High School 2 College

September 9, 2013

Preparing to Get Into College: 7th Grade May Be Too Late

Parents of high school seniors call me every year in August to help their students get ready for the SATs and ACTs and SAT Subject tests and a few months later for help with college applications and essays.

Most times, I wish they called earlier.  About 5 or 6 years earlier.

By the time your student is a senior, many options have already been taken away  based on his or her prior decisions.

Here’s what I’d tell you if you had called me when you were in 6th grade:  If you want to get into a competitive college, you had better start planning now.  Top tier colleges are accepting fewer and fewer applicants every year. Not every student should be aiming for a highly selective college, but if you follow my advice, you’ll have the maximum number of options open to you when it comes time to apply to college.

So what should a motivated 6th grader do to get a head start?

Plan your middle school classes wisely.  Some time during 6th grade, most students in New York choose a foreign language to study for the rest of their high school careers.  If you choose French around here, you’ll be stuck in high school with the same French teacher for 4 years (like her or not).  And because so few kids take French, it’s only given one period a day.  If it conflicts with orchestra or AP science and you’d like to take one of those classes, you’ll have to drop French right in the middle of high school, even though most colleges want to see several years of the same foreign language.

Suggestion:  Call the local high school guidance department and find out which foreign language is given most often. That will give you the most flexibility once you reach high school.

Take the hardest classes you can manage.  If you have the option of taking advanced math in 7th grade, do it. Colleges want to make sure you’re taking the hardest classes you can (the rigor of classes is much more important than SATs in most cases).  Same with science — take the advanced or honors track if you can.  If you’ve been told you don’t qualify, find out the procedure to force yourself into that class (there usually is a procedure, but they don’t tell you unless you ask) if you have a feeling you could handle the work.  Taking an honors or advanced math now means you’ll be on track for honors and/or advance math and science throughout high school.  You can always drop down from an honors class to a regular class if the work gets too hard at some point, but you’ll find it nearly impossible to “drop into” an honors class later on.

Read.  It’s the activity which will have the greatest impact on your future.  If you read, your SAT and ACT scores will be higher.  If you read, your grades in English and Social Studies will be higher. And competance in reading can really distinguish you from your peers, a bonus when you’re applying to those difficult colleges.  (Start by reading this article on how poorly kids read!)  Reading anything (including romance novels) is better than reading nothing.   Read something just outside your usual area of interest.  If you usually read fantasy or science fiction, read a mystery (Agatha Christie and Dick Francis are my favorite mystery authors).  If you read war novels, read a biography.  If you like John Stewart’s Daily Show and the Colbert Report, read Gulliver’s Travels.  Always have a book with you.  I keep a paperback in my pocketbook, a hard cover by my bed, and magazines in my bathroom.

Suggestion:  If you’re really serious about improving your reading skills, put a sticky note in the inside cover of the book and keep track of new vocabulary words.

Improve your writing skills.  The best way to improve your writing skills is to have an amazing English teacher, but not everyone can have Mrs. Joyce Garvin as a teacher as I did.  Another way to improve is to hire yourself a good writing coach (ahem – I happen to know one!) and see her periodically when you have a project or an essay.  But writing frequently, writing with intent and determination, writing letters to the editor, writing book reviews on Amazon.com — writing anything is a good way to gain comfort and fluency with writing.

Take as many classes as you can.  In high school, that means no lunch.  Take two languages.  Take two sciences.  Get your requirements out of the way as early as you can so you can take more interesting electives that may only be open to juniors and seniors. Never have a free period if you can manage it.  Take your mental break in gym or art.  Eat lunch in math or English.  The most selective colleges want to know you love to learn and took advantage of everything your high school offered.

Make friends with your guidance counselor.  They’re busy, and they’re not going to call you up to tell you that you could fill that hole in your schedule with a new AP class — unless you go to them and ask.  They know which teachers might be teaching which classes, which new classes are being considered, which electives won’t be offered next year.  Your guidance counselor will have to write a college recommendation for you, so get to know him or her the minute you start 9th grade.  Bring him/her cookies. (My sons’ absolutely amazing counselor loves chocolate.)  Stop by to show off that A you got on a test.  The better your guidance counselor knows you, the more helpful advice you’ll get.

Ask your friends’ parents what they do for a living.  Most kids enter college without a clue about what they want to do because the only professions they know are teacher, doctor, and businessman.  The earlier you become aware of all the different sort of jobs there are, the more you’ll find school relevant and interesting.  And the more interesting and relevant you find school, the better you’ll do.  Find out what a public relations person does.  Or a chef.  Or an advertising editor.  Or a graphic designer.  Or an office manager.

Listen to adults speak.  Since the demise of the cocktail party, kids don’t have as many opportunities to hear adults engaged in adult conversation.  When kids hear unrelated adults speak to each other, they learn phrases like “double standard,” or “righteous indignation,” or “above reproach.”  They won’t hear those things from parents talking about whose turn it is to take out the garbage or from their friends or sadly even from their teachers.   Kids need to hear adults speak to each other about the news of the day.

Some might say that kids should be able to be free from the pressure of college until the application date looms near. But I believe the earlier you start to prepare, the more options you have later and the more stressLESS thinking about college will be when you get to senior year.

Please let me know how I can help!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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