High School 2 College

April 6, 2015

Am I Really Going To Have To Pay $71,000 A YEAR For College?

I nearly fell off my chair when I read this article in the Washington Post about NYU.  The headline runs, “What Happens When You Find Out A Year Of College Costs $71,000?”  Yes, it seems that that’s the sticker price for NYU including travel costs.  And that’s for this coming year.  Imagine what college will cost by the time your student is ready to attend!

Are you destined to sell your house and car and youngest child just so the oldest can go to college?  Not if you follow my advice.

1.  Financial aid is available at nearly every college. You might be surprised to learn that many middle-class families living in nice suburbs who own a car and a four bedroom house do actually qualify for aid.  But you’ll never know how much you qualify for if you don’t ask.  The first step in asking is filling out the FAFSA.  You can read about this form, which should be completed as soon after January 1st as possible (which means you should fill out your taxes as soon as possible), on several websites, including the FAFSA website and the College Board website, which also has a video tutorial.

2.  Student loans can help.  Some loans come from the government (see this site) or from the college itself.

3.  Private scholarships can help.  Online sites like fastweb can help you find scholarships targeted at specific groups of students.  Are you a female Armenian engineering student?  I bet there’s a scholarship just waiting for you!  Don’t forget to contact your high school’s guidance department.  They’ll have the inside track on scholarships given by local businesses and families, and you’ll be competing against a much smaller pool of applicants. Warning:  legitimate scholarships never ask you to pay money up front for a chance at a scholarship.  Beware of scams!

4. Merit scholarships are given by colleges to entice certain students to attend, especially students whom they predict will have lots of choices.  If your student is a great athlete, a talented artist, or an inspired musician, many schools will help you afford their tuition by giving you a merit scholarship.  Some schools give scholarships entirely based on SAT scores, so if your student is a good test-taker, it might make sense to pay some money for private tutoring now in the hopes of getting a big hunk of money off the bill later.

You have to be strategic about applying to schools, though.  The more selective a school (the harder it is to get into), the less likely it is that they have to convince you to attend.  Harvard and MIT don’t have to beg people to attend.  A school whose average GPA is 3.4, though, might be willing to cut the tuition bill in half – or more – for a student whose GPA is 3.9 or 4.0. That means, frankly, if you’re hoping for merit money, especially for academic achievement, it’s unlikely that you’ll get that from your first choice school.  If you’re willing to attend a school that’s further down on your list, however, you might find private college even more affordable than a public university.

5.  Your own state’s universities are usually a bargain.  In New York, SUNY schools vary greatly in their selectivity. Geneseo, Binghamton, and Stony Brook rival the most elite private schools in many ways.  Other SUNY schools have outstanding reputations for engineering, environmental studies, teacher preparation, and more.

6.  Check out other states’ universities.  These colleges are my favorites for all-around bang for the buck.  You may find the best of both worlds at another state’s school.  Many states encourage out-of-state students to attend so their own students can meet a more diverse group of fellow students.  Many state universities have campuses a few hours from home, international students, a broad array of majors, worldwide reputations for excellence, and a football team to boot!  The University of Virginia and the University of Michigan are world-class institutions, for example. Students at Penn State and the University of Delaware have great experiences.  Most states have schools worth checking out, and while you’ll pay more as an out-of-state student, those tuitions don’t come close to those of private universities.

7.  Start local and transfer.  Another smart strategy for some is to attend a local community college for a year or two and then transfer to the college of your dreams.  You might give up that dorm experience, but you’ll cut your college bill in half. And some SUNY schools have campuses where you can attend community college and live on campus!  When employers see that you’ve graduated from a certain school, none ever ask, “Did you go there all four years?”

My strongest suggestion for paying for college is this:  Parents, talk honestly with your student about what your family can afford to pay.  Tell your students, “We can pay $15,000 (or whatever) a year for school.  Apply any place you like, and if they can offer us enough in aid and scholarships, you can attend.  If they can’t, at least you know you got in.”

If you have any questions, I’ll try my best to help.

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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March 2, 2014

Is Early SAT Prep Worth It? Is SAT Tutoring Worth It?

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I recently wrote a blog post with specific advice about how parents can help their students begin preparing for the SATs in middle school and early high school.

This week, a book was touted by local press in which a mother studied for and took seven SATs with her child.  Her advice agreed that it’s most effective to begin preparing years before the actual SATs.

Now I’d like to tell you WHY students should begin to prepare so early – and why it’s never too late or a waste of time and money to engage a private tutor.  

Is this shameless self-promotion?  Not really.  I already have a very busy practice, and this information is valuable whether you choose to work with me or another tutor.  In fact, as the mother who wrote the book (above) showed, you can be as own your child’s tutor if you have the ability and time and if your student will let you!

1.  Your student’s SATs will help him get into an appropriate, affordable college.  You all know that most colleges do consider a student’s SAT and/or ACT scores as part of his application package.  The larger the school, the more it relies on numbers for evaluation – numbers like GPA and SATs.  State colleges especially have a huge number of applicants and rely on numbers to eliminate some students on the bottom and grab some students on the top.  And state colleges – your state’s or another state’s schools – are generally thousands less expensive than a private college or university.

2.  Some colleges use SAT scores to give out merit aid scholarships.  Some just use the math and critical reading scores, others add the writing score.  Money spent on a tutor now might add up to much more money in college aid later.

3.  Very high PSAT scores might get your student a National Merit Letter of Commendation, Semi-Finalist, or Finalist designation.  These designations often turn into scholarship money, but even if your student’s first choice school doesn’t give aid based on the PSATs, a National Merit designation enhances her college application.  All schools like to brag that they have plenty of National Merit Scholars.  With a little early tutoring and the ability to score well on standardized tests, you could be one of those scholars, but the PSATs are given early in 11th grade, so many start working over the summer after 10th grade.

4.  Some employers ask for your SAT scores – even after your student graduates from college.  Articles like this one from the Wall Street Journal come around every year or two.  It might not be fair but it does happen:  Employers look at SAT scores when hiring for some types of white-collar jobs.

And for the most important benefits:

5.  I work with students to improve their grammar skills.  When was the last time your student studied grammar?  Has your student’s English teacher ever explained to her why a sentence written in the passive voice is weaker than one written in the active voice? Writing well is a skill that will be important in college and for most of one’s life.  Write a letter to the editor, write a proposal for a client, write a note to your child’s teacher, write an email to your boss – and you’ll be glad you studied grammar with me.  Your subjects will agree with your verbs, your pronouns will have clear antecedents, and your participles won’t be hanging.  Being able to write clearly and confidently will come in handy even when the SATs are a distant memory.

6.  I work with students to improve their test taking skills.  I watch kids answer test questions 5 days a week.  I watch some kids get low scores even though they have high grades, and others with modest grades get high scores.  Why are some students better test takers?  A private tutor can watch your student answer questions and correct his technique.  Some kids don’t pay enough attention to the question (they read the answers and hope something seems “true” to them).  Some kids second guess themselves and talk themselves out of correct answers due to lack of self-confidence.  Some kids race through questions because they’re afraid of running out of time or just because they want to be done with the test, often misreading questions.  Some kids need remedial vocabulary help (you can’t tell whether an author’s tone is curmudgeonly or benign if you don’t know what those words mean). That level of individualized instruction simply can’t be done in a class or small-group setting, but experienced private tutors do that sort of analysis and correction for a living.

7.  I improve students’ reading comprehension.  Yes, they read novels in school, but are your students reading persuasive essays like those on the SATs – and in news magazines?  Can your student understand an author’s tone – and how an accomplished reader can figure it out?  Many students can give me a one-sentence summary of an essay, but so many can’t put the individual sentences in their own words.  Understanding what you’re reading makes college studies easier. When you really understand what you’re reading, reading becomes less of a chore and more of a pleasure – a lifelong benefit indeed!

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Wendy Segal

 http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com/

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

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

March 27, 2010

Did You Get In? Where Are You Going?

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

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

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

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

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

Not so fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Segal

February 17, 2010

Latest Trends in College Acceptance and How 9th, 10th, and 11th Graders Can Take Advantage

I’ve been reading articles lately about how this year was supposed to be the year that it would be easier to get into college.

This year:

  • there are fewer seniors, statistically
  • the economy is bad, so fewer students should be going to college
  • colleges should be looking for more students to ease their own financial troubles

So far, though, it hasn’t at all been easier to get into college. In fact, in my own area of northern Westchester in New York, fewer qualified students have gotten into their first choice schools than in my recent memory.

What’s going on? And is there anything that high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors can do to make it more likely that they will be able to get into a “decent” college?

I believe there are several causes for the seemingly tough time kids are having getting into college this year.

Problem: First of all, more kids are applying to more colleges earlier. Kids are getting sophisticated about the early decision process.  Once magazines like U.S. News and World Report started publishing statistics showing that greater percentages of kids got into a given college if they apply early decision, even MORE kids felt compelled to apply early decision.  Then several colleges added “early action” to the mix, a non-binding early application/early response option.  Now most kids apply to at least one early decision college and as many early action colleges as they can.

Advice for current high school students: There’s no point in trying to buck this trend. You, too, will have to apply to some colleges early action or early decision, so begin to explore colleges – at least online or at college fairs – in 10th grade or in the fall of 11th grade.  By the summer before senior year, you should have contacted at least 20 schools online and have seen several schools in person.

Problem: Last year, the pundits all said that kids wouldn’t be applying early decision because they would need to wait to compare financial aid packages.  But the press has been so pessimistic about financial aid that many parents presume they won’t get much financial help and are encouraging their children to apply for schools that the parents can afford at the stated tuition rates.  And to have the best chance of getting some help from some place, kids are applying to a wide variety of schools.

Additional problem: Since money is tight, many parents are having their kids apply to many schools that the students have not seen or thoroughly investigated because travel is just too costly.

Advice for parents of current high school students: Encourage your student to apply to a several schools that are safety schools. If the school wants you more than you want that school, they’ll try to entice you with money.  But not all safety schools are equal. Prioritize what you want in a school: Are you willing to give up prestige for a good financial aid package?  Are you willing to go a little further from home?  Are you willing to accept a bigger school than your ideal?  What matters most to you and what are you willing to compromise on?

Smart college choices include plenty of out-of-state state schools. For New York students, check out the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers (particularly affordable), the University of Vermont, Towson University and others.  These schools charge more to out-of-state students (which helps the colleges’ bottom line), but that’s less than a private school might cost.  With an out-of-state state university, you’ll get all the distance you need from your parents and all the educational excellence without costing them their retirement fund.

Make up for fewer college trips with more online investigation. Take advantage of college fairs.  Make sure you talk to college reps when they come to your high school (ask your guidance counselor for a schedule for your high school).  When you do visit colleges, try to visit at least one school from each category:  large, small, urban, suburban or rural.

Problem: Kids are being too self-indulgent (read: lazy and unfocused) when it comes to after-school activities.  Kids tell me that they don’t join more clubs because they’re tired after school.  Kids tell me the clubs aren’t interesting enough.  Kids tell me they want to go to sleep away camp because that’s where their friends are, or they want to hang out with their friends over the summer.  That’s lovely, but it won’t get you into college.  When kids are involved in activities, those activities often scattered, unrelated to a students’ potential college major or career interest, and temporary.  Dance and soccer are sweet, but won’t really help you get into college unless you plan on majoring in dance or sports management.

Advice for kids grade 9 and up: You DO need activities to get into a college you can be proud of.  You need to find something you like and stick with it for 3 – 4 years.  Sports are good, but not enough.  Student government is unimpressive to most colleges.  Merely belonging to a community service group like Key Club won’t get you into school.  Join a few groups, see what you like, and become the president of that group.  Or strike out on your own and start something new.  Get your name in the paper for starting a town-wide donation program to something important.  Get some friends together and raise money to replace all your school’s light bulbs with more “green” bulbs.

Most valuable advice for planning for the future: Your activities have to match your college or career plans. That’s tough to do in 9th grade, but you need to think that far in advance.  So if it’s likely that you’ll be studying something in the sciences, do science research in high school.  Your after school activities should have something to do with science or math. Join the math club or the math olympics.  Your volunteer work should have something to do with science, too.  Volunteer to run a 6-week after school science club for elementary-school aged kids.  Your paid work should have something to do with science, too.  Work in a pet store.  Be the nature counselor at a summer camp. Get it?  You need to have a focus, and every activity you do must build on that focus. Does that feel forced or phony to you?  Well, how badly do you want to be able to choose among good colleges rather than be stuck with something closer to the bottom of your list?

This article summarizes what I’ve been reading all over the place:  too many kids applying to too many schools for too few spaces.  But you can apply smarter if you plan ahead.

Wendy Segal

UPDATE:  Another article on high number of applications.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  Here’s an article about Stanford’s record number of applications.  This article says the reason for the increase may be the poor economy —  jobs are so hard to get, students understand they need a good education to compete.  I’d also add that the job prospects are so poor, students might as well go to college rather than try to find a job.

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

June 16, 2009

Just a Few More Words Before You Go Off To College

Congratulations!  You’ve made it all the way through high school.  You applied to many colleges (or just your favorite), got into at least one, and are headed off to college at the end of August.

Here’s my best advice for you to get ready for the big move:

1.  GET A SHOT!  I can’t say it loudly enough.  Get a meningitis shot.  The old ones lasted 5 years.  They now have vaccines that last 10 years.  If you’re not sure if you’ve had one, ask your doctor – or just get another one.  Hardly anyone gets meningitis, but it’s often fatal if you do.  Why take a chance?  One girl did — read about it here:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20519953/

Please, please don’t put it off.  Make an appointment now because they sometimes run out of vaccine.

2.  Start saving Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons.  They come in the mail.  Save them.  The store doesn’t mind your using expired coupons.  Bed, Bath, and Beyond has a good selection of college stuff starting early in August.  Marsha, a wise friend of mine, gave me this advice and she was right:  Buy everything you think you might possibly need, but don’t open it until you get to college.  If you don’t need it in your particular dorm room, your parents can always take it back to the store and return it if they keep the receipt. 

3.  Start making a backpack of all the stuff you’ll need the minute you arrive at college:

  • duct tape
  • masking tape
  • extension cords (at least one with surge protector)
  • hammer
  • screw driver (flat and phillips)
  • flash light
  • sharpie marker (there will be something you forgot to label or that your roommate has the exact same one of)
  • small notepad and pen

There’s lots more stuff you will need, but these are things you might need right away to put your room in order and will certainly get lost if you pack them with the other junk.

4.  Get a new laptop.  If yours is more than 4 or 5 years old, you might want a new one.  You probably won’t need a printer (they’re handy but take up precious desktop room and every school has convenient places to print out papers), but you will need a laptop to bring to class, to submit assignments, and to drag to the library or to a friend’s dorm room for a group project.

5.  Ask what cell phone carrier works best at your school.  I know from my son that if you don’t have Verizon at Cornell, you don’t have reception.  If you know someone at the school you’ll be going to, ask about who’s got the best reception.  If you don’t know anyone there, find a facebook group of last year’s freshmen and ask them.  While you’re at it, try to get your parents to pay for unlimited text messages.  You’ll need it!

6.  Expect to feel out of place for a little while.  I have to confess — I cried through most of my freshman year.  I didn’t want to live home again, I just wanted my life the way it was back in high school with all my comfortable friends, with clean clothes that appeared regularly in my room, with free food in the fridge.  I thought everyone else was having a blast, and I was the only one feeling sad, lonely, uncomfortable, sick of hearing my roommate’s music.  I saw everyone’s happy faces going to class and I felt even more alone.  Little did I know that many of them were smiling on the outside and feeling exactly the same as I did on the inside.  I think if I knew that – and if I knew then how certainly this feeling would pass by springtime – I wouldn’t have felt quite so confused.  So I’m telling you now:  It’s not only okay to feel disassociated your first few months at college, it’s normal.  Really. 

I hope I haven’t made you too nervous.  I just want you to be as prepared as you can be.  Keep in touch with your old friends, your family — and me!

Wendy Segal

May 11, 2009

You Think You’ve Been Accepted to College? It’s Not Over Yet!

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

Not so fast.

A few years ago, the New York Times printed this article warning kids not to let their grades slip too far in senior year:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/education/edlife/rescind22.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=slackers%20beware&st=cse

It warns “slackers” that colleges will and regularly do pull offers of admittance if a student’s grades slip too much.  You have to submit your year-end grades to the school you’ve chosen, and if the college doesn’t like what it sees, it has a long waiting list of eager students still batting their eyelashes at your school.

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

This year, schools — even the smaller private colleges — are more skittish than ever for an obvious reason — the economy.  Here’s the latest version of the same warning, this time from USA Today:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-05-06-senioritis-college_N.htm

This article points out that colleges were so worried about the economy this past admissions season that many accepted more students than usual with the expectation that some would not be able to afford school and would drop out.  If that doesn’t happen, schools may be culling their admitted student lists for those who just don’t measure up.

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

  • Talk to your high school teachers about extra credit.  Offer to do anything to raise your grade.
  • Talk to your guidance counselors about strategies to pull it out now.  If they know you’re trying, they may be willing to go to bat for you with the college if they pull your acceptance.
  • Get a tutor for finals or state exams.  Don’t wait – if you need to pass that math or physics regents exam, get a tutor.  It’s not a long-term commitment, and the money you spend now may save heartache and embarrassment later. 
  • Contact the admissions department with a contrite explanation and a promise to do better.  Tell them BEFORE they get the bad news to show you’re responsible and willing to correct your missteps.
  • Get off facebook.  Recent studies have shown that FB users in college have grades a full GPA point below non-users.  (read this TIME magazine article: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1891111,00.html?xid=newsletter-daily )

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

April 20, 2009

SAT? ACT? SATII? Score Choice? HELP! How do I know what to take when?

When I was in high school, most kids (but not all) took the PSATs as practice, then took the SATs once or maybe twice.  I also took a couple of achievement tests (now called SATII Subject Tests).

Now students take a combination of SATs, SATIIs, ACTs with or without the writing section in addition to state and local exams; each test has its own focus, deadlines, and scoring.

It can get confusing, but I can help.  You might want to file this information away somewhere or share it with younger or older friends.

Here’s the testing schedule that works best for most of my students. 

9th and 10th grade: Students in honors science classes (bio, chem) should take the SATII in those subjects.  Sign up for those tests on www.collegeboard.comby March or April of the year in which you’re taking that subject so you can take the test in June.  So if you finish honors Biology (not necessarily AP) — or if you’re getting an A in regular biology — in 9th grade, you should take the SATII in June of 9th grade.  Do NOT send your scores to any college yet.  There’s plenty of time to do that just before you apply to college in your senior year.

Fall, 11th grade:  Start by taking the PSATs in October.  Your school will sign you up.  You will have to bring in a check for the registration fee, but the school will do the rest.  The PSATs are only given once a year.  Don’t miss them!  If you do extremely well, you will qualify for a National Merit Letter of Commendation or even as a National Merit Finalist.  That can lead to scholarships and a boost for your college applications.  Every college wants to be able to brag that they have several National Merit scholars. 

If you think you are especially apt at standardized tests, it makes sense to get some tutoring BEFORE the PSATs(probably starting the end of August or as soon as school begins) because you could be rewarded with scholarship money for exceptional performance.  Even if you don’t score brilliantly on the PSATs, you’ll be ahead for the spring when you will take the SATs.

Winter, Spring 11th grade:  Most of my students take the SATs twice in their junior year.  The SATs are given in December, January, March, May, and June, and then again in October and November.  The dates are published on www.collegeboard.com.    Before the test changed in 2005, you could be fairly sure that winter tests (December, January, March) would be more difficult than the spring tests (May, June).  Since 2005, that pattern isn’t as definite, but most students should still take one SAT in January or March and the next one in May if possible.  Sign up for the SATs on www.collegeboard.com

Don’t wait for the deadline to sign up — the high school closest to you will fill up up to a month or two BEFORE the deadline.  The first time you sign up for an SAT, the process will take about 10 minutes, but it’s a quick click or two for subsequent tests.  Suggestion:  write down your user name and password somewhere and give your parents a copy.  You might be at a tutor’s house and need to get into your scores, or you might want your parents to check if scores have come in yet. 

Because the tests do vary considerably in difficulty, it makes sense to take the SATs at least twice, but there’s no reason not to take it three times.  If an entire seating (say, March’s test) is awful, you can hide that whole test from nearly every college to which you might apply.  If you score better on March’s test in math but better on May’s test in critical reading, that’s fine.  Colleges look at your best reading, your best math, and your best writing (if the school counts the writing — more and more do each year) regardless of which date’s test it is.

Spring, 11th grade:  Most very selective colleges (Ivy League schools and other top tier schools) require two SATIIs.  The next level of school prefers (but doesn’t require) SATIIs.  The next level down will consider them if submitted.  Only the least selective schools don’t even look for them.  Many academically-inclined students take more than two SATIIs.  (My own kids took 4 or 5 each.)  Each test is only one hour and is all multiple choice.  You can even take two in one day.  (Technically you can take three, but don’t.  You’ll burn out after the second test.  Trust me.)  One hour is easy, right?  Maybe, but the tests don’t necessarily correlate with either the Regents or AP curricula, so you’ll need to take a practice test a few months before to make sure you know what will be on the test.  (Buy The Official Study Guide to All SAT Subject Tests by the College Board.  It has one of every test.)

If you won’t be taking a subject next year, take the SATII in that subject in June.  For example, most kids take U.S. History in 11th grade but not in 12th grade, so if you particularly excel in U.S. History, take the SATII in June of 11th grade.  For subject which you will also take in 12th grade (foreign language, math, literature), you should wait until the fall to take that SATII. 

The SATII Subject tests are given on the same day and at the same time as the SATs, so you can’t take both the SATs and the SATIIs in June.  That’s why I suggest you take the SATs in May, and the SATIIsin June when you’ve had another month of that subject.

Most schools allow you to submit the ACTs in place of two SATIIs.  The ACTs test English (grammar), reading, math, and general science and have an “optional” writing section (but you should consider it mandatory).  So it makes sense to take the ACTs either in April or in June — you might not need SATIIs if you do well on the ACTs.  If you do really well on the ACTs, you might choose to take them again in October instead of both the SATs AND the SATIIs.  (About a third of kids do better on the SATs, a third do better on the ACTs, and a third score about the same on each test.)  Most schools have no preference and you can indeed submit both SATs and ACTs and the school will use the one they consider most to your advantage.  Sign up for the ACTs on www.ACT.org well in advance of the test because even fewer schools administer the ACTs than the SATs.

Fall, 12th grade.  Take the SATs again in October or November.  Or take the ACTs again in October.  Some students take both.  Take SATIIs in October or November (whenever you’re not taking the SATs) in math, literature, or foreign language.

I know – it’s a lot of testing.  And yes, there are many, many schools that say they don’t require SATs or ACTs.  But what if you fall in love with a school that does require these tests and  you haven’t taken them?  And some schools don’t require SATs but do require several SATIIs instead.  I won’t try to convince you that the SATs are fun, but they do help colleges compare kids from very different high schools.  Is an A in Yorktown the same as an A in Yonkers or Scarsdale?  Maybe not, so standardized tests help colleges compare.

Here’s the most important thing I can tell you:  These are only tests.  They are tests of how well you can take tests.  If they were tests of your intelligence, a dozen weeks of tutoring wouldn’t help (and it usually does).  They don’t test whether you’ll succeed in college.  They don’t test whether you’ll marry someone good-looking or whether you’ll have healthy children or get a good job.  They don’t test who you are.  So take a deep breath in, prepare as best you can, and then let it out.

Wendy Segal

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