In either case, early in either sophomore or junior year, there is some time to address the student’s weakness. The “test optional” opportunity has distorted and confused the whole college landscape. Certainly, there are some schools that are truly test optional by focusing on other elements of a student’s application more so than standardized test scores. In the wealthy suburbs around New York City, however, most students are still submitting their test scores.

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College Decisions – Some parents are about to find out that their child’s college process does not resemble the one they remember. With declining college admit rates and greater emphasis on securing early decision students, the college admission landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade. Depending on a student’s college list, how far they reached will determine whether they are thrilled or devastated when they sign in and receive their acceptance or denial. With such low admit rates, some families have chosen to view this process as a lottery and bet on some schools that are likely to be unachievable. Just as colleges can work with factors and algorithms to determine whether a student meets the requirements and, most importantly, will enroll, it is now possible for families to utilize similar tools and project outcomes. Of course, when a student hears in mid-December from their target school(s), the qualitative elements of their application – breadth and depth of their full application and all the essays—are easily forgotten.

So, what are some ways to handle those days in December that are not in the holiday bucket?


Academic Performance – If something seems way off track from prior years, address it rather than discount it. Set a time to discuss and focus on listening. Try to set another session to discuss things to avoid immediate knee-jerk reactions that may be counterproductive. Distinguish that unconditional love for the student is always present and that it is the grade or score that is being analyzed, not the student. Look for genuineness and honesty from the student at all costs. Also, remember that it is just as important to reward the student that is excelling and is clearly on track: enjoy the moment.

PSAT Scores – Try to determine the value of the score in comparison to the student’s other academic work.

If the score is well below the academic school performance, this is usually a sign that they are better at the short-term work needed to be great in school. Emphasize the importance of the comprehension, grammatical, and mathematical problem-solving skills they will need for the rest of high school, through college, and beyond.

If the score is better than their academic work, that is an indication that they have better skills than they are exhibiting in their schoolwork. Communicate that colleges focus more on the transcript than they do on the SAT/ACT since they want to see proof of performance.

If the high score aligns well with their schoolwork, praise is in order. I would suggest beginning some of the college search.

If the PSAT score is low and is in line with their academic record in school, then there are two paths to consider: 1) Assess the student's appetite to improve their skills and their academic record, or 2) Consider going test optional.

College Decisions

If the student got into their ED school, celebrations are in order!

If the student got into one, or more, of their Early Action schools but are licking their wounds from a denial or deferral from their ED1 school, it is time to assess whether there is an ED2 school that makes sense or whether they will be applying (quickly) to other regular decision colleges. If more applications are now in the plan, they will need to be written over the break. But here is my advice—let them spend enough time to exhaustively lick their wounds. For some students that will be a good night’s sleep and for others it will be a few days, but, for some students, the most difficult denials turned out to open a door to the school that was best for them.

December can not only be a month of reaction, but it can be one of action.

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December is a month of vacation time and academic news that can be diametrically opposed. Try to keep these areas separate to be able to enjoy precious family time. Regardless, the seeds for planning can be addressed in December. Usually, those seeds flourish into action right after Christmas or emerge in early January.

We can help support you through this anxious and critical time with our academic tutoring, test prep, and college decision making expertise. Give us a call today.   914-273-2353

Happy Holidays to you and your extended family!



Best Regards,

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Neal Schwartz, Owner

College Planning of Westchester

914-273-2353 (office)

914-500-5899 (mobile/text) 

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Topics: college preparation, college admissions, early decision, early action, early decision 2, college selection, PSAT, college counseling, high school senior, high school junior, college search


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