High School 2 College

August 5, 2018

When Should I Apply to College?

The Common App opens for the new application season every August 1st.  That’s the date students entering their senior year in high school can begin to create their college applications, but by August 1st, you should really be toward the END of the college application process, which should have begun the summer going into junior year. (Juniors, are you listening?)

Sometimes I find it’s more effective to explain the schedule to students when I work backwards, like this:

The vast majority of the students I work with apply to most of their schools early action.  (Unlike early decision, early action isn’t binding.  It merely says to the college, “I’m showing you my application early so that you can give me a decision early.”)  Early action deadlines are generally November 1st.

That means EVERYTHING needs to be in by November 1st at the latest — your recommendations, your essays (yes, more than one if the college has a supplemental essay), your list of activities, your transcript, your SAT or ACT scores (which have to be ordered from either the College Board or the ACT and sent to each college directly by that organization), any college credits you’ve earned by taking college-level classes.  EVERYTHING.

So realistically, you should have EVERYTHING in, done, and sent by October 15th at the latest because (1) you want to look eager to the colleges and (2) you don’t want to chance having the Common App website crash as you feverishly work to get everything in the last week in October (and it DOES crash – nearly every year!).  Most importantly, you want to apply by October 15th because the acceptance rate at nearly every college is higher for students who apply early action than for students who apply regular decision.  That’s not to say you won’t get into a college if you wait until the regular deadline between December and February depending on the school, but why not give yourself every advantage?  This article from last year explains that early action acceptance rates are getting higher every year (meaning colleges are taking more students who apply early and fewer students who wait until the regular deadline), and this year is certain to follow that trend.

To get your applications finished by October 15th, you need to have:

  • taken your SATs and/or ACTs as often as you think practical to show your best self
  • asked two teachers for recommendations (ideally, teachers you’ve had junior year in a subject area related to your intended major)
  • written your Common App essay (if you Google “Common App Essay topics 2018,” the list of possible topics comes up) and had your essay reviewed by a teacher or tutor or parent (as long as you don’t let your parents edit your paper for anything other than spelling or grammar – I can always tell when a parent has been too hands-on with an essay)
  • written your supplement essays (many schools require an additional essay or two or three!)
  • created a list of colleges to which you plan to apply, with at least three good-match schools, three safety schools (they’re almost guaranteed to take you unless you commit a felony between when you apply and when they get your application), and three reach schools, which are unlikely to say yes, but hey, you never know
  • visited several schools on your list (but it’s not necessary to visit every school to which you are going to apply)
  • filled out your guidance department’s forms so your counselor knows which schools to send transcripts to (some high schools substitute Naviance for this step, and some schools ask you to fill out information on Naviance AND fill out forms for your guidance department)
  • created a resume, or at least written down all of your extracurricular activities, including paid work, volunteer work, academic honors, and athletics grouped into those categories and in reverse chronological order (a resume makes it MUCH easier to complete the Common App and is useful when you go on interviews)

Look at the calendar.  October 15th is just about two months away.  What are you waiting for?

If you need help with your application or essay, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with me through my website.  I’ve been helping kids get into college for over 30 years, so the process doesn’t intimidate me at all, but it can be very daunting the first time.

Good luck!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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February 11, 2017

What Do You Mean I’m Not Ready For College-Level Work?!

A recent report has spurned a flurry of even more reports on the problem of high school students’ lack of preparedness for college-level work.

It seems that the majority of colleges regularly accept students whom they subsequently assign to remedial English or math classes.  What’s the problem with that?

For colleges, it means that precious resources have to go to bring students up to the level where they have a chance of succeeding in college, rather than in creating offerings for students who can already manage the work.

For taxpayers, it means that the tax money spent on high school education may not be the investment taxpayers think it is, and more money has to go to re-educate students once they get to state-supported public colleges.

But the biggest problem is for the students themselves.  Students, nearly all of whom got passing grades (if not superior grades), grades good enough to get them into college, have been deluded into thinking they know more than they do and are smarter than they really are, and are more educated than they are.  These students who enter college unprepared have to spend several semesters on remedial work before they can begin the classes they really went to college to attend.  And even more disheartening, most of these remedial classes do not count toward required college credits.  Sadly, many if not most of these  overwhelmed, discouraged, and frustrated students who have to take remedial classes do not graduate from college at all, leaving school with loans or depleted savings but without a degree.

Surely, this phenomenon of unprepared students can’t apply to us in northern Westchester, can it?  After all, most of our students come from middle-to-upper-middle class families, attend schools that have rich curricula that are well-supported by our communities, and are bound for selective or highly selective colleges.

I’ve been tutoring students for just about 30 years, college-bound high school students whose parents are at least affluent enough to pay me, a private tutor, for extra SAT and/or ACT prep and advice about and help with college applications.  I can tell you with complete certainty that the majority of my students are not prepared for most college classes.  Yes, I include students who take honors and AP classes in high school.

Over the years, I have been contacted by many, many students who have asked me for help with college freshman writing and social studies classes. Not only is it embarrassing to get poor grades on freshman classes, it’s extremely expensive to repeat a class — and many academic scholarships require that students maintain a certain grade point average to keep that scholarship. Parents gratefully hire me to work with their college students online with freshman assignments. Paying me is certainly less expensive than paying for the class all over again or replacing that scholarship, but I wish my help weren’t necessary.

Is there anything that parents and students can do to make sure their students are adequately prepared for college-level work?  There is, but but it takes a concerted effort and the student has to want it.

Here’s my advice to students who want to ensure that they will be ready for college-level work:

Don’t be lazy about math.  Each math concept builds on the knowledge before, so if you don’t understand what’s going on in math class, don’t shrug and hope the teacher changes topics soon.  Even if you’re getting the homework right, if you don’t understand it, keep asking until you do.  Ask your friends who seem to get it.  If they DO understand it, ask them to explain it to you.  If they don’t, the group of you needs to approach the teacher after school and let him know that several of you really haven’t mastered the concept. And take advantage of other resources:  review the concept on Khan Academy or read about it in a Barron’s Regents review book.

Take time to read, even if it’s not assigned.  If you went to the gym once a year, you’d find it difficult and even perhaps unpleasant.  But if you went regularly, you’d find you can lift more weight more easily over time – and it might even become an activity you’d enjoy. The same is true with reading.  If you only read occasionally (and only what’s assigned), you’ll find it arduous and tiresome.  But if you read regularly (and books of your own choosing), you’ll find it increasingly easy and even pleasant.  Read whether you like to or not.  Read books that are a bit difficult.  Read books outside your normal area of interest.  If you expect to be able to read and understand college-level material on a subject you might not find interesting, you have to begin WAY before college and you have to keep it up.

Pay attention to your writing.  Unfortunately, too many teachers only give writing assignments that students can complete in class.  Imagine if you wanted to learn to hit a ball in baseball.  If the coach gave you a bat, threw a ball at you, and when you missed said, “Come back next month and I’ll pitch another ball at you,” do you think you’d improve as a batter?  Writing an essay and turning it in with no guidance about the student’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer, with no opportunity for revising, without prompt and thoughtful feedback is likewise not going to turn you into a good writer.  Unfortunately, just like in baseball, few writers improve without a good coach.  If your English teacher won’t give you detailed, specific, and meaningful feedback, you’ll have to find a writing teacher (or tutor!) who knows how to isolate all the skills that go into good writing and can explain them.  Do you use the best verbs you can find?  (Is/Am/Are = weak writing!)  Do you use nouns instead of adjectives?  Do you write the way you read rather than the way you speak?  Have you organized your thoughts into a rough outline before you write even one line?

This essay has been unusually long because I feel unusually passionate about student achievement.  Don’t presume that teachers will challenge you to hone your basic academic skills.  Challenge yourself!

If you need more suggestions or a bit of help, please feel free to contact me!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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January 12, 2015

Should You Take The New SAT? The Post I’ve Dreaded Writing

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for weeks – no, for months.  But I can’t put it off any more.  If you have a student in 10th grade, I’m sure you want to know what you should do to have the best chance at a decent SAT score.  So why have I been delaying when the new SAT was announced months ago?

1.  I need to make sure the information I give out is accurate.  There’s still too little information out there on the new SAT.  Yes, I’ve read every article.  I’ve watched every video by the College Board.  I’ve participated in every online discussion among SAT tutors and professional college advisors.  I’ve combed the internet and LinkedIn and every other resource I could find. This is what I do for a living and I take it seriously.  I put in time and effort, hoping to save you time and effort.  I like to think that parents, students, and guidance counselors rely on me for timely, accurate, clear, common-sense advice.  But until I see several full-length new SAT tests by the College Board, I just don’t know enough of what the new test will be like to help my students prep.  I know there’s a new College Board book coming out in June of 2015, but that may be too late if you’re in 10th grade now.

2.  Blogs are convenient for quick, general advice.  But there are so many variables, and students have such different strengths and needs, that it’s hard to write one essay that contains good advice for everyone.

The SATs are changing dramatically in March 2016.  The format will be entirely different.  The questions will be entirely different.  The essays (yes, plural!) will be entirely different.  So far, the College Board has only published fewer than a dozen sample questions, too few to use to prepare.

The ACTs are also changing in 2016, but much less drastically.  There will be optional logic-type questions and an optional essay.  So far, they’ve published no sample questions, but the changes won’t alter the way students should prepare for the test and we have lots of prep materials that will still be valid for the new ACT.

I got a good idea from a colleague on a LinkedIn tutoring group.  He created several schedules, depending on his students’ personalities and situations.  With his permission, I’m going to revise the idea somewhat.  I still think that individual advice is best until we’ve had a few years of the new test, but in the interim, this schedule should be helpful.

Explanation:  All colleges in the United States accept either the SAT or the ACT.  They don’t prefer one to the other.  Until now, most kids have told me that the ACT is easier.  That’s not true.  If kids universally did better on the ACT, no one would take the SAT.  The truth is that about a third of students do better on the SAT (at least on the current SAT), a third do better on the ACT, and a third score approximately the same (50% percentile on each test, for example).  There’s really no way to predict which students will score better on which test, so they just have to take at least one of each (often two SATs because they require less knowledge and more technique).  To get the best chance at a great score, now students will have to take a mix of old and new SATs along with old and new ACTs.  But that’s not the only way to go — or even the best way for every student.

Here’s an outline of suggested test schedules that should work for most students:

SCHOLAR (if you don’t mind taking tests and want the best possible shot at a top score):

  • May 2015 (while you’re still in 10th grade) –  old SAT (yes, that means beginning to prepare by February or March 2015)
  • June 2015 – SAT Subject test(s) (especially a subject that you might not repeat, like chemistry)
  • October 2015 – new PSAT (11th grade)
  • November 2015 – old SAT
  • December 2015 – old ACT (yes, the ACT is changing, too but the changes will mostly be less drastic and/or optional)
  • March 2016 – new SAT (should be fairly easy compared to future SATs; whenever they institute a major change, the first administration tends to be easier than subsequent tests.  They don’t want to frighten people!)
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • May 2016 – new SAT (yes again)
  • June 2016 – SAT Subject tests(s)
  • June 2016 – new ACT
  • More testing might be needed for senior year, depending on your performance and goals – but you might be done!

STANDARD (if you are willing to take some tests for a decent score):

  • October 2015 – new PSAT (11th grade)
  • November 2015 – old SAT
  • March 2016 – new SAT
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • May 2016 – new SAT
  • June 2016 – new ACT

MINIMAL TESTING (if you just want the very fewest tests possible – for any reason)

  • October 2015 – old ACT (11th grade)
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • June 2016 – new ACT

There’s no moral judgment here — some kids look on testing as an exciting challenge, some grin and bear it, and others find tests difficult and frustrating  or know they don’t have the time or interest to prepare for multiple tests.  The key to this coming year may well be to be honest about who you are, what sort of results you want, and how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in achieving that result.

I hope the above outline is helpful in planning your college admissions testing.  Again, let me emphasize that personal advice is best since there are many variations on the above schedule, and the plan that works best is the plan that’s right for you!

You know where to find me (www.wendysegaltutoring.com).  I look forward to hearing from you!

Wendy Segal

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February 9, 2014

I’ve Been Accepted! What Doesn’t Matter in Choosing a College (For Juniors, too!)

Congratulations!  You’ve gotten into at least a few of the schools you applied to.  Doesn’t it feel good to be wanted?

Now all the adults you know are asking:  So, where are you going to go?

How should you choose among the schools that said “yes”? 

Every year at this time, most newspapers and magazines publish articles giving advice.   Some advice is better than others.  Juniors, pay attention so you have the best chance at applying to schools you’d actually like to go to.  US News gives this advice.  Please read this article so my comments make sense:

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/professors-guide/2009/3/25/10-things-to-find-out-before-committing-to-a-college.html?s_cid=et-0326

I just have to respond to their suggestions,  some of which are good, but some of which are downright silly.  (In a few days, I’ll write again and give you my own thoughts about how to choose a college, but read this so you know what NOT to do.)

  • They suggest you check into the requirements and how flexible they are Silly.  Some schools have requirements.  Big deal.  Mostly, colleges let you choose from among many courses to fulfill those requirements, and some of those courses turn out to be great.   If you have a fundamental issue with required courses, why did you apply to a school with so many requirements?  (See?  I told juniors should be reading this.)
  • They suggest you should make sure that the school you choose has the major you’re interested in and courses you want to take.  Silly.  Again, did they think you’d apply to a school that doesn’t have the major you want?  It is true that at some enormous universities you may have to wait until you’re an upperclassman to take certain courses.  Not the most important reason to reject a college.
  • They suggest that you note whether a school has a required writing classSilly.  That a school has a required writing class in no way indicates whether you personally will have a professor who is concerned with your writing skills.  The school’s mandating a writing class in no way indicates if you personally will have to write a lot of papers.  (Philosophy, English, Political Science major?  Yes, you will.  Math, Computer Science, Chemistry major?  No, you won’t.)
  • They suggest that that if graduate assistants teach courses, that’s a bad thing.  Silly.  There are great teaching assistants.  One of my son’s most favorite classes was taught by a brilliant graduate assistant.  There are incompetent teaching assistants.  There are also brilliant and mediocre professors at every school.
  • They suggest you check out the student/teacher ratio.  Silly.  In college, I took a Psychology 101 course with 500 kids in it.  I also took a course in the High and Late Middle Ages (loved it!) with 6 kids.  So is the student/teacher ration 250:1?  Of course not.  I have the same objection to class size ratios.  They’re meaningless.
  • They suggest you look at the percentage of students who graduate.  Well, now they’ve finally hit on an important criterion, but one you should have looked at before you applied.  Look at both the 4-year graduation rate and the 6-year graduation rate.  Alone, those statistics aren’t helpful, but compare those numbers to those of other schools you are considering and you might find signficant differences.  You don’t want to go to a school where kids either drop out or transfer out at a greater rate than similar schools.

Don’t pick a school based on any one set of numbers, but do look for anomolies (things that don’t fit the norm).

More advice in a few days.  Please check back!

Wendy Segal

www.wendysegaltutoring.com

August 2, 2010

All You Need To Know About College Interviews

According to a recent Washington Post article, college interviews are on the rise. I agree with the article’s assessment that class grades and  SAT scores are more important, but I think most students and parents will be surprised to hear that an interview can have a bigger impact on the admissions decision than National Honor Society membership or even participation in sports.

Here are some information, advice, do’s and don’ts about college interviews:

1.  Not all interviews are equally important. Many colleges allow students to interview with local alumni instead of having an interview at the school itself.  Take advantage of these if they’re offered, but don’t stress — they don’t count for much.  These local interviews, often in a local Starbucks or in the house of an alumnus, allow a school to take pressure off its own admissions department while keeping donation-giving former students tied to their alma mater.

2. Interviews at the school are serious, but so are the meetings admissions officers hold in the fall at your high school during the day.  They may look like a fun way to get out of class or just another way to pick up some free pens, but they count!  These admissions counselors keep track of the kids who attend these sessions (more about them later).

3.  Treat ALL contacts with colleges, whether in person, by phone, by email or text or tweet or Facebook, as an opportunity to place your name higher or lower on the prospective student list. Yes, Facebook groups count, even if they’re run by students.  Many colleges use their own seniors to interview and gather information.  Resist the urge to brag about all the schools you applied to when you’re on Facebook. Don’t post photos of your parties.  When you email a college, don’t use abbreviations, like “u” for “you.”  It’s better to be a bit too formal than to be too casual.

4.  Dress right. No dirty, torn, or sloppy clothes, even if they are fashionable.  Khaki pants and a collared polo shirt is perfect for boys; skirt, dress, or nice pants and a sweater or blouse (keep your cleavage covered!) works for girls.  Many adults have something against flip-flops, so don’t wear them.

5.  Be prepared. Go to the interview with a folder with a copy of your transcript (your guidance department can provide that for you), a copy of your resume (you’ll most likely prepare one the first quarter of senior year, but let me know if you need help with that), and a list of questions to ask the interviewer.  Review the school’s webpage thoroughly before the interview so you don’t ask something you should know.

6.  Anticipate questions. Here are some questions an interviewer might ask:

  • Why do you want to go to our school? (Answer:  My friend/uncle/teacher went here and loved it, or my guidance counselor thought it would be a great fit.)
  • What do you want to study?  (If you don’t know, say, “There are a few areas I’d like to explore before I decide,” and name a few.)
  • Tell me about your favorite class.
  • Tell me about your least favorite class.  (Try not to blame poor grades or lack of interest on a bad teacher.)
  • What activities do you do?  (Lean forward and sound passionate.)
  • Tell me about your best friend.
  • What do you do in your spare time?  (Hanging out and chillin’ don’t count.)
  • How can our school help you in your path to a career?
  • What other schools are you applying to?  (Name only 2 or 3 others, but say this school is your favorite.)

It’s okay to say, “Let me think about that for a minute.”

7.  Have some questions ready. Make sure you won’t find the answer on their website.  Here are a few:

  • How easy is it to change majors?
  • Do you house freshmen together?
  • Do most students in my major get jobs after graduation or go to grad schools?
  • Do you have academic advisors who will help me choose classes?

8.  Go to admissions visits at your school. Your guidance department has a schedule.  Go as prepared as you would for an interview at the college itself. Ask and answer questions.  Smile.  Listen to the questions that other students ask.  If the admissions person offers a business card, take it – you may want to direct future questions to that person.

9.  Act adult. You don’t need your parents with you.  Stand straight.  Smile.  Shake hands firmly.  Stand until you are asked to take a seat.  Use the interviewer’s last name (Mr./Ms.) unless told otherwise.   (“Call me Ted.”  “Thanks, Ted.  Nice to meet you.”)  If you are in the interviewer’s home or office, find something to compliment, especially photos of children or pets.  When sitting, keep your feet on the floor, or cross your ankles.  After the interview, smile, shake hands again, thank them for the opportunity.  Ask for their contact info in case you have any additional questions.

10.  Believe it or not, thank you notes after interviews aren’t necessary.  A quick email is more than sufficient.

Interview season is anytime from May of Junior year till October of Senior year, so start visiting colleges and setting up appointments.  Check with your guidance counselor the very first week of school to find out when schools will be visiting your high school.

And let me know if you need any help along the way.

Wendy Segal

June 24, 2010

Use the Summer: Advice for High School Students and Parents

Is there something my kid should be doing over the summer to get ready for school in the fall?  Is there something my kid should be doing over the summer to prepare for SATs and college applications?  Is there something my kid should be doing over the summer to prepare for the PSATs?

YES!

If you’re a senior, you know that you should be writing your college essay over the summer.  Don’t know how to start?  Don’t know what to say?  Schedule a little time with me and you’ll have it done before school even begins.

For everone else, here’s what you shouldn’t do: Don’t have your student take practice SATs or ACTs. Too often, students practice a poor technique, reinforcing bad strategies. Overdoing practice tests burns kids out.

Here’s what you should do over the summer, no matter what grade you’re in: 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. You’ll read 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 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, as 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

December 16, 2009

10 Dumbest SAT and College Questions

Remember that teacher who said, “There are no dumb questions”? Well, she was wrong.  I occasionally answer questions on Yahoo Answers just to be a nice person in case there’s anything to that karma notion, but sometimes the questions are so foolish that I can’t believe someone asked.  I politely answer but then the next day, someone else asks.  I answer, a bit more tersely.  Then a week later, someone else asks that same question.  So I’m writing the answers here in the hope that they google the question and find the answer.

Here are a few of the dumber questions, with the answers:

1. Are these PSAT scores good?

Questioners on Yahoo Answers ask that every day — actually, several times a day.  My answer is always, “Are they good for Harvard? No.  Are they good for community college?  Sure.  Are they good if you’re an honors student getting A+ in everything?  Nope.  Are they good if you’re flunking out of high school?  Probably.”  The question really means, “Can I take the SATs without doing any more prep?”  And the answer is get out a prep book and start working, you lazy bum!

2. I missed the deadline for sending my SAT scores to colleges.  Can I still send them?

The answer is a deadline is a deadline.  That’s why they call it a deadline.  You didn’t do it – now you’re dead.  Figuratively speaking.

3.  My PSATs are really bad.  Can I improve?

Haven’t you seen all those ads for SAT prep classes?  Do you think they’d offer them if people couldn’t improve?  One complaint that academicians have against the SATs is that rich people have a huge advantage because to a small degree classes help but to a greater degree private tutoring helps.  I’ve tutored kids who have gone up 250 points in one category alone.  More common are increases of 50 -100 points in each category.  So yes, read some suggestions on this blog, go to a class, hire a tutor and you can and will improve.

4.  How do I send my scores to colleges?

If you can’t read the instructions on the website, you’re probably not ready for college.  Both the SAT website and the ACT website give very clear directions on how to order official copies of your scores to send to colleges.  You need a credit card and the name of each school or program that you want to get your scores.  They send all previous scores unless you block specific dates or tests.

5.  The college admissions website says I need to have the College Board send my scores, but they’re on my application.  Do I still need to pay to have the College Board send them?

Yup, that’s why the website says to have the College Board send them.  The first college test is if you can follow the application directions.  And you could put anything on that application.  Your guidance department might put the wrong scores on your transcript.  It’s going to cost a fortune to get through college.  It will cost less than $100 to send your scores to your schools.  Just do it.

6. Are the SATs harder than the PSATs?

Why not take a practice SAT and find out, you lazy bum?  There is a free SAT on the College Board website. Sit down and take it timed and you’ll have a reasonable idea if the SATs are harder than the PSATs.  People are different, but most consider the SATs much harder than the PSATs, so don’t get too excited by your decent PSAT scores.  The SATs are longer.  There’s an extra year of math.  The reading selections are longer and more boring.  There’s more difficult vocabulary, both in the sentence completion questions and embedded in the reading selections.  And don’t forget that there’s an essay on the SATs.

7.  I’m a senior and I’m taking my SATs for the first time next week.  What can I do to prepare?

No, I’m not kidding.  Before every SAT, this question is asked by several people, usually followed by a growing string of exclamation and question marks as the test gets closer.  If the test is a day or two away, I usually suggest they look for schools that don’t require any standardized tests.   I also recommend they read the March 2009 entries to this blog (this one and this one) which contain last-minute hints, like bringing plenty of candy and iced tea to the test, changing the calculator batteries, and wearing a watch.  Hey, you too can read all the suggestions — why am I repeating them here?

8.  My grades are really awful.  Can good SATs or ACTs overcome a bad GPA?

No.  Let me say that another way:  NO.  Unless you have a very unusual and serious reason for low grades (a hospitalized parent, frequent moves to different high schools, a documented mental or physical health issue), colleges care more about how you do in your classes over a period of time and the rigor of those classes (you know that photography isn’t as impressive as honors physics, right?) than they do about how you did on your SATs.  Get off the internet and start studying for that U.S. history exam!

9.  Can I get into [name of college] with these SATs?

Why are you asking random strangers?  Go to princetonreview.com and see what the average SATs are for colleges you’re interested in.  Understand, though, that colleges are looking for much, much more than a good SAT score.  They want kids who will fit in with their school’s atmosphere, who will add to what they already have at the school.  They want kids with intelligence, ambition, concern for the wider world, an upbeat attitude, an interest in sports, a willingness to volunteer, an ability to lead — you  have all that, right?

10. A college I’m interested in is coming to my high school.  Do I have to go to that meeting?

My, you are lazy!  If you have a school or two or ten that you’d like to check out, the more contacts you make with that school, the better.  Sign up for information on their website.  See their reps at college fairs.  Talk to their admissions counselors when they show up at your school.  Call the admissions office to ask questions for which you can’t find answers on their website.  Take advantage of the opportunity to visit the campus.

———-

Do you have a dumb question you want to ask? Go ahead. I’ll try to answer without being snide.  And I promise I won’t put your name on a future edition of “Dumbest Questions.”

Wendy Segal

November 28, 2009

First Rant: What’s the Matter with Kids Today

Usually, I write carefully worded advice for high school and occasionally middle school or college kids on some topic having to do with succeeding in high school or college.  When I work with kids each week, I am usually the model of patience and optimism.

Inside, I am often seething.

Kids can’t write.  Kids can’t read.  Kids have no idea how to construct a sentence and often aren’t quite sure what a complete sentence consists of.  Kids have an alarmingly truncated vocabulary.  (Yeah, like they would even know what “truncated” means.) When I talk to kids, I modify my speech so I don’t appear threatening by using big words.  And these are kids who have grown up with educated parents in a middle-to-upper-middle-class suburb with a highly-regarded school system who are headed for college and professional careers.

I’ve been tutoring high school kids in my town for about 22 years now. I’ve decided it’s not all the kids’ fault.

Sure, they could read more than the two books assigned for summer reading in their spare time. Of course they could read the whole assigned book rather than read Spark Notes for the chapter summaries. But if the teachers are going to gauge student compliance with the reading assignments by giving quizzes which ask the kids to regurgitate those summaries, the students would be foolish not to give up reading and go to the Spark Notes when time is tight.  I’ve asked nearly every student I’ve had over the past five years or so why their teachers are assigning literature to read, and not one of them has been able to articulate a reason.

So my first rant is about English teachers. Not all English teachers, mind you, deserve censure. Some are good (I like to think I’m pretty good).  Some are GREAT (thank you, Mrs. Joyce Garvin of River Dell Regional High School, the best English teacher in the world, as far as I’m concerned).

But I know an English teacher whose assignments so regularly contained grammar errors that my students had a find-the-error competition going on.  I know an English teacher who was surprised to hear me say that most Elizabethans didn’t speak in iambic pentameter.  I know an English teacher who told a student that “between you and I” was correct.

I’ve never heard of an English teacher who said, “Everyone should clear his desk.”  Or “Did each student bring his assignment pad?”  It only sounds odd because you’re not used to hearing it.

Even worse, most of the students I know can’t imagine reading for pleasure because they’ve never been given anything pleasurable to read.  Reading comes with chapter quizzes, outlines, skits, posters, but not with a purpose.  Books like A Tale of Two Cities and The Good Earth were taken out of the curriculum, I suppose because the teachers weren’t able to help the students understand them.  Instead, they were replaced by books written in the first person.  Even good books written in the first person, like Catcher in the Rye or To Kill A Mockingbird or The Great Gatsby don’t have complex vocabulary or sentence structure because they are trying to use colloquial speech to sound natural and realistic.

Where I’m from, English teachers generally don’t assign plays unless they were written by Shakespeare or Arthur Miller.  English teachers don’t assign novels or short stories written by authors from any country other than America or England. English teachers (with one notable exception in a nearby town) don’t assign essays or speeches. And English teachers never, ever assign anything humorous.

I know kids who’ve gone through high school taking Regents English classes who NEVER had a take-home essay to do. Well, I shouldn’t say never.  Perhaps they had one in four years, but they couldn’t remember it.  That’s shameful.  All the essays are in-class so the students can practice for the Regents exam.

My son got to college and had to take a freshman writing class.  After his first assignment, on which he got a less than stellar grade, he called me to say that he couldn’t imagine why his college writing teacher hadn’t asked them to do a poster or a presentation or a skit since he had become so proficient at them in high school.  Why, he even learned how to write in bubble letters and how to use a glitter pen!

So maybe the problem isn’t with kids after all.

I’m sure I’ll have to duck some harsh criticism about this rant, reminding me how television and computers have made it all but impossible for English teachers to teach reading and writing to kids today, but I can’t hold it in any longer.

What can parents and school districts and English teachers do to improve the situation?  Here’s what I’d love to see:

  • Introduce students to works of literature from different periods of time and from different cultures.  How about a Russian short story or a play from the 1920’s?
  • Offer students reading that’s slightly above their comfort level.  That’s how they’ll grow.  A juicy Agatha Christie is fun and challenging for most students.
  • Try humor.  Have you ever read P.G. Wodehouse or James Thurber and kept a straight face?  How about Dave Barry or Ephraim Kishon?
  • Tell students about why the work is considered worthwhile before you read it, not afterward. Maybe then they’ll start the book with a sense of purpose.
  • Read for pleasure.  Have your kids read for pleasure.  No tests, no papers, no essays, no posters, no bubble letters.  Just pleasure.  Have “reading time” in school just like they do in second grade. Let the kids sit on the floor and eat a snack while they read.
  • Don’t be afraid of a little controversy.  Read and discuss TIME or Newsweek’s back page essays with kids.  Read the letters to the editor of those magazines, too, and figure out why the writer is really writing.
  • Ask kids to share their favorite authors with each other.  Some kids do read because they want to, and other kids should see that.

There.  I feel better now.

Do you have something to rant about when it comes to education and kids?

Wendy Segal

October 3, 2009

New Ruling: Common Ap and Score Choice

One reason I dislike the Common Ap, designed to let a student apply to several schools without having to enter the same information repeatedly, is that you can’t tailor the application to the school.  This year, the Common Ap is allowing students to change the essay for each school — a big improvement over last year.  It’s not easy to accomplish, but it can be done.

But what if you want to send all of your SAT scores to one school but only some scores to another school? Not many schools require ALL scores, but a few do, mostly the most selective schools.  Yet the Common Ap asks you to self-report scores.

Do you report some or all of your test scores on the Common Ap?

Read this ruling as reported in Inside Higher Ed just two days ago:

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/10/01/qt#209545

If any of you try this method (leaving your scores off the Common Ap and only submitting them directly through the College Board), please let me know if you are able to apply this way.

Sound complicated? Yes, it is.  Once again, I strongly encourage students to apply to colleges well before your high school’s deadline, which is probably three weeks before the college deadline to allow your guidance department to process all the paperwork.

And once again, I suggest you use a school’s own application if one is available.  Sure, you’ll have to type in your name and address all over again, but you can handle it.  You’re nearly a college student!

Wendy Segal

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

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