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







November 9, 2016

6 Ways NOT To Choose a College

Choosing a college is a lot like choosing a husband or wife — there’s no single right way to find the perfect spouse, but there are a lot of wrong ways to go about it.  And the ideal mate (or college) for your best friend might be completely wrong for you.

Ideally, each student should attend a college that offers that student an excellent education in a field that interests him or her in a place that feels just right among people whom that student can feel challenged by but comfortable with and taught by professors who are knowledgeable, on top of their field but approachable and interested in each student’s progress.  How hard can that be?

To accomplish such an “easy” task, there are dozens of books, too many articles, and several ranking sites about how to choose a college.

Since I wouldn’t give the same advice to two different people, I’m not going to tell you how to pick the college that would be perfect for you.

But I can tell you some really awful ways to choose a college.  So please DON’T do any of these:

Only look at colleges you’ve heard of.  You probably have heard of about 20 colleges.  Your parents have probably heard of about 20 colleges.  Even if your lists don’t overlap, that’s 40 colleges out of the thousands in the United States.  Just because you haven’t heard of a school doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a stellar reputation among those in your field.  And just because you have heard of a college doesn’t mean it deserves its notoriety or that it’s necessarily a better fit for you.

Decide you want a really big college (or a really small college) without looking at one first.  Some big schools feel really big.  Kids generally feel lost, disconnected, not focused.  But some really big schools do a great job of making kids within a certain major or within a certain housing unit feel like they belong, like the faculty cares about their progress, like they have pride in their school.  The same with small schools.  Some have limited choices.  Others are creative and open to designing the perfect curriculum for you.  You don’t have to visit every school you apply to, but you shouldn’t make a blanket decision about a type of college without visiting a school of that type and a school of the opposite type.

Pick a school based on the dorms or the cafeteria or the weather.  If the freshman dorms are cramped,  remember that you won’t be a freshman forever.  If the senior housing is nothing special, you might be living off campus by then anyway. Don’t decide whether you like a school based on the unimportant externals.  Don’t decide you don’t want to go to school in Connecticut or Massachusetts because it’s colder there.  It’s not.  Don’t decide you want to go further south because you like the warm weather.  You’ll be in classrooms, your dorm, and the library most of the time anyway.  If your campus is lovely but you can never take the classes you like because seniors get priority and the classes are filled before you can register, you’ve picked a pleasant vacation spot but a crummy school.

Expect your guidance counselor or parents to help you choose a school.  As well as your parents know you, they aren’t you.  You’re the one who has to live at that school for four years (at least).  You’re the one who has to take those classes, interact with those students, learn from those professors.  Don’t be lazy.  Do some work yourself as you build a list of colleges to apply to.  Visit colleges when you can.  Look carefully at dozens of college websites.  (They all look good initially.  You can only differentiate between them when you’ve seen many.) Don’t stop at the admissions page of the college websites.  Poke around on the “majors” pages.  See what research the professors are doing.  See what sub-majors each school offers within your general area of interest. Count how many professors each college has in your major.  Look at the online course catalog to see whether you’d really like to take the required classes in your field.  Email the admissions office if your questions can’t be answered by the website — or email a department or professor directly.  By all means show your list to your guidance counselor; guidance counselors have excellent resources at their disposal and know which schools are well liked by previous students. But they may not know you well enough to know whether you like to get friendly with your professors or would prefer to talk to a teaching assistant, or whether you’d prefer a school where the university provides a lot of entertainment or you’re expected to explore the surrounding town or city on your own. Do your own background research as best you can.  Parents are (sorry, moms and dads) a bit less reliable, especially when it comes to advising their oldest child.  A school that was up-and-coming and quite selective 30 years ago might be much less prestigious now (or more to the point, may not be right for their child), and a school that was no great shakes 30 years ago might be truly amazing now.  (I remember when I was in college that Syracuse was a safety school for many solid B students.  Colleges change over time – for better or worse.)

Rely on the ranking reports.  As this New York Times article explains, there are many college ranking lists, most from prestigious institutions.  Each emphasizes different aspects of college statistics from future earnings of students to student satisfaction to peer review to percentage of applicants who are accepted and more.  And the lists disagree with each other quite a bit.  There really aren’t any indisputably “top schools,” even within a particular field.  If you check several lists, you’ll get an idea of whether a particular school generally is toward the top, middle, or bottom of the list of similar schools, but choosing a school because it’s ranked #10 over a school ranked #12 is like ordering vanilla ice cream because it’s more popular when you really love pistachio.

Wait until senior year in high school to start thinking seriously about which colleges you’d like to know more about.  To return to my previous analogy,  you wouldn’t plan a wedding and then a month before the wedding start looking for a potential mate, would you?  Then why plan to go to college but not concern yourself with which colleges might be a good fit until just a month or two before you need to submit applications?

Choosing the place you’ll spend four very important years takes a bit of time, planning, and work.  It’s not crazy to start gathering information at the end of 10th grade.  Think about it:  If you want to apply in the beginning of senior year, you’ll have to be looking at colleges by the end of junior year.  And to look at colleges in the spring of junior year, you need to have a reasonable list by the winter of junior year.  And to have a reasonable list by the winter of junior year, you need to start doing some serious thinking and research — NOW.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please send me a message through my website (which has plenty of good information including a link to schedule time with me): www.wendysegaltutoring.com  .


November 18, 2014

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

Dear Students,

I’m sure your parents have told you that when THEY were your age, they applied to two schools, got into one of them, and went to that school.

Well, things are different now.  When the Common App was created, it allowed students to apply to several schools just as easily as they could apply to one. Fill out one application and click.  Sure, you had to pay an admission fee at each school, but in the scheme of things, big deal.  So students applied. Students began to apply to more and more schools.  That meant schools received way more applications than they could accept.  The colleges loved it, because it made them appear more selective as they accepted an ever smaller percentage of the applicants.

Because the schools were now more selective, students panicked and, unsure of their chances of getting into any of these now-selective schools, applied to even more schools, just in case.

Now the colleges are complaining because students are applying to so many schools that the colleges are having a hard time figuring out who is sincere about going.  Sure, they like looking selective (what percentage of applicants are accepted), but their yield is now declining (yield is what percentage of students who are accepted actually choose to go to that school).

No student wants to be the one to try to stop the trend by applying to only a couple of schools.  So the cycle continues of students applying to an increasing number of schools and schools accepting a declining number of students.  (Read this NY Times article on the dilemma from a guidance counselor’s point of view.)

Unfortunately, in an effort to stem the tide, colleges are increasingly adding required “supplemental essays.”  Now nearly every college expects students to write the one major “Common App application essay,” the one they work on in school and that everyone talks about, but also a different supplemental essay for nearly every school.  Apply to 20 colleges and expect to write 21 essays (the Common App essay and a different supplemental essay for each school).   This recent article says that not only don’t schools pay that much attention to the essays, they compete to find the most clever essay topic, in part to ensure you want to go to that school enough to write yet another essay.

So, what’s the bedraggled high school senior to do?  How many colleges should a student apply to?  How many is too few? Is there such a thing as too many?

You’re not going to like my answer.

The answer is – it depends (I told you!).

  • If you are applying undecided, or if you applying to a liberal arts major, like history, psychology, or even math, I agree with this article that 10 – 14 colleges should do it.  You need to choose 3 – 4 colleges that you’d just love to get into.  These are reach schools, schools that might take you if they happen to need a tuba player this year and you play tuba, or schools at which you are in the mid- to bottom of their range, but hey, you want to give it a try because they do take a few people in that GPA and SAT range.  I say go for it, as long as you understand that a “reach” means they’ll probably say no.  No crying allowed if they reject your application.  (Remember that they’re not rejecting YOU, just the application.)
  • Then you need to choose 3 – 5 colleges that will definitely take you, as long as you somehow manage to graduate from high school.  These should be schools that you wouldn’t mind going to, but they don’t have everything on your wish list. Perhaps they’re too small or too close to home or don’t have a football team.  Remember that schools on this list are not only likely to say yes, but likely to offer you a scholarship that you might find difficult to turn down, so, as the previous article says, make sure you would actually like to go to these schools, because you might have to!
  • Lastly, pick 3 – 5 schools that are a good match for your qualifications.  They’re just as likely to say yes as no. They’re not guaranteed acceptances, but you’ve got a pretty good shot at any school on this list.  You should really, really love every school on this list because you’re probably going to attend one of them.  If you can only visit a few schools, visit the ones in this category.

Now, if you’re going to apply to a program where participation is limited, like nursing, or physical therapy, or engineering, it will be harder to get into a school with the same set of qualifications.  For example, you feel fairly certain that you could get into Whatsamatta U if you were going to major in English, but could you get into that school’s engineering program?  Much less certain.  So apply to more schools than you might if you were going to major in psychology or English, where it’s possible to have a few hundred kids in a freshman introductory class (and don’t forget to leave yourself time for all those supplemental essays).

How can you improve your chances of getting into any school on your list?

Show interest!  Go to a college fair and fill out a card (yes, that counts) for any school that even might possibly be on your application list.  Absolutely attend if one of the colleges on your list visits your high school (that’s a must).  Visit the campus if you can (but it’s not fatal if you can’t).  Definitely email the admissions department if you have a question that isn’t addressed on the college’s website (a much better strategy than asking your friends).  Ask for an alumni interview if you can’t get to the campus.  Let them know you’re not just applying because you had a free Saturday afternoon and didn’t mind writing one more essay.

Apply to colleges you’ve researched online, and then take a deep breath while you wait for them to email you.  You’ve done it right if you get a few no’s (that means to did stretch and reach a bit) and several yeses.  Good luck!

Questions?  Comments?  Need help with the Common App or essays?  My contact info and rates are on my website: www.wendysegaltutoring.com .

missing school - spanish

Wendy Segal

February 15, 2014

Applying to Colleges Starts Now, Juniors – Don’t Waste February Break!

For most of my students, college seems far away.  The few 10th graders I have think they’re much too young to have college on their minds.  My seniors are patiently waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied under regular decision deadlines (or from those schools from which they got wait listed). My juniors think they’re doing quite well if they’re coming once a week for SAT tutoring.

Not so!

Let’s back up the timing from the end till now.

  • You want to hear back from colleges as early as possible and get as many yeses as possible, so you want to apply to several schools early action.  That means applying by October of senior year.
  • To apply by October, you have to work on your applications, especially the application essays, over the summer before senior year.
  • To work on the essays over the summer, you have to know which colleges you’ll be applying to more or less by June of junior year.
  • To know which schools you want to apply to by June, you have to have visited several  schools in March and April of junior year.  (Most schools discourage tours in early May when finals are in session, and most college students leave campus by mid-May.)
  • To know which schools you’d like to visit in March and April, you need a list of potential schools by FEBRUARY of junior year, which is now!

How should you start building that list?  I’m sure your high school guidance counselor has suggested you start with Naviance.  Feh!  The sample on Naviance is just too small.  If someone from your high school got into Big State U, is it because he was a sports star?  Did his parents go there?  Is he a coveted minority?  Was he an expert at the French horn?  You’ll never know from Naviance.

Try the College Board college search.  (Yes, I used to recommend Princeton Review, but they’ve tinkered with it so much in the past few years that you now need a college degree to work their program.)  US News & World Report also has an excellent college search tool.  They charge $30 to access it for a year, but it has very specific, very accurate information.  Between US News and the College Board, you’ll have all the college information you need to start building a list. Think of how far away from home you want to be.  Think of what majors you want your school to have.  Do you care if your school has a big football team?  Is on-campus housing important to you?  How do you feel about Greek life (fraternities and sororities)?

You want your list to be huge at first, maybe 30 – 40 schools.  Include every possibility.  Then start narrowing.  Are religious schools out?  How about urban schools without a campus?  Please don’t eliminate a school just because you haven’t heard of it, and don’t include schools that don’t fit your needs just because your friends are talking about them.  Build a list on your own.

Once you have a list, group your schools geographically.  Can you visit all the New York State schools over a three-day trip?  What about Pennsylvania schools or Boston schools? You’ll probably want to take a few weekends to visit schools, so start looking for weekends that work for your parents. Don’t forget to make appointments for school tours and information sessions.  The most popular dates fill up quickly.

It’s February — what are you waiting for? Let me know if you need help building your list or organizing your college tour.  


Wendy Segal


February 14, 2014

I Got Into Several Colleges – How Do I Decide Which to Attend?

It’s wonderful to have choices!  All your hard work – studying, SATs, application essays – paid off, and you were accepted at more than one college.  Congratulations!

You probably haven’t heard from all of your schools yet since it’s before April, but as you get responses, how should you evaluate your options?

Last week, I explained what’s NOT important.  Now let’s figure out what matters when it comes to choosing among the offers you are getting.

First of all, which schools can you afford?  Very few people pay the “rack rate,” or tuition listed on the schools’ websites and on www.collegeboard.org.  So ask your parents to talk to you honestly about how much they are willing or able to pay toward your college education.  Consider any financial aid packages you’ve been offered.  Take into account the extra expense that comes with a school that is a plane flight away.  Look at how much each school charges for room and board.  (These rates vary by thousands of dollars.  Think about how much it costs to live in the heart of Boston versus how much it costs to live in a rural school.)  Consider whether you’ll need a car at school as a freshman.

Next, take a look at your potential major.  Of course your school offers your major or you wouldn’t have applied.  Now look a little closer.  Go on each school’s website to figure out how many professors there are in your major compared to other majors in that school.  Ask your admissions counselor what percentage of students in last year’s graduating class graduated with your major?  The more professors and the more students, the more money a college invests in that major. More money translates into better lab equipment, more well-known teachers, better library facilities for whatever your major is.

Most importantly, let your heart help you decide if you’d be happy at a particular school.  Your gut feeling doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you.  Could you see yourself at that school?  You might have to visit more than once to really get a sense of a school.  A visit on a rainy day might feel very different from a visit on a sunny day.  If religion is important to you, are religious services readily available?  Even if you never attend, if they hold services regularly, chances are you’ll find co-religionists at that school.  If sports are important to you, visit on a day when there’s a game. Do lots of kids go to the games?  Does the campus get excited about its teams?  Spend a few minutes on the college’s website looking at the clubs they have.  Does it look like there might be any you’d be interested in joining?

I wouldn’t have had the courage to do this at 17, but your parents will surely be willing to ask random people in the cafeteria a few questions, like “Would you recommend your cousin go here?” Or “What’s the worst thing about this school?” Or “How hard is it to meet with a professor?”

I hope you noticed that teacher:student ratio isn’t on my list.  The quality of the cafeteria food isn’t on my list.  Where a school ranks on any list isn’t on my list.  The prestige of the school’s reputation isn’t on my list.

Here’s the most important advice I can give you.  It’s just a college.  It’s not an irreversible decision.  You’re only 17.  You can only make the best decision you can right now with the information you have now. If you learn more about yourself in a few years and you feel another school would work better for you, transfer.  Thousand and thousands of kids transfer every year.  Big deal.  Don’t let this decision overwhelm you.

There’s always grad school! <wink>

Wendy Segal


March 15, 2012

College Visits for High School Students 101

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.  April break is the perfect time to go.  Earlier than that could mean cold, inclement weather.  Once May starts, many schools stop their tours so the students can concentrate on their finals.  By mid-May, all the students have gone home for the summer.  So take advantage of the month of April.  Go during the break.  Take a few long weekends and go.

But where?

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 no matter what your parents tell you.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment on this blog or send me a Facebook message through my page Wendy Segal Tutoring:  highschool2college.

Wendy Segal

September 9, 2011

College Application Trend: Think Outside the State

The trend seems to be continuing this year:  Kids are applying to state schools in droves.

Kids aren’t even trying for private colleges in some cases.  They and their parents presume private colleges and universities will be just too expensive. (Read this article from a couple of years ago about SUNY schools.)

Don’t make that mistake.  Many – often most – students don’t pay full rate at private universities.  There are scholarships (need-based, meaning the school decided to help you pay, or merit-based, meaning they’ll give you money because your student is SUCH an attractive candidate that you make them look good).  There are loans. There are grants. There is work/study. There are organizations who are eager to give you advice about funding.

Many families pay less at a private school, despite the difference in stated tuition rates, than they would at a public school, especially in a state like New York where the state schools are fairly costly. But you won’t know for sure what the out of pocket cost would be if you don’t apply.

Another excellent choice for affordable education is someone else’s state school.  The University of Rhode Island, University of Delaware, University of Connecticut, Rutgers, George Mason — there are dozens and dozens of excellent schools, ranging from barely selective to world-class universities.

The bad news about applying to other states’ schools:  it can get expensive (here are the most expensive), but for many schools, it’s not much more than what you’d pay at a SUNY school.

The good news about applying to other states’ schools: they’re hungry for your money. Selective colleges that used to accept only limited numbers of out-of-state students are looking for qualified out-of-state students because they represent more tuition money for the school (see this Newsweek article with examples and figures).

BIG NEWS:  Apparently, there is a way to compare your likely out-of-pocket expenditure for colleges coming in October.  Read about Net Price Calculators here.  They’re bound to be confusing at first, but they should give you useful information.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions!

Wendy Segal

July 23, 2011

The Summer is Half Over – Don’t Waste More Time, High School Students!

Do I sound like your mother?  Right.  That’s because I am a mother.  But I’m also a teacher, a tutor, and a college adviser, and I spend a good part of each year getting kids into college.  Do you want to go to college some day?  Then follow this advice that students from each grade can use right now:

Grades 8 – 10:  Read.  Read.  Don’t stop – read some more.  Reading the back of the cereal box is better than reading nothing. Reading Sports Illustrated or Seventeen is better than the cereal box.  Reading TIME or Newsweek is WAY better than reading Sports Illustrated or Seventeen.  TIME and Newsweek are written on the college level unlike most other magazines.  The articles are varied and interesting, but the real value is in the letters to the editor (called “inbox” in TIME).  When they print a letter, they also print the writer’s name and home town.  No one wants to look like a dope in front of his neighbors, so the grammar and vocabulary in every letter are gorgeous.   The letters, and the back page essay which is a perfect length for SAT practice, are written with an agenda and a tone.  No one writes to Newsweek because there was nothing good on TV.  Letter writers write to a magazine editor because they have a viewpoint, a slant, an opinion; your job as a reader is to figure out why the writer is REALLY writing.  You’ll seldom be asked to read this type of writing in school – extended essay or persuasive opinion – so get comfortable with it on your own.  Go online and get a subscription.  It’s much less expensive than buying individual copies.

If you have finished your summer reading and want more, look for books outside your usual area of interest.  Each genre has a jargon.  Reading a mystery isn’t like reading a fantasy.  Reading science fiction isn’t like reading a romance or a biography.  Or if you’ve read a book before that you liked, read more by that same author.  Or read a harder book  that has more of what you liked about that other book.  If you like chick-lit or romances, read Vanity Fair by Thackery or Jane Eyre by Bronte.  If you like Dave Barry, read some Thurber or O. Henry short stories.  If you email me what you like, I’ll give you a few suggestions that will bump up your reading skills while you’re being entertained.

And keep reading this blog for an advance look on what you’ll need to do as you get closer to senior year in high school.

Grade 11:  Read and follow the advice above for 10th graders.  Incoming Juniors should also be thinking about the PSATs that are coming up in October.  Most students should just go in and take the test when it’s given.  (Don’t worry, your guidance counselor will sign you up and tell you where to go and when.)  There’s a free booklet in the guidance department in which the College Board gives you advice about taking the test and a few sample questions.  If, however, you’re the kind of student who panics before every test and gets ill before important tests, it may pay for you to find a tutor and have a few sessions to get ready.  (You can take a course, although they’re so seldom useful.  But I covered that already in another blog.)  The only other type of student who should get pre-PSAT tutoring is one who regularly scores very, very well on standardized tests.  The National Merit Scholarship is derived from PSAT scores, so if you’re likely to qualify, get tutoring before the PSATs to increase your chances of getting a scholarship.  The PSATs are a bit easier than the SATs, mostly because the PSATs are shorter, but the questions are identical, so PSAT tutoring will give you a head start on SAT preparation.

Grade 12:  Read and follow the advice for 10th graders – when you take a break from college applications.

By now, you should have a list of colleges that interest you.  If not, read my blog entry from last year on how to build a list of colleges based on online resources.  Go visit some.  You don’t have to visit all the schools you apply to, but you should have an idea if you like small or large schools, rural, suburban, or urban schools, religious schools or secular schools, and so on.

If you are going to visit, interview with an admissions officer if it’s offered.  (Read this blog post for suggestions on what you should be looking for during a college visit, and visit this blog post for thoughts on how to make a good impression when you’re on an interview.)

You should be writing your college essay this summer. Start now.  Don’t wait for your English teacher to mention it.  Take advantage of college early action programs by having your application and essay prepared before you start classes in September. (But please read this advice first.)

Lastly, don’t forget that you’ll be taking the SATs or ACTs again in a few months.  Decide which test to focus on, and get busy improving those areas in which you are weakest.  Let me know if you need some help.

You’ll have plenty of time to relax next year in science class (just kidding!), but right now you should GET BUSY!

Wendy Segal   http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

June 25, 2011

Should You List a College Major On Your Application – And How to Decide Which Major is Right for You

For some reason, I’ve had this discussion lately with a lot of adults.  What should kids major in?  What shouldn’t kids major in?  What majors lead to good jobs?  Which majors lead to working at McDonald’s?

I guess I’m not the only one discussing college majors.  Recently, I’ve read several articles listing top careers (where high-paying  jobs are available) and poor career choices (where there are no jobs available and they don’t pay well even if you could get one).

This article from TIME magazine lists 10 best- and worst-paid college majors.  If you click on each major, you will be brought to an article describing the major, common jobs with that major, and average salaries for new employees in that field.

This blog article, “The Most Useless College Majors” agrees.

Science wins.  Journalism loses.

But what about “undecided”?  Should you list a potential major on your college application if you’re not sure?

Sometimes, you have to list a major.  Some majors are housed in their own “schools.” Engineering, for example, often has a discrete faculty, carefully plotted courses, and a fixed number of students.  If you want to be an engineer, you have to let them know.  It’s nearly impossible to transfer into engineering even within the same university.  It’s easy – even common – to transfer out of engineering into math or physics or chemistry or even political science or philosophy, but you can’t go the other way.

If you are choosing an unusual major for that university, definitely list it on applications. If the college has a small physics department and you think you might want to study physics, that might give you the edge that you need to get into an otherwise extremely selective school.

Schools not only want to balance out the number of students in each major, they need to balance the gender in all majors.  Few girls want to go into a major where there are NO boys.  If you are a boy who wants to study English or women’s studies, list that major.  If you are a girl who wants to be an engineer or mathematician or sports therapist, list that major.

If, after reading the above articles warning against it, you still insist on majoring in journalism or psychology, don’t list that major.  Most schools have swollen communications and psychology departments.  If you list that as your major, you’ll be competing against more students than if you just checked off “undecided.”

But what if you have no idea what you want to major in?

Come talk to me.  I hope it doesn’t sound immodest, but I have a knack for suggesting majors to kids that they really like and perhaps hadn’t thought of.

Here are some questions I’ll ask if you want my help choosing a major:

  • What do you and your friends do with free time?
  • What does your bedroom look like?
  • Do you like group projects in school or do you prefer to work alone?
  • Would you rather write a paper or do a project?
  • If you had to waste half an hour at a store while your mom shopped elsewhere, where would you tell her to take you?

Or you could read an article like this one that helps you to identify a college major and subsequent career based on your academic and social interests.

Most colleges don’t require you to confirm your major until the end of your sophomore year in college, so putting a major on your college application won’t prevent you from exploring.

The best advice I’ve ever read about finding a major, finding a career, finding a passion is this one .  It’s rather long, but I find myself nodding my head at every paragraph.

Now get started on those college applications.  Let me know if you need help.

UPDATE:  Take a look at this interesting article from Inside Higher Ed, a newletter for college teachers/professors about choosing a major, about the range of salaries and how “women’s” careers are still the lowest paying.

Wendy Segal

March 22, 2011

Don’t Waste April!

Here are some crucial words of advice for high school Juniors:

Don’t waste April!

If you don’t go to look at colleges in April, you won’t get to see them at their most typical until the fall.  March is too cold and snowy.  By May, exams have begun at most colleges so they don’t offer tours then.  You won’t see the students, anyway – they’ll be in the library.  By mid-May, everyone will be home for the summer.  You can indeed visit schools over the summer, but you won’t see them buzzing with activity and you won’t be able to have your pick of students to ask embarrassing but important questions.

So if you have to take a few three-day weekends in April, go ahead.  Most schools count college visits as excused absences similar to illness.  In other words, those visits are still absences but if you miss work, the teachers will let you make it up.

What if you don’ t know which colleges to look at?

  • Go on www.princetonreview.com.  It’s better than the College Board search and much, much better than Naviance.  Look for “explore colleges,” then “best fit,” then Counselor-o-Matic.  (Yes, it’s a stupid title, but it’s a great program.)
  • Complete all the pages of the survey and submit.  You’ll get a list of safety schools, a list of good match schools, and a list of reach schools.  WARNING:  those lists contains only schools who paid to be there.   Don’t stop there!
  • In each category (reach, match, safety), click on “view all schools” and then you’ll get the GREAT list of schools that match your requirements.
  • Review each school, view the video if there is one, and go on to the school’s website and fill in the “send me more information” form.  It’s a good way to let the school know you’re interested.

Once you have a list of schools, group them geographically. Most students in northern Westchester check out the Boston-area schools, the Pennsylvania schools (Lafayette, Bucknell, Muhlenburg, Lehigh, Penn State), the southern schools (UDelaware, UMaryland, Towson), the SUNY schools, and other categories.

Your goal is to start with a huge list that you can pare down to about 10 – 14 schools to which you will apply. You need to be sure there are at least two safety schools on your application list — schools that will accept you as long as you are still breathing by admissions time.

You should also apply to a school or two that you’re fairly certain you won’t get into, but OMG what if you did?  I believe that if you get into every school to which you apply, you didn’t aim high enough (as long as you’re not crushed if you don’t get in).

You don’t have to visit every school you apply to, but you should visit a few schools from different categories:  urban, suburban, rural, close, far, huge, tiny, medium, religious, secular, sports-oriented, academically-oriented, lots of fraternities, no fraternities, and so on.  Get a feel for what you like.

There are no right schools. There are only schools that fit your personality and intended major and preferences — or schools that just don’t feel like you could ever call them “home.”  A school that is right for you might be a terrible choice for your best friend.

Go, visit, and see what feels like a good fit for you!  (And click here for advice on making the most of a college interview.)

Wendy Segal

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