High School 2 College

May 14, 2010

Congratulations, You’re (Nearly) a College Graduate! Now What?

Many of my previous students are just a year or two from finishing college.  Some of you may even be graduating this month.  Congratulations!   Just as you dreaded the “Where are you going to go to college?” question a few years ago, I bet most of you get a little queasy when you are asked “What are your plans for the future?”  For those of you who are graduating — but even more for those who have a year or more left of college — I have a few words of advice about your future.

You’ve only got a few choices.

1.  Become a bum. Living in your mom’s basement playing endless World of Warcraft on the computer may sound delightful after so many years of college, but it will get old very fast.  In my book, a bum is someone who sponges off his or her parents (whether or not they can afford to indulge you) with no plans for the future. Dreams are not plans.  No one will discover you in your room.  Get out of the house and make your parents proud.

2.  Go to grad school. The recession has made grad students out of many college graduates who might, in better times, have been eager to get out into the adult work world.  News articles abound about how much harder it has been these past two years to get into graduate school, but with good grades, decent GREs or GMATs or LSATs, a recommendation or two, and a stellar “statement of purpose”  (remember your college application essay?  It’s the same thing, just a little less clever and a little more sincere), you too can join the ranks of those hoping that a bit more education and a bit more time will bring them closer to the life they imagine for themselves.

If you’re thinking that graduate school might be necessary for your career (you can’t be a lawyer without law school) or useful for getting a better job (MBAs earn more than accounts receivable clerks), take steps while you’re in college to better your chances of getting accepted to few grad schools.

  • Cozy up to professors. Go to office hours of professors you like in your major. Get to know a few professors well enough that they know your name.  Take a few to lunch.  Ask them where they went to grad school.  Ask them for advice about what schools might fit your interests best.  And then ask them for a recommendation, even if you don’t need it for a year or two.  Some professors change colleges fairly regularly and might not be at your school next year.  Ask now.
  • Make use of your summers. Do something in your field.  Ask that professor you like if he or she needs help with research over the summer.  Find an internship. Get a job, even if it’s getting coffee for others, in a company in the industry you might wind up in.  Stay on campus and take another course or two, especially if you can defray costs by being an RA or getting an on-campus job.  Once again: DO RESEARCH. It will help you define what you like or don’t like about your field, and it looks great on a resume.
  • Investigate grad schools. US News is a great source of information on graduate schools for all kinds of majors.  Invest in the premium online edition.  It’s under $20 for the year and has lots of very practical information.
  • Prep for and take graduate school exams.  I bet you thought when you finished your last SAT and ACT you were done.  Not quite.  Some schools require graduate tests like the GREs or Miller’s Analogies (I’m great at those!).  Investigate and bone up.  Yes, there are tutors for those tests.  Let me know if I can help. Summers are a good time to study and take whatever tests you might need.

It may not be as simple as apply, get in, go to classes, get out with a great job. This article on how to make the most of your graduate school years gives practical and pointed advice about taking charge of your education even as you work toward an advanced degree.

3.  Get a job. Check out this article on mistakes that new graduates often make in their first jobs.  Most first jobs aren’t sexy or exciting or fulfilling.  They’re entry-level jobs meant for entry-level people like you.  Menial doesn’t necessarily mean meaningless.  If you’re lucky enough to get a job in a field you like, don’t worry about what your first job is.  You won’t be there in 5 years anyway if you follow the national trend.  Use this first job to get experience — experience in your field, experience working full-time (did you know that you have to work during July and August in most jobs?), experience having a boss who may or may not like you, experience making friends of different age groups, life circumstances, ethnicities, intelligences.  Any first job is better than being a bum (see life choice #1 above).

When you apply to college, you expect a response one way or the other.  When you apply to ten colleges, you presume you’ll get into at least five of them.  But when you apply for a job, they may not ever get back to you.  It’s up to you to follow up with them. (I should charge for that advice it’s so valuable.)  It’s expected that you will call a week or two after an interview and ask if you’re still being considered for the position or if they need more information from you.  And you might send out 40 resumes, hear from 5 companies, and get zero offers.  That’s the real world, kiddo.  So you might need to send out 80 resumes.  Or better yet, you may need to deliver a few of them in person.  You may need to talk to your college about job fairs or get their help with a resume and cover letter or alumni contacts.  You may need to do something you’re not comfortable with.  It’s called growing up.  None of us like it, but the rewards are pretty good.  Once you  have a job of your own, you get to run your own life.

Very few decisions you’ll make now are permanent. If you go to grad school, you can also work either during or afterwards.  If you work, you can go back to grad school some day.  If you’re a bum (shame on you!), you can get out and do something useful.  If you can’t decide what you want to do, volunteer and make someone else’s life better while you work on your own life.  (This website from the government is a good place to start looking for a worthwhile volunteer position.)

I sincerely enjoyed working with (nearly) all of my students, so let me know what your plans are for the future!

Wendy Segal


May 13, 2010

Is SAT Tutoring Worth It? A Confession from Princeton Review

This week, Princeton Review announced that is going to cease making claims about how much your scores will go up if you take its test prep program.  It’s about time. I feel very strongly that test prep classes are a shameful waste of time and money for most students. Read on for my reasons.

Parents occasionally ask me if SAT tutoring is actually helpful.  I’m not sure what people expect me to say.  After all, tutoring is what I do. I supposed they want to be able to justify the expense to themselves.

Whether or not any particular family feels that test prep is worthwhile depends on several factors.  Ask yourself:

What type of prep are you considering?

  • class
  • small group
  • private
  • on line
  • webcam

By far, the most effective type of help is private one-on-one tutoring. That’s the only kind of tutoring I do, in person if at all possible and via webcam if I’m working with someone long distance. Classes benefit nearly no one.  If you’re very smart and just need a little technique, you’ll be bored to death.  If you need some serious remediation (help), you won’t be able to get the help you need because the class teacher has to cover certain material whether you understand or not.  And most teenagers are just not going to ask the teacher to explain subject-verb agreement or how to find the next number in a series if the rest of the class is rolling its collective eyes and sighing loudly.

What kind of help do you need?

  • grammar only
  • reading skills
  • test strategy
  • timing/pacing
  • writing essays
  • confidence
  • someone to force you to spend time looking at the test

Very few people are equally good are teaching reading comprehension, grammar, and math.  Some SAT prep centers have the same teachers teach math, reading, and writing. For two years, I taught an SAT class for a local program.  They gave me a manual of how to answer questions.  It said, “Explain problem #1 in the first math section as follows….”  If a kid had a question after that, I was sunk.  I’m not good at math.  My husband is great at math, but he can’t tell a direct object from an indefinite article.  So I only teach what I’m really good at, but I can help you find an outstanding teacher to help you with those subjects I’m not good at.

Furthermore, when I taught that SAT course, like most teachers I taught it twice a year — once in the spring and then again the following fall.  Now I may have up to 34 students a season.  So I teach the SATs 34 times in the spring, and another 34 times in the fall.  I’ve been doing that for 23 years.  I could do the math, but I already admitted I’m not good at that.

How much time do you have before the test?

  • days
  • weeks
  • months
  • years

If you only have days left, see my blog (here and here) for advice on some last-minute things you can do.  If you have a few weeks, get thee to a tutor! If you have months, you can make substantial progress toward your goal of a high score with the right tutor, especially if you’re willing do a little reading or a few math problems on your own.  If you have years, congratulations!  You’re in an excellent position to achieve top scores.  Read, read, read – read magazines, novels, history books.  Pay attention in math class.  When you get an essay back from a teacher, see that teacher privately after it is graded to ask for specific suggestions on how you could improve next time.  And check in with someone knowledgeable (like me!) about what classes to take, what activities to do, and what summer programs to take to ensure you that colleges will be begging you to go there, waving fists full of money at you.

How much time are you willing to devote to test prep?

  • I signed up for the test
  • I own a book – isn’t that enough?
  • an hour a week
  • 30 minutes daily
  • I’m devoting my life to the SATs

No.  Don’t spend more than an hour or two a week.  Surprised, right?Well, this is only a test.   Actually, it’s a test to see how well you can take this test.  The SATs won’t determine where you go to college.  They won’t tell you if you’ll have a satisfying job, an attractive spouse, healthy children.  The SATs don’t determine much of anything — and I make my living from the SATs.  But colleges do look at scores.  And employers, especially those employing graduates right out of college, can and do ask for SAT scores.  So you want to do as well as you can without going crazy.

Here’s what a really good tutor can do for you.  You need a tutor if you want to:

  • Gain familiarity with the SATs or ACTs
  • Find out which test or tests you should be taking to maximize your chances of getting looked at by a good school
  • Get comfortable and confident going into the test
  • Learn and practice test-taking strategies, including how to answer each type of question, when and how to guess, and how to get a sense of timing during the test
  • Build your reading, writing, and grammar (and/or math) skills, for the test as well as for all future studies
  • Learn how to structure and write a decent essay
  • Get some advice about which colleges might suit you
  • Figure out some possible college majors based on your abilities and interests so you can look for colleges with those majors
  • Plan and write an amazing college essay

Is test prep worth it?  It depends on what you want and what type you get.  Is finding a tutor who can help you through the entire college application and admission process (including those tests) worth it?  That’s what most of my students and their parents tell me.

Wendy Segal

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