High School 2 College

August 12, 2015

Before You Pack For College, Read This

Congratulations!  You’ve made it all the way through high school.  You applied to many colleges (or just your favorite), got into at least one, and are headed off to college very soon.

Here’s my best advice for you to get ready for the big move:

1.  GET A SHOT!  I can’t say it loudly enough.  Get a meningitis shot.  The old ones lasted 5 years.  They now have vaccines that last 10 years.  If you’re not sure if you’ve had one, ask your doctor – or just get another one.  Hardly anyone gets meningitis, but it’s often fatal if you do.  Why take a chance?  One girl did — read about it here.

Please, please don’t put it off.  Make an appointment now because they sometimes run out of vaccine.

2.  Start saving Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons.  They come in the mail.  Save them.  The store doesn’t mind your using expired coupons.  Bed, Bath, and Beyond has a good selection of college stuff starting early in August.  Marsha, a wise friend of mine, gave me the following advice and she was right:  Buy everything you think you might possibly need, but don’t open it until you get to college.  If you don’t need it in your particular dorm room, your parents can always take it back to the store and return it if they keep the receipt.

3.  Start making a backpack of all the stuff you’ll need the minute you arrive at college:

  • duct tape
  • masking tape
  • extension cords (at least one with surge protector)
  • hammer
  • screw driver (flat and phillips)
  • flash light
  • sharpie marker (there will be something you forgot to label or that your roommate has the exact same one of)
  • small notepad and pen

There’s lots more stuff you will need, but these are things you might need right away to put your room in order and will certainly get lost if you pack them with the other junk.

4.  Get a new laptop.  If yours is more than 4 or 5 years old, you might want a new one.  You probably won’t need a printer (they’re handy but take up precious desktop room and every school has convenient places to print out papers), but you will need a laptop to bring to class, to submit assignments, and to drag to the library or to a friend’s dorm room for a group project.

5.  Ask what cell phone carrier works best at your school.  I know from my son that if you don’t have Verizon at Cornell, you don’t have reception.  If you know someone at the school you’ll be going to, ask about who’s got the best reception.  If you don’t know anyone there, find a facebook group of last year’s freshmen and ask them.  While you’re at it, try to get your parents to pay for unlimited text messages.  You’ll need it!

6.  Expect to feel out of place for a little while.  I have to confess — I cried through most of my freshman year.  I didn’t want to live home again, I just wanted my life the way it was back in high school with all my comfortable friends, with clean clothes that appeared regularly in my room, with free food in the fridge.  I thought everyone else was having a blast, and I was the only one feeling sad, lonely, uncomfortable, sick of hearing my roommate’s music.  I saw everyone’s happy faces going to class and I felt even more alone.  Little did I know that many of them were smiling on the outside and feeling exactly the same as I did on the inside.  I think if I knew that – and if I knew then how certainly this feeling would pass by springtime – I wouldn’t have felt quite so confused.  So I’m telling you now:  It’s not only okay to feel disassociated your first few months at college, it’s normal.  Really.

I hope I haven’t made you too nervous.  I just want you to be as prepared as you can be.  Keep in touch with your old friends, your family — and me!

Wendy Segal577070_479496568742293_1695834639_n

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

 

July 31, 2015

Making the Most of College Visits

I recently posted advice about visiting colleges and then saw this article in Forbes magazine from one dad who went on some tours with his daughter.  His advice was right on the money.  Spring break is the best time to visit colleges, but if you didn’t get to visit then, or if you need to see a few more schools, the early fall is an excellent time to visit schools.

I don’t believe that you need to see every school your student will apply to.  After all, if she gets into Harvard, she’s going, right?  And if she only gets into her bottom safety school, who cares what the dorms are like?

Of course, colleges are looking for good grades, good scores, good community service, a good essay, and good recommendations.  But they’re also looking for something called “demonstrated interest.”  They want to know that you didn’t just send them an application because it was easy to click one more “send” from the Common App.  They want to know that you’re actually interested in attending that school.  So visiting a college fair and filling out a name-and-address card is one way to show demonstrated interest.  And when a representative from a college on your list visits your student’s guidance department, have him attend because that’s a strong way to show demonstrated interest.  Emailing the admissions department with a question that isn’t answered on their website also shows demonstrated interest.  But one of the clearest way to show interest is to visit the college on a tour.

It makes sense to visit at least one smaller school from your list and at least one large school, at least one urban school if you have any on your list and at least one suburban or rural school, and so on.  Here’s some more practical advice:

1.  You should plan to visit schools by geography.  Many kids from my area of the U.S. do a loop around Pennsylvania (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lehigh, maybe UDelaware), Or they do the Boston area run (Boston College, Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis, Northeastern, maybe Emerson).  Or perhaps the New York State trip (SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Cortland, Cornell/Ithaca College, Syracuse). You may want to visit several colleges in the same general area, but I think you should limit yourself to two or three a day; otherwise, the whole experience can be overwhelming.  Make hotel reservations if you think you’ll need them.

2.  Sign up online for tours.  Some schools print a schedule and you just go on any tour that’s convenient, but many require you to sign up in advance.  Do that.  You’ll get a much, much better sense of the school on a tour than just wandering around on your own.

3,  Find out if you can interview with an admissions person.  Very often, they’ll have something called an information session or a one-on-one with someone in admissions.  Whether it’s a real interview or just a meet-and-greet, dress casually but be clean and neat, smile and shake hands, and have a few questions ready (and make sure the answers aren’t on the school’s website).  Good questions might be about your major (How easy is it to change majors?  How many professors are in that department?  How many students graduate with that major?  Does the school assign a faculty advisor to you?); about housing (Do they house all freshman together?  Are there substance-free houses or theme houses?  Do they guarantee housing for sophomores and juniors?); or anything else that interests you.

4.  While you’re at the interview or while you’re walking around the science building/ performing arts center/ library/ other building of interest, send your parents to the cafeteria.  You can meet them there afterwards.  NO parents should go with you on an interview ever, even if the school allows it.  That gives the impression that your parents don’t trust you to handle the interview on your own.  Instead, parents should be in the cafeteria, asking students questions that would embarrass their children to hear.  Parents, find a random student and ask questions like, “Would you choose this school again?  If you had a cousin interested in economics (or whatever major your student is interested in), would you send him here?  What’s the worst thing about this school?”  You’d be surprised how honest students can be.  If the worst thing is the freshman dorm, big deal.  But if the worst thing is that the professors are inaccessible or the administration doesn’t care about the students or required classes are often closed out (too many students), you may want to move on to the next school on your list.

5.  Take pictures as you go around on tours or write on brochures.  Six months from now, you won’t remember which schools had the great dining halls or the well-stocked labs.

Yes, you can see schools in the summer, but it’s not the same without students there. If you’re going into your Junior year in high school, ask your parents to save some work vacation days for spring college visits.  If you’re a Senior in high school, plan to visit schools as early in September as you can. You probably want to be applying to some schools early action – which means your applications must be completely done and submitted by mid-October.

Let me know if you have any questions about visiting colleges or any other aspect of applying to school

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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June 22, 2015

Don’t Waste Your Summer! High School Students, Make Your Summer Work For YOU!

Do you want to go to college some day?  Every year, I have students who are seniors who tell me they wish they had used their summers more productively.  So don’t wait – follow my advice now and getting into a great college will be so much easier later.  Even the New York Times agrees that you should use your summers productively.

Grades 8 – 10:  Read.  Read.  Don’t stop – read some more.  Reading the back of the cereal box is better than reading nothing. Reading Sports Illustrated or Seventeen is better than the cereal box.  Reading TIME magazine is WAY better than reading Sports Illustrated or Seventeen.  TIME is written on the college level unlike many other magazines.  The articles are varied and interesting. I like the actual magazine rather than the online edition.  It’s closer to reading an SAT essay.  And don’t forget to read what others have written in, the page that used to be called “Letters to the Editor,” and then was called “InBox,” and that now might be called something else.  Unlike comments at the bottom of a blog, these letters are well-written, use correct grammar and spelling (or they don’t get published), and are written to try to persuade you that the letter writer’s point of view is valid — much like an SAT essay!

Don’t stop when you finish your summer reading.  Look for books outside your usual area of interest.  Each genre has a jargon.  Reading a mystery isn’t like reading a fantasy.  Reading science fiction isn’t like reading a romance or a biography.  Or if you’ve read a book before that you liked, read more by that same author.  Or read a harder book  that has more of what you liked about that other book.  If you like chick-lit or romances, read Vanity Fair by Thackery or Jane Eyre by Bronte.  If you like Dave Barry, read some Thurber or O. Henry short stories.  If you email me what you like, I’ll give you a few suggestions that will bump up your reading skills while you’re being entertained.

Grade 11:Read and follow the advice above for 10th graders.  Incoming Juniors should also be thinking about the PSATs that are coming up in October.  Most students should just go in and take the test when it’s given.  (Don’t worry, your guidance counselor will sign you up and tell you where to go and when.)  There’s a free booklet in the guidance department in which the College Board gives you advice about taking the test and a few sample questions.  This year, unlike previous years, the PSAT will be something of a mystery.  There’s a sample PSAT available (new type), but you can’t make generalizations from one test.

My most important advice for incoming Juniors:  start preparing for the old/current SAT.  The SAT as we know it will be changing drastically.  The first administration of the new test will be March 2016, but I think the January 2016 will be a tough one based on my 28 years of tutoring experience.  So far, all colleges that have posted a policy say they’ll accept either the old or new SAT.  We have a few sample SATs of the new variety, but again, I’m reluctant to generalize based on a few tests.  We have dozens and dozens of the old variety, and I have untold hours of experience tutoring students for that test.  Why not take advantage of that?  Warning:  Students who take the March 2016, May 2016, and June 2016 SATs will not receive their scores until the end of June (and I wouldn’t be surprised if that turned into early July).

Grade 12:  Read and follow the advice for 10th graders – when you take a break from college applications.

By now, you should have a list of colleges that interest you.  If not, read my blogon how to build a list of colleges.  Go visit some.  You don’t have to visit all the schools you apply to, but you should have an idea if you like small or large schools, rural, suburban, or urban schools, religious schools or secular schools, and so on.

If you are going to visit, interview with an admissions officer if it’s offered.  (Check back on my blog or join Wendy Segal Tutoring on Facebook for upcoming tips on how to interview at colleges.)

You should be writing your college essay this summer.Start now.  Don’t wait for your English teacher to mention it.  In fact, your English teachers can’t help you much since the topics have changed drastically each year over the past few years and teachers’ “follow this sample” handouts just don’t apply any more.   (Again, follow this blog or my Facebook page for upcoming advice.)  Go to the Common App website for the most current essay topics (but don’t start a Common App account until August 1st when they open the fall season or you might have to reenter everything!)

Lastly, don’t forget that, no matter how busy your summer is, you’ll be busier in September.  Decide which test to focus on, and get busy improving those areas in which you are weakest.  Start that essay.  Read as much as you can on any and all topics.  And let me know if you need some help.

You’ll have plenty of time to relax next year (just kidding!), but right now you should GET BUSY!

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Wendy Segal   http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

May 11, 2015

How Much Will My Scores Go Up With Tutoring?

I get asked this question all the time.  When I’m on the phone with a parent and he or she can’t see me rolling my eyes, I just say, “It depends.”

Before I tell you what it depends on, permit me a not-so-brief rant.  

The press is full of articles and blog posts lately decrying the new SAT and wondering if college entrance tests are necessary or fair.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m far from a fan of the new SAT.  But that doesn’t mean that a national standardized assessment isn’t a valid way for colleges to get an idea of whether a student can handle college-level work.  I encourage you to read this blog post that was in the New York Times recently about the new SAT, the old SAT, and whether either of them are worth anything.  Does the author seem to make sense to you?

Well, it’s nonsense.  I belong to several LinkedIn groups of SAT and ACT tutors who generously exchange information, insights, techniques, and news.  One of the participants, Matt McCorkle, co-founder of Clear Choice Test Prep in California, gave me his permission to share his comments with you.  Read his reaction to the New York Times article, and I think you’ll agree with him – and me. (Click here: Matt McCorkle)

Now, to answer the question, how much will my scores go up with tutoring?

1.  How much your score will go up depends on where you’re starting.  If you tell me that your writing score (the grammar part) is currently at a 420 out of a possible 800, I am confident that I can help you get your score up into the 500s or better.  Can I expect a similar 100+ point improvement if you come to me with a score of 700?  It’s not as likely that you’ll make as dramatic an increase.  Will you go up?  Probably.  By the same amount as someone who starts lower?  Probably not.

2.  How much your score will go up depends on your native ability in that area.  If you’re a good reader with a modest vocabulary, I can pretty much predict that your score will go up much more than that of a poor reader – or someone who just avoids reading.  If you’re fairly good at math, we’ve got a better shot at increasing your score than if you’ve always hated math and really haven’t mastered fractions.

3.  How much your score will go up depends on how much work you’re willing to put into it.  Work doesn’t just mean time.  When I have a student here in my home office, and as we’re grading a section that student is staring out the window, chances are his progress won’t be dramatic.  If I have a student, on the other hand, who wants to know why each wrong answer is wrong and why my answer is right, that student is actually learning from the process of taking practice sections and I can bet that that kid will indeed make a nice improvement.  If I ask you to do an essay at home, and you don’t, and I remind you the next week and you still don’t, it’s much less likely that your score will go up.  Just showing up at tutoring sessions is good and it helps, but not as much as showing up willing and ready to learn and become invested in the process.

4.  How much your score will go up depends on how nervous you get during standardized tests.  Some kids just panic.  It’s hard to score brilliantly when thoughts of “I’m no good at this.  I’ve never been good at this” are running through your mind.  One of the best benefits of tutoring is starting to build a sense that, although you won’t know precisely what’s on the test, you have a strategy for dealing with every type of question and that you’re as well-prepared as anyone in the room.  Still, kids who have a history of doing well on standardized tests go into a new testing situation with confidence and seldom second guess themselves or change answers just because they don’t trust themselves to answer correctly the first time.

Can tutoring really help my score?  Yes it can.  But read this blog post to see how and why your score will improve and why it really can’t be measured accurately.

If tutoring can really improve a student’s SAT or ACT score, isn’t that sort of unfair?  Yes, it is.  But the SATs and ACTs never promised to be an intelligence test.  It’s about being prepared for the test – both by virtue of having the academic skills necessary to perform well and having learned the techniques needed to gain the maximum score.  With or without a tutor, with or without a prep course, you can read the instructions in the beginning of the prep books, take practice tests over and over, grade them, analyze your wrong answers to see where you went wrong, draw conclusions about the type of questions you’re missing and try to fill in those gaps.  A good tutor can focus this process for you, but you can manage very nicely without any help at all if you’re self-motivated and are prepared to be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and are ready to work hard to improve.

Is it easier to improve with a tutor? Yes, it is.  It’s easier for the same reason it’s easier to get stronger with a trainer at the gym than it is to workout alone at home.  A tutor or coach can give you motivation, techniques, strategies, insights, and either a pep talk or stern lecture, depending on which you need.  But you can do it alone if you really, really put yourself into it.  And you can’t get more fair than that!

 

 

April 6, 2015

Am I Really Going To Have To Pay $71,000 A YEAR For College?

I nearly fell off my chair when I read this article in the Washington Post about NYU.  The headline runs, “What Happens When You Find Out A Year Of College Costs $71,000?”  Yes, it seems that that’s the sticker price for NYU including travel costs.  And that’s for this coming year.  Imagine what college will cost by the time your student is ready to attend!

Are you destined to sell your house and car and youngest child just so the oldest can go to college?  Not if you follow my advice.

1.  Financial aid is available at nearly every college. You might be surprised to learn that many middle-class families living in nice suburbs who own a car and a four bedroom house do actually qualify for aid.  But you’ll never know how much you qualify for if you don’t ask.  The first step in asking is filling out the FAFSA.  You can read about this form, which should be completed as soon after January 1st as possible (which means you should fill out your taxes as soon as possible), on several websites, including the FAFSA website and the College Board website, which also has a video tutorial.

2.  Student loans can help.  Some loans come from the government (see this site) or from the college itself.

3.  Private scholarships can help.  Online sites like fastweb can help you find scholarships targeted at specific groups of students.  Are you a female Armenian engineering student?  I bet there’s a scholarship just waiting for you!  Don’t forget to contact your high school’s guidance department.  They’ll have the inside track on scholarships given by local businesses and families, and you’ll be competing against a much smaller pool of applicants. Warning:  legitimate scholarships never ask you to pay money up front for a chance at a scholarship.  Beware of scams!

4. Merit scholarships are given by colleges to entice certain students to attend, especially students whom they predict will have lots of choices.  If your student is a great athlete, a talented artist, or an inspired musician, many schools will help you afford their tuition by giving you a merit scholarship.  Some schools give scholarships entirely based on SAT scores, so if your student is a good test-taker, it might make sense to pay some money for private tutoring now in the hopes of getting a big hunk of money off the bill later.

You have to be strategic about applying to schools, though.  The more selective a school (the harder it is to get into), the less likely it is that they have to convince you to attend.  Harvard and MIT don’t have to beg people to attend.  A school whose average GPA is 3.4, though, might be willing to cut the tuition bill in half – or more – for a student whose GPA is 3.9 or 4.0. That means, frankly, if you’re hoping for merit money, especially for academic achievement, it’s unlikely that you’ll get that from your first choice school.  If you’re willing to attend a school that’s further down on your list, however, you might find private college even more affordable than a public university.

5.  Your own state’s universities are usually a bargain.  In New York, SUNY schools vary greatly in their selectivity. Geneseo, Binghamton, and Stony Brook rival the most elite private schools in many ways.  Other SUNY schools have outstanding reputations for engineering, environmental studies, teacher preparation, and more.

6.  Check out other states’ universities.  These colleges are my favorites for all-around bang for the buck.  You may find the best of both worlds at another state’s school.  Many states encourage out-of-state students to attend so their own students can meet a more diverse group of fellow students.  Many state universities have campuses a few hours from home, international students, a broad array of majors, worldwide reputations for excellence, and a football team to boot!  The University of Virginia and the University of Michigan are world-class institutions, for example. Students at Penn State and the University of Delaware have great experiences.  Most states have schools worth checking out, and while you’ll pay more as an out-of-state student, those tuitions don’t come close to those of private universities.

7.  Start local and transfer.  Another smart strategy for some is to attend a local community college for a year or two and then transfer to the college of your dreams.  You might give up that dorm experience, but you’ll cut your college bill in half. And some SUNY schools have campuses where you can attend community college and live on campus!  When employers see that you’ve graduated from a certain school, none ever ask, “Did you go there all four years?”

My strongest suggestion for paying for college is this:  Parents, talk honestly with your student about what your family can afford to pay.  Tell your students, “We can pay $15,000 (or whatever) a year for school.  Apply any place you like, and if they can offer us enough in aid and scholarships, you can attend.  If they can’t, at least you know you got in.”

If you have any questions, I’ll try my best to help.

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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March 29, 2015

Short and Sweet Advice About How to Visit a College

Spring Break is coming up for most high school students, so college visits should be on your mind.  Since you probably want to see some schools before they break for the summer (and for most schools, that’s early- to – mid May), now is the time to go!

Here’s some sensible advice:

1.  You should plan to visit schools by geography.  Many kids from my area of the US do a loop around Pennsylvania (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lehigh, maybe UDelaware), Or they do the Boston area run (Boston College, Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis, Northeastern, maybe Emerson).  Or perhaps the New York State trip (SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Cortland, Cornell/Ithaca College, Syracuse). You may want to visit a few colleges in the same general area, but I think you should limit yourself to two or three a day; otherwise, the whole experience can be overwhelming.  Make hotel reservations if you think you’ll need them.

2.  Sign up online for tours.  Some schools print a schedule and you just go on any tour that’s convenient, but many require you to sign up in advance.  Do that.  You’ll get a much, much better sense of the school on a tour than just wandering around on your own.

3,  Find out if you can interview with an admissions person.  Very often, they’ll have something called an information session or a one-on-one with someone in admissions.  Whether it’s a real interview or just a meet-and-greet, dress casually but be clean and neat, smile and shake hands, and have a few questions ready (and make sure the answers aren’t on the school’s website).  Good questions might be about your major (How easy is it to change majors?  How many professors are in that department?  How many students graduate with that major?  Does the school assign a faculty advisor to you?), about housing (Do they house all freshman together?  Are there substance-free houses or theme houses?  Do they guarantee housing for sophomores and juniors?), or anything else that interests you.

4.  While you’re at the interview or while you’re walking around the science building/ performing arts center/ library/ other building of interest, send your parents to the cafeteria.  You can meet them there afterwards.  NO parents should go with you on an interview ever, even if the school allows it.  That gives the impression that your parents don’t trust you to handle the interview on your own.  Instead, parents should be in the cafeteria, asking students questions that would embarrass their children to hear.  Parents, find a random student and ask questions like, “Would you choose this school again?  If you had a cousin interested in economics (or whatever major your student is interested in), would you send him here?  What’s the worst thing about this school?”  You’d be surprised how honest students can be.

5.  Take pictures as you go around on tours or write on brochures.  Six months from now, you won’t remember which schools had the great dining halls or the well-stocked labs.

It’s not imperative that you visit every school you will apply to, but you want to take a look at several schools that are on your “probably” list.  If you get into Harvard, do you care what the dorms look like?  If you only get into a school on the bottom of your safety list, who cares what the student lounges are like – you’re going.  You might want to see one urban, one suburban, and one rural school.  You might want to see a large school and a small school.

Yes, you can see schools in the summer, but it’s not the same without students there. Yes, you can see schools in the fall, but you probably want to be applying to some schools early action – which means your applications must be completely done and submitted by mid-October.

So the time to go looking at colleges is right now!  Let me know if you have any questions.

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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January 12, 2015

Should You Take The New SAT? The Post I’ve Dreaded Writing

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for weeks – no, for months.  But I can’t put it off any more.  If you have a student in 10th grade, I’m sure you want to know what you should do to have the best chance at a decent SAT score.  So why have I been delaying when the new SAT was announced months ago?

1.  I need to make sure the information I give out is accurate.  There’s still too little information out there on the new SAT.  Yes, I’ve read every article.  I’ve watched every video by the College Board.  I’ve participated in every online discussion among SAT tutors and professional college advisors.  I’ve combed the internet and LinkedIn and every other resource I could find. This is what I do for a living and I take it seriously.  I put in time and effort, hoping to save you time and effort.  I like to think that parents, students, and guidance counselors rely on me for timely, accurate, clear, common-sense advice.  But until I see several full-length new SAT tests by the College Board, I just don’t know enough of what the new test will be like to help my students prep.  I know there’s a new College Board book coming out in June of 2015, but that may be too late if you’re in 10th grade now.

2.  Blogs are convenient for quick, general advice.  But there are so many variables, and students have such different strengths and needs, that it’s hard to write one essay that contains good advice for everyone.

The SATs are changing dramatically in March 2016.  The format will be entirely different.  The questions will be entirely different.  The essays (yes, plural!) will be entirely different.  So far, the College Board has only published fewer than a dozen sample questions, too few to use to prepare.

The ACTs are also changing in 2016, but much less drastically.  There will be optional logic-type questions and an optional essay.  So far, they’ve published no sample questions, but the changes won’t alter the way students should prepare for the test and we have lots of prep materials that will still be valid for the new ACT.

I got a good idea from a colleague on a LinkedIn tutoring group.  He created several schedules, depending on his students’ personalities and situations.  With his permission, I’m going to revise the idea somewhat.  I still think that individual advice is best until we’ve had a few years of the new test, but in the interim, this schedule should be helpful.

Explanation:  All colleges in the United States accept either the SAT or the ACT.  They don’t prefer one to the other.  Until now, most kids have told me that the ACT is easier.  That’s not true.  If kids universally did better on the ACT, no one would take the SAT.  The truth is that about a third of students do better on the SAT (at least on the current SAT), a third do better on the ACT, and a third score approximately the same (50% percentile on each test, for example).  There’s really no way to predict which students will score better on which test, so they just have to take at least one of each (often two SATs because they require less knowledge and more technique).  To get the best chance at a great score, now students will have to take a mix of old and new SATs along with old and new ACTs.  But that’s not the only way to go — or even the best way for every student.

Here’s an outline of suggested test schedules that should work for most students:

SCHOLAR (if you don’t mind taking tests and want the best possible shot at a top score):

  • May 2015 (while you’re still in 10th grade) –  old SAT (yes, that means beginning to prepare by February or March 2015)
  • June 2015 – SAT Subject test(s) (especially a subject that you might not repeat, like chemistry)
  • October 2015 – new PSAT (11th grade)
  • November 2015 – old SAT
  • December 2015 – old ACT (yes, the ACT is changing, too but the changes will mostly be less drastic and/or optional)
  • March 2016 – new SAT (should be fairly easy compared to future SATs; whenever they institute a major change, the first administration tends to be easier than subsequent tests.  They don’t want to frighten people!)
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • May 2016 – new SAT (yes again)
  • June 2016 – SAT Subject tests(s)
  • June 2016 – new ACT
  • More testing might be needed for senior year, depending on your performance and goals – but you might be done!

STANDARD (if you are willing to take some tests for a decent score):

  • October 2015 – new PSAT (11th grade)
  • November 2015 – old SAT
  • March 2016 – new SAT
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • May 2016 – new SAT
  • June 2016 – new ACT

MINIMAL TESTING (if you just want the very fewest tests possible – for any reason)

  • October 2015 – old ACT (11th grade)
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • June 2016 – new ACT

There’s no moral judgment here — some kids look on testing as an exciting challenge, some grin and bear it, and others find tests difficult and frustrating  or know they don’t have the time or interest to prepare for multiple tests.  The key to this coming year may well be to be honest about who you are, what sort of results you want, and how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in achieving that result.

I hope the above outline is helpful in planning your college admissions testing.  Again, let me emphasize that personal advice is best since there are many variations on the above schedule, and the plan that works best is the plan that’s right for you!

You know where to find me (www.wendysegaltutoring.com).  I look forward to hearing from you!

Wendy Segal

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November 18, 2014

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

Dear Students,

I’m sure your parents have told you that when THEY were your age, they applied to two schools, got into one of them, and went to that school.

Well, things are different now.  When the Common App was created, it allowed students to apply to several schools just as easily as they could apply to one. Fill out one application and click.  Sure, you had to pay an admission fee at each school, but in the scheme of things, big deal.  So students applied. Students began applying to more and more schools.  That meant schools received way more applications than they could accept.  The colleges loved it, because it made them appear more selective as they accepted an ever smaller percentage of the applicants.

Because the schools were now more selective, students panicked and, unsure of their chances of getting into any of these now-selective schools, applied to even more schools, just in case.

Now the colleges are complaining because students are applying to so many schools that the colleges are having a hard time figuring out who is sincere about going.  Sure, they like looking selective (what percentage of applicants are accepted), but their yield is now declining (yield is what percentage of students who are accepted actually choose to go to that school).

No student wants to be the one to try to stop the trend by applying to only a couple of schools.  So the cycle continues of students applying to an increasing number of schools and schools accepting a declining number of students.  (Read this NY Times article on the dilemma from a guidance counselor’s point of view.)

Unfortunately, in an effort to stem the tide, colleges are increasingly adding required “supplemental essays.”  Now nearly every college expects students to write the one major “Common App application essay,” the one they work on in school and that everyone talks about, but also a different supplemental essay for nearly every school.  Apply to 20 colleges and write 21 essays (the Common App essay and a different supplemental essay for each school).   This recent article says that not only don’t schools pay that much attention to the essays, they compete to find the most clever essay topic, in part to ensure you want to go to that school enough to write yet another essay.

So, what’s the bedraggled high school senior to do?  How many colleges should a student apply to?  How many is too few? Is there such a thing as too many?

You’re not going to like my answer.

The answer is – it depends (I told you!).

If you are applying undecided, or if you applying to a liberal arts major, like history, psychology, or even math, I think 9 – 10 colleges should do it.  You need to choose 3 colleges that you’d just love to get into.  These are reach schools, schools that might take you if they happen to need a tuba player this year and you play tuba, or schools at which you are in the mid- to bottom of their range, but hey, you want to give it a try because they do take a few people in that GPA and SAT range.  I say go for it, as long as you understand that a “reach” means they’ll probably say no.  No crying if they reject your application.  (They’re not rejecting YOU, just the application.)

Then you need to choose 3 colleges that will definitely take you, as long as you somehow manage to graduate from high school.  These should be schools that you wouldn’t mind going to but they don’t have everything on your wish list.  Perhaps they’re too small or too close to home or don’t have a football team.  Remember that schools on this list are not only likely to say yes, but likely to offer you a scholarship that you might find difficult to turn down, so make sure you actually wouldn’t mind going to one of these if you had to.

Lastly, pick 3 – 4 schools that are a good match for your qualifications.  They’re just as likely to say yes as no. They’re not guaranteed acceptances, but you’ve got a pretty good shot at any school on this list.  You should really, really like every school on this list because you’re probably going to attend one of them.  If you can only visit a few schools, visit the ones in this category.

Now, if you’re going to apply to a program where participation is limited, like nursing, or physical therapy, or engineering, it will be harder to get into a school with the same set of qualifications.  For example, you feel fairly certain that you could get into Whatsamatta U if you were going to major in English, but could you get into that school’s engineering program?  Much less certain.  So apply to 3 reach schools, 4-5 good fit schools. and 4-5 safeties, for a total of 11 – 13 schools (and don’t forget to leave yourself time for all those supplemental essays).

How can you improve your chances of getting into any school on your list?

Show interest!  Go to a college fair and fill out a card (yes, that counts) for any school that even might possibly be on your application list.  Absolutely attend if one of the colleges on your list visits your high school (that’s a must).  Visit the campus if you can (but it’s not fatal if you can’t).  Definitely email the admissions department if you have a question that isn’t addressed on the college’s website (a much better strategy than asking your friends).  Ask for an alumni interview if you can’t get to the campus.  Let them know you’re not just applying because you had a free Saturday afternoon and didn’t mind writing one more essay.

Apply to colleges you’ve researched online, and then take a deep breath while you wait for them to email you.  You’ve done it right if you get a few no’s (that means to did stretch and reach a bit) and several yeses.  Good luck!

Questions?  Comments?  Need help with the Common App or essays?  My contact info and rates are on my website: www.wendysegaltutoring.com .

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Wendy Segal

October 15, 2014

I Want To Apply To College – How Do I Find Reliable Information?

This year or next year, you’ll be applying to college.  There are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. How can you find out which ones might be the right ones for you?

There are definitely some wrong ways to go about gathering information about prospective colleges:

Only applying to colleges that you’ve heard of.  WRONG.  There are hundreds of amazing schools you’ve never heard of that could be perfect for you.  There are huge schools in the south, on the west coast, near the ocean, in the mountains, in some major cities.  There are small schools a short drive away.  There are more than just 2 or 3 state schools – and there are more than just 2 or 3 states.

Asking your friends or your friends’ parents which schools they’re applying to. WRONG.  What might suit a friend of yours might be a disaster for you, even if you two loved all the same things in high school.  The college years are times of exploration, growth, and change.  Start that journey now!

Applying to schools that email you with offers of waived application fees.  WRONG.  College is going to cost you or your parents thousands, probably tens of thousands or more, and you’re going to live there for four years.  Saving $75 shouldn’t even be on your list of criteria.

Relying solely on information from Naviance.  WRONG.  Naviance saves guidance counselors a lot of time and effort and assures them that your transcripts get to your college choices safely, but their scattergrams and other charts gather information from too narrow a pool of applicants to be your primary source of information.  That kid with your GPA and SAT who got into your first choice school — Does he play an instrument?  Does he play a sport?  Did his parents go to college?  Is he from an underrepresented minority group?  There’s no way to tell from Naviance.

Basing your choice on information on college complaint sites.  WRONG.  Websites like “College Confidential” encourage students to express their frustrations with their schools, so by far most of the posts will be negative.  If 98% of kids love a school and 2% hate the school and post on College Confidential, does that mean you’ll be unhappy there?  Probably not. There are better barometers of how students regard a school.  (Read on!)

So how should you go about building a list of schools to consider?

Ask your guidance counselor.  SMART.  Your guidance counselor knows you (more than you think, sometimes), knows what schools you might qualify for based on your grades and scores, knows what schools might be a good fit for your extra-curricular interests, and knows where other students with similar qualities have been admitted.  Ask your guidance counselor for a list of colleges that might work for you.  That list is a great place to start.

Complete the survey on collegeboard.org.  SMART.  With an enormous base of students and excellent data collection, the College Board has very accurate information.  Their college search tool will help you generate a list of schools that you can consider.  If a school shows up on their list and your guidance counselor’s list, you definitely want to check it out carefully. (Be sure to look at all schools on the list they generate.  In the past, they’ve put the colleges that pay to be on the top first, like Google does.)  IMPORTANT:  The College Board website can tell you what percentage of freshman go back for sophomore year, a critical statistic to determine what students really think of a school.

Pay for the listings on US News & World Report.  SMART.  Their “Compass” program not only tells you whether a school has junior year abroad, but how many kids actually go.  It not only tells you whether they have a certain sport at that school, but what percentage of kids are in sports there.  It provides a level of information not available anywhere else.  It does cost $30 for the year, but I’ve always found that money well spent.

Go to college fairs.  SMART.  In northern Westchester, there’s one in October and one in the spring each year.  The spring one is just right for high school juniors (and their parents) and the October one is great for seniors who haven’t yet made a list of colleges.  The first thing you’ll notice at a college fair is the huge number of schools present, most of which you’ve never heard of.  Go in with a plan.  Ask each school whether they have a certain major, or ask how many students are in your major, or ask how many kids go on to grad school, or ask if they require freshman writing class.  And don’t forget to collect free pens, bookmarks, key chains, candy, and other giveaways at every table as you fill out “send me more information” cards.

Attend college visits at your high school.  VERY SMART.  Your guidance department keeps a list of which colleges will be visiting your high school and when.  Sometimes, you can even find the list on your school’s website.  At a college fair, the college representative might be an admissions person, or she might be an alumna, or she might be a parent of a local student.  When the college comes to your high school during the day, it’s nearly always a college admissions person, often the man or woman who will be reading your application and deciding whether or not to accept you.  You can’t miss that opportunity!  You want to show the colleges interest by going to the campus, but that’s not always possible.  If they’ve taken the trouble to come to you and you don’t even take half an hour out of your day to meet them, that’s not showing yourself to your best advantage.  Yes, you’ll have to miss a class, but you’ll get a pass from guidance.  Even if you’re not sure you have any interest in that school, go.  Very often other students who have shown up have questions you never even thought to ask.  I’ve heard students ask, “Do you house freshman together?”  Would you have thought to ask that?  Or “If your SAT II Subject tests aren’t great, should you send them anyway?”  Take advantage of the small group and ask whatever you can think of — but please don’t ask information that you can easily find on their website.  Go to these meetings prepared with at least the basics.

The goal is to come up with a nice long list of colleges so you can have plenty of schools to choose from when it comes time to visit schools and then apply.  It’s not crazy to have 20 – 40 schools on your initial list!

I hope this information has been helpful, but if you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me!  Contact info is on my website: http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com .

Good luck!

Wendy Segal

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August 13, 2014

What If I Didn’t Do Well In High School? Can I Still Get Into College? Should I Even Go to College?

You worked hard in high school, devoted yourself to your studies, got really good grades, played on a team or two, and spent weekends reading to retired soldiers, and then you had to choose among the 10 colleges who wanted you to enroll, right?

Not everyone’s that lucky, smart, mature, motivated, talented, aware in their teens.  Not everyone has the grades to have a choice of colleges.

What do those kids do?

First you have to figure out why you didn’t do as well as you would have liked in high school.

Academic challenges.  If high school was too hard for you, chances are you shouldn’t be going directly to a standard four year college.  College learning isn’t easier than high school learning. Sure, you’ll be able to take classes that are closer to your interests, but most colleges require students to take specific classes in the first year or two, and then specific classes within a major.

Motivational challenges.  It’s hard to get motivated to turn in that project if you don’t see the point of it.  If you don’t have a vision of what you want to do with your life, it’s likely that you don’t feel like working hard in any class.  If your parents nag, if your friends are out partying, if you indulge in a little recreational substance from time to time, if school starts too early, it’s hard to work up the drive to do that next geometry worksheet or take chapter notes on that assigned novel.  I have bad news for you: it’s even harder to get motivated in college where they don’t take attendance, they don’t assign daily assignments, and they don’t call your parents if you’re falling behind.

Sometimes, kids just wake up too late.  If you didn’t put any effort into grades 8 through 11, you may find yourself in a common situation.  You can get really good grades now, but is it too late?

Here are some solutions:

Go to a very easy college, work hard, and then transfer.  If you’re perfectly capable of doing college-level work but just woke up to the value of good grades too late, you can explain it in your application essay. Lots of kids don’t realize the value of hard work in high school at 15 or 16 and don’t put in any effort until they’re nearly ready to graduate.  There are many colleges that accept those students. You probably won’t get a scholarship, and you might never have heard of the school, but there are legitimate schools where you can go and experience college and college life. Hey, you may even wind up liking that school and want to stay, but if you do well, you most certainly can transfer if you choose.

Go to a community college and take some remedial classes in areas where you faced academic challenges.  If high school was too hard for you, it might have been because you just never got the academic attention when you needed it in middle school.  Perhaps you never really got math.  Perhaps you never learned to write a cogent essay.  Perhaps you always found literature too challenging.  Community colleges usually offer classes where you can work on those weaknesses until your academic level is ready for college.  You don’t even have to live home.  Several community colleges have the option to live in dorms while you are enrolled.  For some students, an associates degree is sufficient for their career choice.  Others can transfer to a school that they are proud to attend when their skills have improved.

Join the military.  Like the ads say, they’ll train you in a career and pay for your college when you’re done. If your problem was motivational, you might just need a little time to mature.  The military will do that for you – quick!  You can help your country while you help yourself.

Choose a career that doesn’t require advanced education.  Despite what it seems, college just isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be.  Use your personality and go into sales or public relations.  Use your talent and become a musician or artist or photographer.  Use your ability to work with your hands and become a carpenter or plumber or auto mechanic.  Imagine how much farther ahead you’ll be – your peers will be first looking for a job in four years but you’ll be well into your career.

Remember too that there’s no rule that you much go to college immediately after high school. There are programs where you can go abroad for a year or so before you think about college. Google “gap year programs” and you’ll be surprised by all the opportunities.  Many students find that a year abroad gives them time to grow up and refine their goals, and gives them something to offer a college when they’re done.

There are so many options.  Don’t succumb to what you perceive as societal pressure.  Find the path that looks like it might work for you and get going.  Even if you change directions somewhere down the lane, at least you will have begun the journey.

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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