High School 2 College

March 27, 2010

Did You Get In? Where Are You Going?

Can adults discuss anything else with you?  It must feel like you had no life before college applications.   Here’s some advice for those who got in — and those who didn’t.

First, a word to those who didn’t get into the school of their dreams.  All is not lost.  In fact, some very notable people were rejected from college. Smile and read this article from the Wall Street Journal before you declare that all is lost.

If you’re on a waiting list, step right up and contact the college you want to attend.  Tell them of any new accomplishments, new jobs, new community service — anything that might help.  Get an extra recommendation.  Have your guidance counselor call the school for you to put in a good word.  Colleges want to take kids who actually want to go there (it increases their “yield,” the percentage of kids who attend from the pool the college accepted).  Don’t get crazy — sending a shoe box filled with heart-shaped candies won’t help — but a well-worded letter from you and another teacher might just do the trick.

For those who got in to a school they really want to attend, read on:

You wooed them.  They flirted back with glossy pamphlets and flattery.  You’ve proposed, they’ve accepted, and you expect to walk arm and arm happily into the sunset — just you and the school of your dreams.  Now that you’ve said “I do,” all you have to do is put that sticker on the back of your car, and you and your school will build a 4-year relationship together.

Not so fast.

A few years ago, the New York Times printed an article warning kids not to let their grades slip too far in senior year.  It warns “slackers” that colleges will and regularly do pull offers of admittance if a student’s grades slip too much. You have to submit your year-end grades to the school you’ve chosen, and if the college doesn’t like what it sees, it has a long waiting list of eager students still batting their eyelashes at your school.

I believe the New York Times.  Most of the colleges they referenced were large state schools (the kind with affordable tuition) who have too many students to care whether you fill that last dorm room or another student does, one more serious about learning and schooling whose grades not only didn’t drop but might have even improved over the past few months.

Now colleges – even the smaller private colleges – are more skittish than ever for an obvious reason — the economy.  Heed USA Today’s warning from last year — it’s still true this year.  This article points out that colleges were so worried about the economy this past admissions season that many accepted more students than usual with the expectation that some would not be able to afford school and would drop out.  If that doesn’t happen, schools may be culling their admitted student lists for those who just don’t measure up.

Their advice is good:  if your grades start to drop, do something!

  • Talk to your high school teachers about extra credit.  Offer to do anything to raise your grade.
  • Talk to your guidance counselors about strategies to pull it out now.  If they know you’re trying, they may be willing to go to bat for you with the college if they pull your acceptance.
  • Get a tutor for finals or state exams.  Don’t wait – if you need to pass that math or physics regents exam, get a tutor.  It’s not a long-term commitment, and the money you spend now may save heartache and embarrassment later.
  • Contact the admissions department with a contrite explanation and a promise to do better.  Tell them BEFORE they get the bad news to show you’re responsible and willing to correct your missteps.
  • Get off facebook.  Recent studies have shown that FB users in college have grades a full GPA point below non-users.

The weather is warm, the prom is coming, and math is boring, but keep it up for just a little longer.  It’s hard to get that sticker off your car window!

Wendy Segal

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March 23, 2010

How to Make the Most of a College Visit

I’m sure you’ve been getting college brochures in the mail but don’t wait for colleges to come to you.  You have to go to them.

By now, you should have been to Princeton Review and done the “Counselor-o-Matic” survey(also called “Best Fit School Search”) to get a list of colleges you might be interested in.  Remember to click on “see all colleges” after you get the initial lists of safety, good match, and reach schools.  If so, you should have at least 20 schools that might just fit your needs.

Now it’s time to plan a college tour or two.

First, group schools together.  List potential schools according to these categories:

  • rural (country – not near a city or even much of a town)
  • suburban (near a college town or within an hour of a city)
  • urban (right in the middle of a city with or without a campus)
  • small (under 5,000 undergraduates)
  • medium (5,000 – 10,000 undergraduates)
  • large (over 10,000 undergraduates)
  • far north (of where ever you live, more than 5 hours by car)
  • north (of where ever you live, 2 – 5 hours away by car)
  • close (within an hour or two of where ever you live)
  • south (of where ever you live, 2 – 5 hours away by car)
  • far south (of where ever you live, more than 5 hours away by car)
  • you’re going to start collecting frequent flier miles

The purpose of grouping schools is to make sure you visit one from each category if you can.  If you find out you hate urban schools, you can cross the rest of the urban schools off your list.  If you love the energy of a really big school, you can eliminate the small schools from your list.  Like most high school kids, you might think you like one kind of school or another, but many kids completely change their mind once they visit a few.

Find out where the schools are.  Visit the colleges’ websites and use mapquest.com or google maps to start planning your visit geographically.  Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York are huge states — Philadelphia is closer to New Jersey than it is to Pittsburgh.

Find out when the tours are.  Some schools have tours and information sessions.  Others have one but not the other.  I like the tours.

Once you decide which schools you can see in a day (ideally, you should see two schools a day, but you might be able to squeeze in a third if you have to), go on those schools’ websites under “prospective students” to find out when the tours are.  Some schools only have tours on weekends.  Some schools only have tours during the week.  Reserve a spot if the school recommends or requires it.

It’s much harder to get the feel of a school without a tour.  Sure, they’re led by a perky student who is just in love with the place, but you’ll learn a lot by what she says and what she doesn’t say and by how she answers the questions of the other prospective students on the tour.

Be polite. Do stop in to visit the admissions office.  If you can prearrange an interview, do so.  Dress neatly.  You don’t have to look like you’re applying for a job in corporate headquarters, but don’t wear anything ripped, dirty, or provocative.

Be brave. Go to your admissions meeting ALONE. Mom and Dad shouldn’t come with you into your interview.  Ever.  If you’re nervous, practice what you might say with a friend or your parents or with me, but go in alone.  Have a few questions ready, something you can’t find out on their website.

Here are a few questions that might be worth asking someone in admissions if you can’t think of any on your own:

  • how many kids  graduate each year with the major I’m interested in?
  • do you house freshmen together?
  • do most of your graduates go on to graduate school or do they get a job right after college?
  • tell me about campus security.
  • is any of your campus wi-fi?
  • what percentage of kids belong to fraternities/sororities?

Practice answering questions, too.  Here are some questions they will likely ask:

  • why do you want to go to this school? (One good answer is, “My guidance counselor feels it would be a great fit for me.” Another might be, “My cousin just loves it here,” or “I met your rep at a college fair and it sounds just perfect.”  Gush a little.)
  • how did you hear of us? (Answer:  You have a great reputation for (whatever your major is or whatever they’re known for).)
  • tell me about yourself  (Answer:  I think I’m a really good student with lots of interests.)
  • what do you hope to get out of college (Answer:  I’m looking to grow academically and socially)
  • what did you think of the tour? (Answer:  it was great!  No other answer will do.)

Be nosy. Spend some time in the student union or in the cafeteria.  Eavesdrop on what kids are saying to each other.  Go up to a random kid and ask questions.  Tell him you are considering this school and ask if you can talk to him for a minute.  Ask nosy questions, questions you wouldn’t ask someone in admissions:

  • would you tell your best friend to go here?
  • what’s the best thing about this school?
  • what’s the worst thing about this school?
  • is it hard to get into the classes you want to take?
  • are the professors approachable and helpful?
  • is there anything to do here on weekends?
  • is the food tolerable?
  • is there anything to do off campus?
  • do kids go to the teams’ games?
  • would you pick this school again if you had to reapply?

If you really can’t bring yourself to ask questions like this, have your parents do it.  They won’t mind – I promise.  As a matter of fact, send them off to the cafeteria while you’re at admissions and let them find a few random kids to quiz.

You will forget which school said which things,  and which school had which features.  You will.  Take cell phone photos and/or write on college brochures to remind yourself of any impressions.  Write yourself notes, like “This was the school with the smelly dorms,” or “This was the school with the amazing view.”  Don’t wait until you get home.  Write up a review for yourself of each school when you get back into the car if you can.

Thank you notes are completely optional. If you had an admissions visit and you remember the name of the person you spoke to, a quick email is a nice touch, but nothing more formal is required or expected.

Remember that colleges begin exam week the first week in May and often don’t offer tours then, so go and visit now!  Most high schools consider visiting colleges so important that if you can miss a day of high school to do so, it’s considered a “legal absence.”

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment on this blog or send me a message through my website: www.wendysegaltutoring.com.

Wendy Segal

March 14, 2010

Spring Break Is Coming – Time to Think About College

Spring break is less than two weeks away for most high school juniors.  Now is the time to be thinking about college.  For some, the idea of attending 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.

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, which high schools pay to make available to their students and which helps counselors submit information about students to colleges, is well-liked by guidance counselors but I haven’t found many students or parents who find it particularly useful.

The next step is get online. The best free website for choosing prospective colleges is Princeton Review.  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.  The colleges on this list pay to be on the list.  Important: 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 or print out 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.

The best website for finding out extensive college information is one you have to pay for, but in my experience, the modest cost is well-worth the depth of information.  Go to US News and World Report and buy the Premium Online edition. I find their information easy to access, accurate, complete, and helpfully presented.

After you have a list of colleges, choose some to visit. Spring break is a perfect time to visit, so perfect that lots of colleges insist that you sign up for tours and admissions meetings in advance.  Go online at some schools that interest you that are close together geographically and check out the prospective student visitation page.  Make appointments.  Visit a big school, a small school, an urban school, a rural school.  You can go during the summer, but most of the students won’t be there.  You can go in the fall, but you’ll be cramming the visit into your schedule of applications, tests, and more, so if you possibly can go now, GO!

Let me know if you have any questions about choosing a college.  (And do take a look at my new website: www.wendysegaltutoring.com and let me know what you think!)

Wendy Segal


March 7, 2010

The SATs are This Week! Any Last Minute Advice?

If you haven’t already done so, go out and buy tootsie rolls, change the batteries in your calculator, look up a few vocabulary words to bring with you to the test, and remind yourself of the father’s name in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Now you are nearly ready for the SATs.

Here are a few more things you can 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.  Insider 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 the morning of the SATs.  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.
  • snacksthe 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, which ironically can make you more thirsty later.

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.  If you do well, this test counts.  If you don’t do well, it doesn’t count.  You can’t get more low stress than that.  Just relax, remember some strategies, and stay alert!

Wendy Segal

March 3, 2010

How to Take the March 2010 SAT

Filed under: Advice for high school juniors,SAT,Testing — highschool2college @ 1:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The March SAT is next week. 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 FliesHuck 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, censure, 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 the proctors make you clear your desk.

3.  Get snacks. You should bring something to eat and something to drink to the test with you.  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. Bonus:  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, so bring tea with caffeine and sugar — nothing diet!

4.  Buy batteries for your calculator.  Unless you’ve changed the batteries this month, you’ll want to change the batteries in your calculator (yes, you can use a graphing or scientific calculator, but you can also just use a 4-function calculator).

During the week, I’ll post tips for test day itself, so stay tuned!

Wendy Segal

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