High School 2 College

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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August 12, 2014

Quick Question: Do I Need to Take the PSATs This Year?

Here are a few questions I get all the time:

I took the PSATs in 10th grade.  Do I need to take them in 11th grade, too?

And I also am asked:

I took a practice SAT at the library.  Do I need to take a PSAT at all now?

The answer to both is an unequivocal YES!

It only makes sense that if your student did well on the PSATs in 10th grade, he or she will do even better in 11th grade, parents tell me.  First of all, if that turns out to be true and your student did well on the 10th grade PSATs, why wouldn’t you want your student to retake them in 11th grade when a superior score might get a National Merit Letter of Commendation or even a National Merit Scholarship?

No matter how well you do on the PSATs in 10th grade, only the 11th grade PSATs are considered for the National Merit scholarship.

On the other hand, more often than not, it has been my experience over the past 27 years that students who have done very well on the 10th grade PSATs and who skip the 11th grade PSATs have their scores GO DOWN on their first SAT.  The students are shocked, the parents are disappointed, and now there is much less time to correct whatever the problem is.  To make matters worse, some schools require that you send ALL SAT scores when you apply.  Too bad the student in that situation didn’t retake the PSATs in 11th grade.  Then, if the score go down, the colleges won’t know and the student has many months to work on improving.

Furthermore, I don’t trust those library practice SATs.  They’re usually not an actual SAT.  They’re an approximation of the SATs based on what a company seeking to sell you SAT preparation services believes is similar to an SAT.  Real SATs are tested over and over.  I’ve found substantial errors in SAT prep books prepared by Princeton Review, Kaplan, and all the others (and so have many other tutors of my acquaintance).  The SATs given at the library tend to be either too hard (“You see, you really do need our tutoring service!”) or too easy (“See?  With just a little help, you can rock this test!”).

If your student really wants to know how he’d do on a real SAT, have him take a real SAT, either from the book by the College Board or on online from the people who actually create and administer the SATs.  You don’t need a library and you don’t need a detailed analysis that you probably won’t understand (but the prep center will be glad to explain it to you, and show you why you need them).

The PSATs are given in October.  The score report from the PSATs is sent home to you some time in December.  If you’re not happy with your student’s scores, take them to a qualified tutor who can help your student work on her weakness as well as polish where she’s already doing well.

So yes, unless you’re ill on the day of the PSATs or you have a wedding to attend, no excuses!  Just take that 11th grade PSAT.

Do you have other questions about college entrance testing?  Let me know!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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August 5, 2014

Applying to College: Where Do I Start? When Do I Start?

If you’re going into your senior year of high school in the fall, you probably have a nagging feeling that you should be doing something about college, but I bet the whole concept feels overwhelming.  (If you’re going into your junior year and you’re smart enough to be reading ahead to be well prepared, give yourself a big gold star!)

Where should you start?  Is it too early to begin the college process – or are you already behind?

Let’s think this whole application process through, step by step:

– You want to hear back from colleges as early as possible and get as many yeses as possible, so you want to apply to several schools early action.  That means applying by October of senior year.

– To apply by October, you have to work on your applications, especially the application essays, over the summer before senior year. (That means NOW!)

– To work on the essays over the summer, you have to know which colleges you’ll be applying to more or less by June of junior year.

– To know which schools you want to apply to by June, you have to have visited several  schools in March and April of junior year.  (Most schools discourage tours in early May when finals are in session, and most college students leave campus by mid-May.)

– To know which schools you’d like to visit, you need a list of potential schools by FEBRUARY of junior year.

So are you behind?  Unless you have a solid list of schools to which you intend to apply, I’m afraid you are!

How should you start building that list?  I’m sure your high school guidance counselor has suggested you start with Naviance.  Feh!  The sample on Naviance is just too small.  If someone from your high school got into Big State U, is it because he was a sports star?  Did his parents go there?  Is he a coveted minority?  Was he an expert at the French horn?  You’ll never know from Naviance.

Try the College Board college search.  (Yes, I used to recommend Princeton Review, but they’ve tinkered with it so much in the past few years that you now need a college degree to work their program.)  US News & World Report also has an excellent college search tool. They charge $30 to access it for a year, but it has very specific, very accurate information.  Between US News and the College Board, you’ll have all the college information you need to start building a list.

Think of how far away from home you want to be.  Think of what majors you want your school to have.  Do you care if your school has a big football team?  Is on-campus housing important to you?  How do you feel about Greek life (fraternities and sororities)?

You want your list to be huge at first, maybe 30 – 40 schools.  Include every possibility.  Then start narrowing.  Are religious schools out?  How about urban schools without a campus?  Please don’t eliminate a school just because you haven’t heard of it, and don’t include schools that don’t fit your needs just because your friends are talking about them.  Build a list on your own.

Once you have a list, group your schools geographically.  Can you visit all the New York State schools over a three-day trip?  What about Pennsylvania schools or Boston schools? You’ll probably want to take a few weekends to visit schools, so start looking for weekends that work for your parents.  They’re much more likely to cooperate if you have a plan.  For example, you might say, “Mom, I want to take three trips.  I want to see the Pennsylvania/ Delaware/Maryland schools in one trip, the Boston area schools in another trip, and the New York State schools to the west in a third trip.”  Mom’s bound to be impressed! Then go online and find out when those schools have available tours and/or information sessions.

Don’t forget to make appointments for school tours and information sessions.  The most popular dates fill up quickly.

While you’re online, definitely fill out the “send me more information” page at each school.  That’s how they know you’re  considering them.  Once the schools get specific information from you, they can send you targeted brochures for your interests or major or any scholarships that you might fit.

After you  make your list, go to visit schools.  You don’t have to see every school to which you might apply.  You don’t have to visit your reach schools.  Face it, if you get into Harvard, you’re going.  Who cares what the dorm rooms look like!  Visit the schools that are most likely to admit you.  Visit different categories of schools:  urban, suburban, rural, large, small, northern, southern – whatever your categories are.

Next, start writing your essay.  The Common App is live as of August 1st.  You can read the essay prompts here, so get started now!

Please don’t wait until school starts to begin the essay.  Sure, some English teachers give you time to work on your essay in class, but they don’t have much experience with the new prompts (prompts changed just last year and are radically different from prompt over the past 10 years or so) and they don’t know you particularly well.  Don’t tell me you work best under pressure.  They’ll be plenty of pressure in the coming few months.   A well-thought-out essay may require several drafts.  You may pick one topic, begin writing, and realize the essay is a dud and you’d be better off with a different topic.  You don’t have to polish it up now, but you should most definitely begin right away.  Get off Facebook and start writing!

Also, you should be making a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done in high school.

List:

  • academic achievements (pins, awards, honors)
  • after school clubs
  • sports
  • paid jobs (even babysitting)
  • volunteer jobs
  • community service

You need the name of the activity, the group you did it for or with, the dates, and perhaps a 5-word description.

Once you complete your list, show it to your parents.  You’re bound to have forgotten something!

After you really complete your list, make a resume.  Look online for samples.  The most important thing about a resume is that it is error-free. Have someone else review it.  Now you have something to bring with you on interviews, and completing college applications is SO much easier when you already have completed a resume.  Trust me!

If you follow all these suggestions, you should be busy until school starts (sorry about that!).

Need more help or advice?  Feel free to book some time with me (http://meetme.so/WendySegalTutoring ).

Good luck!

 

 

best college

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

Before You Head Off To College, Remember These 8 Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — highschool2college @ 7:07 pm

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 at the end of August.

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 usually 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 this 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.  They even have a system where you can pick out stuff in your local store and pick up those items at the store near your college!

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.  Make a communications plan with your parents.  Your parents may secretly be hoping you’ll call every day.  You may be expecting to call them every few weeks. If you start off calling them every day and then don’t call for a few weeks, they’re going to be disappointed.  Your leaving will be as big a life change for your parents as it will be for you, so if you want to help them out, have a discussion with them about expectations before you go.  And don’t forget to call your grandparents from college from time to time!

7.  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 that 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.

8. Join the Facebook group for your school’s incoming freshman class. Whether you’re addicted to Facebook or can’t remember the last time you went on, it’s how people connect.  It’s hard enough to feel like you fit in those first few days.  Do yourself a favor and act like you’ve got school spirit even if you’re not so sure you do yet.  While you’re at it, remove anything you wouldn’t want your roommate’s mom to see.  (My son’s freshman roommate, a white suburban kid from Long Island, listed “Rastafarian” as his religion.  I knew there was going to be trouble!)

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!

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