High School 2 College

March 31, 2009

April Break Is Approaching – Should I Be Doing Something About College?

In a word, YES.  April break is less than two weeks away and high school juniors should have college on their mind.  For some, thinking about college is exciting, a chance at a new beginning in a place far from the hometown that has grown too small.  For others, thinking about college is overwhelming, mystifying, even scary. (See this article if you’re one of those:  http://www.usnews.com/blogs/collegeknowledge/2008/8/21/expand-your-college-options.html )

Still, if you want to be a college graduate some day, you’ve got to go to pick out a college, apply, get in, and go.

So what should I be doing now to get on the road to college?

The first step should be to meet with your guidance counselor  if you haven’t already.  He should know you fairly well by now (you did remember to make friends with your guidance counselor early in high school and visit often, right?).  He knows which schools accept students with your grades/scores/activities.  He will probably show you Naviance, a program that records how many students that fit your profile were accepted by a given school.  Naviance isn’t bad, but don’t put all your stock in it.  It’s only as good as the data it collects, and that’s from a pretty limited pool.

The next step is get on line.  The best free website for choosing prospective colleges is Princeton Review (www.princetonreview.com).  You have to register, but it’s easy and it’s free.  Look for “Best Fit College Search” — it used to be called Counselor-O-Matic.  Answer all the questions as honestly as you can.  Make sure you answer questions from every category on the list on the left side of the survey page.  Don’t answer the student/teacher ratio question — it’s irrelevant and it throws off the results.  Definitely say “Yes, I want colleges to be able to send me information.”  At the end of the questionnaire, they will provide you with a short list of good match, reach, and safe choices for college.  After each category, you should see “View All Results.”  Click on that for each category.  You’ll see dozens and dozens of schools that fit most of your criteria.

Those lists are an excellent starting point.  Write down those schools.  Write down all of them that might even be of mild interest, even if you’ve never heard of them.  Start checking out what Princeton Review has to say about each one of them.  Make a list for yourself of schools you definitely want to see and schools you might like to see if they’re on the way to something else.  The list should have at least 20 schools on it. (You won’t visit them all, but put them on the list for now.  You can always whittle it down later.)  Ignore the schools that you already can tell just aren’t right for you.

Another good website is one you have to  pay for, but the modest cost is well worth it.   Buy access to the electronic Best Colleges here: https://secure.usnews.com/premium/cart.jsp 

The website is a bit awkward to use, but the information is the most accurate and complete I’ve seen anywhere.  Not only can you find out if a school offers, say, a semester abroad, but how many kids actually take advantage of it.  Not only can you find out if they have intramural sports, but what percentage of kids play. 

Which of those statistics matter?  What should I be looking for?   

Check back in a few days and I’ll show you what I look at when I’m evaluating information about a college for my students.  But for now, get started on that list!

Wendy Segal


March 22, 2009

Fake Sincerity Works Just as Well

I’ve been giving the same advice for many years  to juniors who are applying to college as well as to seniors on wait lists:  Don’t be a stranger.

Of course, the Boston Globe agrees with me:


Colleges aren’t that different from teenagers — they like kids who like them back.

The college admissions jargon for that is “yield,”  the number of students who actually attend from the pool of those who are admitted.  Harvard has a yield that approaches 100%;  SUNY’s Purchase college has a yield of about 36%.  The higher the yield, the more desirable the college looks.  It has a lot to do with bragging rights, something to do with planning for a well-rounded freshman class, and very little do with education, but most schools want to accept students who actually want to go to that school.

So how can this information help you, the high school junior?

Whether or not it’s sincere, you’ve got to look interested:

  • Go to college fairs  and fill out those little postcards with your name and address.  Have a few standard questions ready (Do you house freshmen together?   Do you guarantee housing for the first two years?  How many students major in what I’m interested in?  Do most kids get a job upon graduation or do they go to grad school?)
  • Go to college admission counselor talks  held at your high school.  College admission counselors keep track of kids who show up when they visit your school.  Act perky.  Ask questions.  Look impressed if they give you a free pen.  Smile a lot.  (Hey, you’re missing class, so what’s not to smile about?)
  • Enter your info on the schools’ websites  and click on “send me more information.”  Even if you’ve already gotten something in the mail from that school, asking for info keeps you on their “interested” list.
  • Call up the admissions department.  If you have ANY questions at all, call.  (You need to call, not your mom.)  Leave your name.  Get the name of anyone you’ve spoken to, so when you call back, you can say, “I’ve already spoken to Mrs. Hassenfeffer, but I have another question.”
  • Email (for those too shy to call).  Use your name.  Now is a good time to get a sensible-sounding email address.  You’re too old for sparkle-cutie-angel.

And how can this information help you, the high school senior on the wait list?

If you really, really want to go to a particular school:

  • Have your guidance counselor call the school to put in a good word for you.
  • Get another recommendation or two — but they’ve got to be raves.
  • Send another essay  explaining why this is the school of your dreams.  Promise to withdraw all other applications if they say yes.

No matter what, don’t resort to adorable.  Don’t send candy or school mascots.  Don’t have your parents call.  Don’t threaten.  Don’t list all the famous people your parents know.

In the end, if they don’t want you, you probably wouldn’t be happy at that school anyway. 

They probably have a dumb mascot anyway.

Wendy Segal

March 19, 2009

TurnItIn: Worse than a Waste of Time

Filed under: Writing skills — highschool2college @ 5:32 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Two recent articles in Inside Higher Ed  made me ponder once again Yorktown High School’s use of TurnItIn.com as a plagiarism-detection protocol.  See:  http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/05/02/turnitin and

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/03/13/detect .

In Yorktown High School and other high schools and colleges, students are required to email their papers and reports to TurnItIn.com, which is supposed to notify teachers of suspected plagiarism by scanning the Internet for phrases in the students’ work that could have come from an on-line source.

The articles reveal that TurnItIn pays certain teachers to go to certain conferences, evidently in the hope that those teachers will present papers and generally be enthusiastic advocates for their program.

That’s disheartening, but not why I dislike our teachers’ relying on such a “service.”

The problems with using such a detection system are many:

  • TurnItIn gives too many false positives.  Papers may be flagged as plagiarized merely because the writer uses cliches.
  • TurnItIn doesn’t catch all plagiarized work.  A clever student can easily evade detection by rewording existing material.
  • TurnItIn doesn’t catch material plagiarized from non-online sources.  If you copy a chapter from a book, you’re home free — as long as the book doesn’t appear online.  If you copy your big sister’s paper from five years ago, TurnItIn can’t catch you.  If you copy your friend’s paper from Somers High, you’re safe.

One of the most egregious problems  with using a service like TurnItIn is that it doesn’t teach kids to write or to think for themselves.  It only teaches them that teachers want to snag them doing something wrong and if students are clever enough, they can avoid detection.  It breeds distrust between teachers and students and creates an adversarial relationship instead of a mentoring one. 

Another serious problem  is that it encourages teachers to rely on an electronic hound dog to do what a teacher should do — get to know his students well enough and have them write often enough that the teacher will be able to recognize his students’ writing. 

English teachers should be teaching students  how to think and how to write in equal measure.  Engaging, non-cliche assignments would help assure non-cliche responses, but nothing helps a student learn how to write like involved, engaged, frequent writing assignments that his teacher reads, responds to, corrects, and returns in a timely manner with helpful, plentiful, specific suggestions.

Sure, teachers have many students (haven’t they always?), and commenting thoughtfully on every student’s paper takes a lot longer than having the student submit his work to TurnItIn.com for inspection.  But mentoring, caring, involved, perceptive, insistent teaching taught me how to write  (thank you, Mrs. Joyce Garvin!).  I bet it would do wonders for our kids.

Wendy Segal

March 14, 2009

Don’t Be Misled by NYTimes Article

Filed under: College admissions — highschool2college @ 6:15 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The New York Times printed an article yesterday, March 13, headlined, “Delaying College for a Year Could Have Benefits”

( http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/14/business/14year.html?_r=2&ref=business ). 

Boy, did that article make me angry! 

The headline would make one believe that the New York Times, or at least the author of that article, recommends students take off the year between high school and college. 

That’s not what the article says  and that’s certainly not what I believe.

The article says that for this year only there MAY be a financial benefit to waiting a year since President Obama has proposed certain financial aid benefits that won’t kick in until next year.  Later in the article, the author confirms that these benefits amount to a few hundred dollars a year.  Big deal.  That won’t cover books, the price of which go up every year;  the longer you wait, the more you pay.

The author also admits  that schools may well be out of financial aid by next year, so kids going to school this year may indeed get much more aid than kids going next year. 

Thanks a lot, NY Times, for printing contradictory advice with a grossly misleading headline.

The article also says that kids should apply to schools in their senior year, and then elect to take a gap year if the college they’ve selected permits it.  Unfortunately, many people might read this headline and decide to postpone the entire application process for a year.

Huge mistake.

Kids who take a “gap year” may – and often do – find it extremely difficult to go back into an academic environment.  It’s hard to get used to studying again.  It’s hard to be out of sync with your friends.  It’s hard to be a 19-, 20-, or 21-year-old dorming with a kid who is 18 years old and just out of high school.  If a student postpones applying to college, where the heck is he/she going to go for current academic recommendations? 

I can’t think of a single benefit to taking off a year unless family finances absolutely demand it, and there’s no other way for a student even to go to a SUNY or other state school.  You think the economy is bad this year?  We all hope it’s significantly better next year, but there’s no guarantee.  It could be worse, and going to college might need to be postponed for yet another year. 

As the article says,  the longer you wait, the more uncomfortable colleges are.  The same schools that might have accepted you in your senior year will pass on your application if you wait a year or two.

And if you think you’re unmotivated now, wait until you see how difficult it is after a year of being able to relax in the evenings and on weekends instead of writing 15-page papers.

By all means, please read this article and tell me what you think.  I bet you’ll see why I’m so angry at the headline.

Wendy Segal

March 10, 2009

To-Do List for Taking the SATs on Saturday

Filed under: Advice for high school juniors,SAT — highschool2college @ 9:22 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Now that you’ve bought your tootsie rolls, looked up a few vocabulary words, and reminded yourself of the father’s name in To Kill a Mockingbird, you are nearly ready for the SATs.

Here is what to do:

1.  Friday night, get a good night’s sleep.  Don’t try to go to bed too early or you’ll be up half the night staring at the ceiling.  Just get a good amount of sleep after a restful evening.  NO STUDYING TODAY!  Not even for the SATs.

2.  Saturday morning, dress up a little.  When you’re wearing comfy, floppy clothes, your brain takes a rest, too.  When you dress up a little (whatever that means to you), you sit a little straighter and concentrate better.  Special tip:  several studies suggest that kids do worse on standardized tests if they see or wear the color red because they associate red with failure.  So, keep away from red.

3.  Have breakfast.  Even if you don’t usually have breakfast, have breakfast this morning.  Make sure it’s mostly protein, not mostly carbohydrates like a bagel or muffin.  Carbs give you a quick burst but leave you feeling sleepy when they wear off.  You’re in it for the long haul!

4.  Get to the test site a bit early.  I’d recommend arriving between 7:30 and 7:45, especially if it’s not your own high school.  Get there early so you can settle in calmly.

5.  Choose your seat.  If they let you pick your seat, choose one away from distractors like the door or windows.  Some kids do better if they’re not near friends; others do better if they sit near friends.  Sit where you can concentrate.  You can socialize afterwards.

6.  Leave your cell phone home!  If they catch you using it, even to check the time, they’ll take your SAT away from you and send you home.  It’s been done in Lakeland before. 

7.  Bring the following:

  • photo ID — driver’s license or permit or school photo ID.
  • admit ticket — print out another from collegeboard.com if you lost it.
  • vocab words — you need something to start your brain moving before they say “Clear your desk.”
  • pencils — bring at least three or four #2 pencils with clean erasers.
  • calculator — change the batteries this week and make sure it works.  Yes, a graphing calculator is fine.
  • watch — many schools don’t have working wall clocks.  Even if the room you’re in has a working clock, it may be behind you or hard to see.  Don’t rely on the proctor to keep track of how much time you have left.  If you don’t want to wear a watch, put it on the desk in front of you.  Remember, you can’t use your phone to tell the time.
  • snacks — the most important thing you can bring!  Bring lots of little chewy things (like tootsie rolls) that you can pop in your mouth easily.  Also bring a more substantial snack for the 10-minute break in the middle.  A power bar or granola bar works nicely.
  • drink — tea helps you concentrate.  The caffeine helps quite a bit, too.   Bring iced tea with sugar, not diet.  If you hate iced tea, bring soda with caffeine and sugar.  Gatorade has too much sodium.

Another word of warning:  During the long break, if you need the restroom, go there BEFORE you eat your granola bar or drink your iced tea.  If a long line takes a while, they will start without you.  (This did happen to a few kids I know!)

Remember that each of you has the opportunity to take the test again either this year or next year if you don’t like the outcome, so there’s no need for test anxiety or panic.  Just relax, remember some strategies, and stay alert!

Wendy Segal

March 8, 2009

SAT Humor

Filed under: SAT — highschool2college @ 4:25 am

I heard an SAT joke tonight (not many of those around):

I cheated on the SATs.  I wrote one of the answers on my arm:  B .  Whenever I didn’t know the answer, I looked at my arm and thought, “Oh, yeah.  B!”

Wendy Segal

March 7, 2009

Suggestions for Taking the March 2009 SAT

Filed under: Uncategorized — highschool2college @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

The next SAT is in one week.  My best guess is that the critical reading section should be easier than it was on the January test. 

Here’s my best advice for how to maximize your score on the test with only one week to go:

1.  Read the plot summaries of MacBeth and To Kill a Mockingbird on Sparknotes.  Read the plot summaries of another book or two that you liked or remember well.  Other books that are easy to use on the SAT essay are Lord of the Flies, Huck Finn, and Of Mice and Men.  If you refresh your memory about the characters, author, and plot, you’re more likely to use a book successfully on the essay.

2.  Go through the blue SAT book and find words you don’t know.  The SAT people tend to reuse words, so if it shows up once, it will most likely appear again.  Be sure to know words like anachronism, aesthetic, pragmatic, callous, partisan, and adroit.  Don’t forget phrases like righteous indignation, mutually exclusive, and a pointed discussion.  Write down at least 20 words on paper or index cards so you can bring them to the test to study just before they make you clear your desk.

3.  Get snacks.  You should bring with you to the test something to eat and something to drink.  I recommend a snack that is not too salty because if you get thirsty, you won’t be able to concentrate — or you will drink too much and need the bathroom during the test (not good!).  You should bring something chewy like tootsie rolls, since several studies suggest you will remember better if you’re chewing while you take the test.  The sugar and caffeine in chocolate will help you stay alert during the test.  They fit in your pocket and you can pop a tootsie roll between sections.  You should also have a bigger snack for the long break.  A granola bar or power bar works great.  Don’t forget to bring iced tea.  Studies show tea helps you concentrate also, so bring tea with caffeine and sugar — nothing diet!

During the week, I’ll post tips for test day.

Wendy Segal

March 2, 2009

State College Applications Swelling

Filed under: College admissions — highschool2college @ 6:01 am
Tags: , , ,

Attention smart kids.   This is the year to apply to your dream school.

Every year for the last ten, I’ve been emailing parents of high school juniors links to articles which wail about how difficult getting into college would be for all but the most exceptional students.  This year, there has been an eerie silence from the media about college applications during this season when applications are in, and all that students can do is wait. 

This year, kids are not merely applying to one or two state schools “just in case.”  Kids are not applying to 12 – 14 schools, some sure things, some reach-for-the-stars dreams.  Kids are paring down their applications, mostly to save application fees and the cost of sending SAT and ACT scores to a dozen or more schools. 

Kids are applying to state schools in droves.

Kids aren’t even trying for the private colleges in some cases.  They and their parents presume private colleges and universities will be just too expensive.  Students are, by and large, considering the better state schools as their “reach” schools, and applying to private schools that are less selective than their grades and test scores would suggest in the hopes of getting some money.

This year, good enough may indeed be good enough for many private colleges and universities, especially if parents can take care of financing with no help from the school.

Is this a good trend?  Let me know what you think.

Read more in this NY Times article:


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