High School 2 College

June 28, 2009

Summer Suggestions for incoming Seniors, Juniors, And Anyone in High School

Every year, parents ask me what kids can do over the summer to prepare for the PSATs, SATs, or ACTs –parents of incoming Seniors, Juniors, and of younger students who feel it’s never too early.

Incoming (also called rising) seniors know they should be working on their college applications this summer.  Get to it!

Now that we got that out of the way, the number one most important thing ANY student can do over the summer to prepare for fall tests is READ!  Read anything.  Read everything.  Here are some reading guidelines:

1.  Reading something is better than reading nothing. It’s better to read trashy romance or adventure novels than to read nothing.  But there are some books that are better than others if you’re reading to prep for the SATs and ACTs (I’ll get to those in a minute).  Unfortunately, those good-for-you books are rarely the ones the high school English department requires for summer reading.  I know, it doesn’t make sense.  They have a sea of potential readers, and they choose books that have little literary value or books that kids could easily read on their own anyway.   Don’t get me started!

2.  Read outside your area of interest.  If you always read mysteries, read a biography.  If you always read fantasy, read history.  Each genre has its own jargon or vocabulary.

3.  Read magazines.  TIME and Newsweek are excellent for PSAT/SAT/ACT prep.  Read the letters to the editor — that’s where everyone uses his most impressive vocabulary so the world can see how smart he is.  Also, read the essay on the back page.  It’s a style of writing students don’t often get in school:  the persuasive essay.  It’s neither literature nor fact.  It IS like most of the essays on the SAT and the ACT.

4.  Work with a vocabulary book. The two best ones out there for the SATs are Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewish ($7) and SAT Vocabulary for Dummies ($17).  Word Power is good for students who already have a moderately good vocabulary and want it to grow.  SAT Vocab for Dummies attempts to make learning vocabulary fun by using puns, trivia, and jokes along with plenty of practice tests.  Either or both are available at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.  Use them regularly.  Leave one in the bathroom with a pencil.  Or leave one at the breakfast table.  They really do help.

If you want a few good books to read over the summer, here are a few I recommend:

For students who were not brought up in an actively Christian household, I recommend books with a Christian setting.  There is some vocabulary that students just need that is Christian-based, like annul, chalice, sacrosanct, defrock, or penitent.  You pick these words up from reading books set in a Christian setting.  One of the best is Name of the Rose by Umberto Ecco.  It’s hard but worthwhile, and a tantalizing mystery.  For lighter reading, I recommend the Brother Cadfael mystery series by Ellis Peters.  Start with A Morbid Taste for Bones or One Corpse Too Many.  Brother Cadfael, an herbalist in a monastery, has to figure out who did it and why.  A good series for girls is the mystery series by Margaret Frazer starting with The Novice’s Tale.  These books are set in a convent in the middle ages and are juicy mysteries.

Reluctant readers of either gender usually like Fatal Vision by Joe McGinness, the true life story of a marine surgeon whose family is murdered by a band of hippies — he says.  Reluctant girl readers (older grades only — there are lots of references to sex although they’re not graphic) might like the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich which starts with One for the Money.  Gruesome and funny at the same time!

Readers looking for quality might like Jane Eyre by Bronte or Vanity Fair by Thackery.  Alison Weir writes wonderful history books on Tutor England, Henry VIII, and others.  They read like the most engrossing novels.

Some students prefer short stories.  Anything by James Thurber is funny, and is anything by P.G. Wodehouse – especially his Jeeves series.

Lastly, if you have questions on anything I’ve written, or just something you’ve been meaning to ask, please feel free to ask via a comment to this blog.  Others might just have the same question.

Have a safe, restful, literate summer!

Wendy Segal


June 16, 2009

Just a Few More Words Before You Go Off To College

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 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 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. 

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 Segal

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