High School 2 College

May 27, 2016

What Do Colleges Want From Applicants Like Me – Part 1

I’m glad you asked, because there are indeed concrete steps you can take to enhance your college application whether you’re in 9th grade dreaming of college, a senior overwhelmed with the process of college applications, or any student (or parent) in between.

First, a little background.  When I first started advising students about how to get into a college that would be a great fit for them about 29 years ago, most colleges were looking for the “well-rounded” student.  The ideal applicant would get good grades, have high SAT scores, belong to several school clubs, play a sport, and perhaps even dance or sing or play an instrument.  The more areas in which a student showed competence, the more attractive the applicant.

About 15 years ago,  there was a shift.  Colleges decided that they could have a well-rounded freshman class even if each student wasn’t well-rounded.  In fact, perhaps a college could build a stellar class if they chose some students who were brilliant academically but had no other activities, some athletes who were stars on the field but didn’t test well and didn’t have wonderful grades, some virtuoso cellists who had played Carnegie Hall but never joined a club or held a job, and so on.  Colleges were looking for “passion,” drive, and singular achievement.

About 7 or 8 years ago, there was another shift.  Colleges found that sometimes star athletes, world-class musicians, and brilliant students kept those interests isolated from everything else in their lives, and so didn’t add much to the school environment.  Now, colleges are looking for something I call “consistency.”  They want to see that your interest or talent pervades your life, that you don’t merely dance or play lacrosse because someone said it would look good on an application.  They want to see how you use that interest throughout your life.  So if you dance, they want to see that you work part-time in a dance studio helping younger dancers, that you and your friends give free dance performances each Christmas in the local senior center, that you dance in your local dance group, that you’ve organized a dance group for your school.  If you play lacrosse, they want to see you get paid for coaching lacrosse, they want to see you spend your summers at a lacrosse training camp, they want to see you volunteer to coach kids in some sport in your nearest inner city Boy’s Club.  Your in-school, out-of-school, volunteer, and paid work should all be organized around your interest, talent, or ability.

The best applicants actually DO have a pervasive, enduring interest that shows itself in every aspect of their lives (while those applicants also get good grades and have good scores).  But if you know that’s what colleges are looking for, you can give them what they want.  Instead of going on your church’s midnight run to give food to the homeless in the city (or in addition to that), be sure you look for volunteer opportunities that complement your “interest.”  Better yet, create volunteer opportunities that both reflect your interest and highlight your leadership abilities.  Be thoughtful about how you spend your summers.  If you’re an athlete, camp or life-guarding is fine, but if you want to be an engineer, perhaps working theater tech for local community theater is better.  Choose after school activities wisely.  If your strength is academics, you may want to join the prom committee, but the debate club might be a better choice.

In many ways, I’m sorry for this trend.  I do think 14- , 15- , 16- , and 17-year old students should be exploring lots of interests.  How do you know if the chorus isn’t for you until you try it?  Maybe you’ll find that the Model U.N. ignites a passion for public service in you.  Maybe not, but you won’t know until you try.  So on the one hand, I’m giving you advice I don’t believe.  I don’t believe young people should be hyper-focused on one passion.  Your “passion” at 15 might bear no resemblance to your “passion” at 17 — and that’s how it should be.

On the other hand, people do pay me for my years of expertise about how to get into their top choice college — and telling students to focus, focus, focus on their grades and one big talent or interest will absolutely differentiate that student from the thousands of other smart, suburban, perfectly likable and capable students who will compete for a limited number of spots at that college.  So you need to decide whether your passion or talent is enduring or a passing flirtation, and how important it is for you to tailor your activities (beginning in 9th grade, if possible) based on college acceptance.  Or maybe this advice gives you permission to resign from clubs and activities that don’t light your fire in favor of those that feed your passion.  Feel free to comment (politely).

Shortly, I’ll write about other aspects of a college application over which students have control so they can give the college what they want.  Stay tuned!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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July 31, 2015

Making the Most of College Visits

I recently posted advice about visiting colleges and then saw this article in Forbes magazine from one dad who went on some tours with his daughter.  His advice was right on the money.  Spring break is the best time to visit colleges, but if you didn’t get to visit then, or if you need to see a few more schools, the early fall is an excellent time to visit schools.

I don’t believe that you need to see every school your student will apply to.  After all, if she gets into Harvard, she’s going, right?  And if she only gets into her bottom safety school, who cares what the dorms are like?

Of course, colleges are looking for good grades, good scores, good community service, a good essay, and good recommendations.  But they’re also looking for something called “demonstrated interest.”  They want to know that you didn’t just send them an application because it was easy to click one more “send” from the Common App.  They want to know that you’re actually interested in attending that school.  So visiting a college fair and filling out a name-and-address card is one way to show demonstrated interest.  And when a representative from a college on your list visits your student’s guidance department, have him attend because that’s a strong way to show demonstrated interest.  Emailing the admissions department with a question that isn’t answered on their website also shows demonstrated interest.  But one of the clearest way to show interest is to visit the college on a tour.

It makes sense to visit at least one smaller school from your list and at least one large school, at least one urban school if you have any on your list and at least one suburban or rural school, and so on.  Here’s some more practical advice:

1.  You should plan to visit schools by geography.  Many kids from my area of the U.S. do a loop around Pennsylvania (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lehigh, maybe UDelaware), Or they do the Boston area run (Boston College, Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis, Northeastern, maybe Emerson).  Or perhaps the New York State trip (SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Cortland, Cornell/Ithaca College, Syracuse). You may want to visit several colleges in the same general area, but I think you should limit yourself to two or three a day; otherwise, the whole experience can be overwhelming.  Make hotel reservations if you think you’ll need them.

2.  Sign up online for tours.  Some schools print a schedule and you just go on any tour that’s convenient, but many require you to sign up in advance.  Do that.  You’ll get a much, much better sense of the school on a tour than just wandering around on your own.

3,  Find out if you can interview with an admissions person.  Very often, they’ll have something called an information session or a one-on-one with someone in admissions.  Whether it’s a real interview or just a meet-and-greet, dress casually but be clean and neat, smile and shake hands, and have a few questions ready (and make sure the answers aren’t on the school’s website).  Good questions might be about your major (How easy is it to change majors?  How many professors are in that department?  How many students graduate with that major?  Does the school assign a faculty advisor to you?); about housing (Do they house all freshman together?  Are there substance-free houses or theme houses?  Do they guarantee housing for sophomores and juniors?); or anything else that interests you.

4.  While you’re at the interview or while you’re walking around the science building/ performing arts center/ library/ other building of interest, send your parents to the cafeteria.  You can meet them there afterwards.  NO parents should go with you on an interview ever, even if the school allows it.  That gives the impression that your parents don’t trust you to handle the interview on your own.  Instead, parents should be in the cafeteria, asking students questions that would embarrass their children to hear.  Parents, find a random student and ask questions like, “Would you choose this school again?  If you had a cousin interested in economics (or whatever major your student is interested in), would you send him here?  What’s the worst thing about this school?”  You’d be surprised how honest students can be.  If the worst thing is the freshman dorm, big deal.  But if the worst thing is that the professors are inaccessible or the administration doesn’t care about the students or required classes are often closed out (too many students), you may want to move on to the next school on your list.

5.  Take pictures as you go around on tours or write on brochures.  Six months from now, you won’t remember which schools had the great dining halls or the well-stocked labs.

Yes, you can see schools in the summer, but it’s not the same without students there. If you’re going into your Junior year in high school, ask your parents to save some work vacation days for spring college visits.  If you’re a Senior in high school, plan to visit schools as early in September as you can. You probably want to be applying to some schools early action – which means your applications must be completely done and submitted by mid-October.

Let me know if you have any questions about visiting colleges or any other aspect of applying to school

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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June 22, 2015

Don’t Waste Your Summer! High School Students, Make Your Summer Work For YOU!

Do you want to go to college some day?  Every year, I have students who are seniors who tell me they wish they had used their summers more productively.  So don’t wait – follow my advice now and getting into a great college will be so much easier later.  Even the New York Times agrees that you should use your summers productively.

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 magazine is WAY better than reading Sports Illustrated or Seventeen.  TIME is written on the college level unlike many other magazines.  The articles are varied and interesting. I like the actual magazine rather than the online edition.  It’s closer to reading an SAT essay.  And don’t forget to read what others have written in, the page that used to be called “Letters to the Editor,” and then was called “InBox,” and that now might be called something else.  Unlike comments at the bottom of a blog, these letters are well-written, use correct grammar and spelling (or they don’t get published), and are written to try to persuade you that the letter writer’s point of view is valid — much like an SAT essay!

Don’t stop when you finish your summer reading.  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.

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.  This year, unlike previous years, the PSAT will be something of a mystery.  There’s a sample PSAT available (new type), but you can’t make generalizations from one test.

My most important advice for incoming Juniors:  start preparing for the old/current SAT.  The SAT as we know it will be changing drastically.  The first administration of the new test will be March 2016, but I think the January 2016 will be a tough one based on my 28 years of tutoring experience.  So far, all colleges that have posted a policy say they’ll accept either the old or new SAT.  We have a few sample SATs of the new variety, but again, I’m reluctant to generalize based on a few tests.  We have dozens and dozens of the old variety, and I have untold hours of experience tutoring students for that test.  Why not take advantage of that?  Warning:  Students who take the March 2016, May 2016, and June 2016 SATs will not receive their scores until the end of June (and I wouldn’t be surprised if that turned into early July).

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 blogon how to build a list of colleges.  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.  (Check back on my blog or join Wendy Segal Tutoring on Facebook for upcoming tips on how to interview at colleges.)

You should be writing your college essay this summer.Start now.  Don’t wait for your English teacher to mention it.  In fact, your English teachers can’t help you much since the topics have changed drastically each year over the past few years and teachers’ “follow this sample” handouts just don’t apply any more.   (Again, follow this blog or my Facebook page for upcoming advice.)  Go to the Common App website for the most current essay topics (but don’t start a Common App account until August 1st when they open the fall season or you might have to reenter everything!)

Lastly, don’t forget that, no matter how busy your summer is, you’ll be busier in September.  Decide which test to focus on, and get busy improving those areas in which you are weakest.  Start that essay.  Read as much as you can on any and all topics.  And let me know if you need some help.

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

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Wendy Segal   http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

August 5, 2014

Applying to College: Where Do I Start? When Do I Start?

If you’re going into your senior year of high school in the fall, you probably have a nagging feeling that you should be doing something about college, but I bet the whole concept feels overwhelming.  (If you’re going into your junior year and you’re smart enough to be reading ahead to be well prepared, give yourself a big gold star!)

Where should you start?  Is it too early to begin the college process – or are you already behind?

Let’s think this whole application process through, step by step:

– 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. (That means NOW!)

– 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, you need a list of potential schools by FEBRUARY of junior year.

So are you behind?  Unless you have a solid list of schools to which you intend to apply, I’m afraid you are!

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.  They’re much more likely to cooperate if you have a plan.  For example, you might say, “Mom, I want to take three trips.  I want to see the Pennsylvania/ Delaware/Maryland schools in one trip, the Boston area schools in another trip, and the New York State schools to the west in a third trip.”  Mom’s bound to be impressed! Then go online and find out when those schools have available tours and/or information sessions.

Don’t forget to make appointments for school tours and information sessions.  The most popular dates fill up quickly.

While you’re online, definitely fill out the “send me more information” page at each school.  That’s how they know you’re  considering them.  Once the schools get specific information from you, they can send you targeted brochures for your interests or major or any scholarships that you might fit.

After you  make your list, go to visit schools.  You don’t have to see every school to which you might apply.  You don’t have to visit your reach schools.  Face it, if you get into Harvard, you’re going.  Who cares what the dorm rooms look like!  Visit the schools that are most likely to admit you.  Visit different categories of schools:  urban, suburban, rural, large, small, northern, southern – whatever your categories are.

Next, start writing your essay.  The Common App is live as of August 1st.  You can read the essay prompts here, so get started now!

Please don’t wait until school starts to begin the essay.  Sure, some English teachers give you time to work on your essay in class, but they don’t have much experience with the new prompts (prompts changed just last year and are radically different from prompt over the past 10 years or so) and they don’t know you particularly well.  Don’t tell me you work best under pressure.  They’ll be plenty of pressure in the coming few months.   A well-thought-out essay may require several drafts.  You may pick one topic, begin writing, and realize the essay is a dud and you’d be better off with a different topic.  You don’t have to polish it up now, but you should most definitely begin right away.  Get off Facebook and start writing!

Also, you should be making a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done in high school.

List:

  • academic achievements (pins, awards, honors)
  • after school clubs
  • sports
  • paid jobs (even babysitting)
  • volunteer jobs
  • community service

You need the name of the activity, the group you did it for or with, the dates, and perhaps a 5-word description.

Once you complete your list, show it to your parents.  You’re bound to have forgotten something!

After you really complete your list, make a resume.  Look online for samples.  The most important thing about a resume is that it is error-free. Have someone else review it.  Now you have something to bring with you on interviews, and completing college applications is SO much easier when you already have completed a resume.  Trust me!

If you follow all these suggestions, you should be busy until school starts (sorry about that!).

Need more help or advice?  Feel free to book some time with me (http://meetme.so/WendySegalTutoring ).

Good luck!

 

 

best college

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

July 15, 2013

Are You Behind In The College Application Process?

 

If you’re going into your senior year of high school in the fall, you probably have a nagging feeling that you should be doing something about college, but I bet the whole concept feels overwhelming.  (If you’re going into your junior year and you’re smart enough to be reading ahead to be well prepared, give yourself a big gold star!)

Where should you start?  Is it too early to begin the college process – or are you already behind?

Let’s think this whole application process through, step by step:

– 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. (That means NOW!)

– 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, you need a list of potential schools by FEBRUARY of junior year.

So are you behind?  Unless you have a solid list of schools to which you intend to apply, I’m afraid you are!

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.  They’re much more likely to cooperate if you have a plan.  For example, you might say, “Mom, I want to take three trips.  I want to see the Pennsylvania/ Delaware/Maryland schools in one trip, the Boston area schools in another trip, and the New York State schools to the west in a third trip.”  Mom’s bound to be impressed! Then go online and find out when those schools have available tours and/or information sessions.

Don’t forget to make appointments for school tours and information sessions.  The most popular dates fill up quickly.

While you’re online, definitely fill out the “send me more information” page at each school.  That’s how they know you’re  considering them.  Once the schools get specific information from you, they can send you targeted brochures for your interests or major or any scholarships that you might fit.

After you  make your list, go to visit schools.  You don’t have to see every school to which you might apply.  You don’t have to visit your reach schools.  Face it, if you get into Harvard, you’re going.  Who cares what the dorm rooms look like.  Visit the schools that are most likely to admit you.  Visit different categories of schools:  urban, suburban, rural, large, small, northern, southern – whatever your categories are.

Next, start writing your essay.  The new Common Ap won’t be out until August 1, 2013, but you can see the topics here.

Also, you should be making a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done in high school.  List:

  • academic achievements (pins, awards, honors)
  • after school clubs
  • sports
  • paid jobs (even babysitting)
  • volunteer jobs
  • community service

You need the name of the activity, the group you did it for or with, the dates, and perhaps a 5-word description.

Once you complete your list, show it to your parents.  You’re bound to have forgotten something!

After you really complete your list, make a resume.  Look online for samples.  The most important thing about a resume is that it is error-free.  Have someone else review it.  Now you have something to bring with you on interviews, and completing college applications is SO much easier when you already have completed a resume.  Trust me!

Since the new Common Ap website won’t be up until August 1st, I won’t give you instructions now on how to complete it.  Get started with looking for colleges, making a list, booking tours, visiting, and creating a resume.  By the time you’re done, I’ll have more information on the new Common Ap.

Let me know if you need help!           best college

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

June 9, 2013

How Your Summer Should Be Helping You to Get Into College – Grades 8 through 12

Do you want to go to college some day?  Every year, I have students who are seniors who tell me they wish they had used their summers more productively.  So don’t wait – follow my advice now and getting into a great college will be so much easier later.  Even the New York Times agrees that you should use your summers productively.

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 magazine is WAY better than reading Sports Illustrated or Seventeen.  TIME is written on the college level unlike many 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  essays are written with an agenda and a tone.  No one writes to TIEM 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.  And I like the actual magazine rather than the online edition.  It’s closer to reading an SAT essay.

Don’t stop when you finish your summer reading.  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.

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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 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.  (Check back on my blog or join Wendy Segal Tutoring on Facebook for upcoming tips on how to interview at colleges.)

You should be writing your college essay this summer. Start now.  Don’t wait for your English teacher to mention it.  In fact, your English teachers can’t help you much since the topics have changed drastically this summer and their “follow this sample” handouts just don’t apply any more.   (Again, follow this blog or my Facebook page for upcoming advice.)

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 (just kidding!), but right now you should GET BUSY!

Wendy Segal   http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

March 8, 2013

Major Changes in Common App Coming This Summer: What To Do Now To Prepare

The makers of the Common Application, known familiarly as “the Common App,” last week announced big changes that will first affect current high school juniors, and then – at least until the Committee gets the urge to tweak it again – all younger students in turn.

For those who are unfamiliar with the college application “game” (and by “game,” I mean something akin to medieval torture), the Common App was designed to allow applicants to fill in their basic information (name, address, interests, grades, scores) once rather than over and over for each college application.  Moreover, the Common App allows the student to write one mighty, well-crafted, heavily reviewed and edited masterpiece essay that all schools (at least all schools that accept the Common App) will accept.  It should have been a boon to those applying to many colleges, as most students now do.  (My older son applied to 12 colleges; my younger son applied to 14!)  Sadly, while it is a great help to guidance counselors who used to have to mail hard copies of transcripts and recommendations to all those colleges, the Common App has not been much help to the average bedraggled college applicant.

Here’s what went wrong with the Common App:  Each college, in its quest to appear unique, takes advantage of the opportunity to require a supplement, which includes questions on legacy (family members who attended that college), major, and, of course, another essay or two – or three.  These supplements, over the past few years, have gotten longer and more complicated, and have substantially eroded any benefit the common app had to high school kids.

So what are these big changes?

1.  The activity essay is gone.  Too bad.  I rather liked that one.  It asked students to expand upon a particular after-school activity that they do and explain why it is important to them in under 150 words.  Gone.

2.  The three submission areas – application, supplement, and fee – have been consolidated into two submissions, with the supplement now part of the application.  Sort of (read on).

3.  The supplement ESSAYS are now a distinct submission, which means you can submit your application now and finish the essays later, as long as the whole thing is done before the deadline.  Sort of cancels the benefit of combining three submissions into two, doesn’t it?  We’re now back to three submissions  for each college, and three chances to fail to complete your application by only submitting one or two of the three required submissions.

4.  Download-able, paper versions of the forms have been eliminated.  I’ve always advised students to print out a blank copy of the Common App and complete that in pencil before completing the form online.  The Common App times out if you take too long between answers.  So while you look up your guidance counselor’s fax number or while you call your dad at work to find out what year he graduated from college, you’re timed out.  You did hit “save,” right?  Well, maybe it saved, and maybe it didn’t.  The best strategy is to fill out the application hard copy, and then you can type in your answers all at once.

TIP:  Print out a hard copy of the application NOW before they delete it this summer.  It will be a little different from the version you fill out online, but the questions will be the same.

5.  You can no longer upload the Common App main essay.  You can either type it directly onto the form (not a good idea – too easy to overlook a typo), or you can select, save, and paste (much safer).  Still, it’s an annoying extra step.

6.  The Common App essay topics have changed drastically.  There is no longer a “topic of your choice” choice.  There are only five choices (click here and scroll down), and you have to pick one.

TIP:  It may seem early to you, but there’s no harm in starting to think about the topics NOW.  You might try writing an essay for each topic, or at least two or three.  Write a few essays and put them aside for a month or two.  Coming at them after a break will give you a fresh perspective.  Are they still interesting and relevant?  Would your best friend’s mom or your aunt find it interesting?  Keep thinking, and you’ll be ready to tackle the essay in earnest over the summer.

7.  The length of the Common App essay has changed.  For many years, it was a maximum of 500 words.  Three or four years ago, they changed it to a minimum of 250 words with no upper limit.  Bad idea.  The upper limit of 500 words came back quickly.  The new limit will be a minimum of 250 words and a new upper limit of 650 words.  650 is a maximum, not a suggested target.  A 500-word essay might fit your needs better.  Wordier is not necessarily smarter or more clever or more engaging. And they will cut you off at 650.  Not 651.  You don’t want them to think you don’t know how to follow directions, do you?

8.  A new optional “additional information” essay has been added.  Some colleges used to include this in their supplement, but it will now be part of the standard Common App.  If you truly have nothing else to say, don’t feel you need to fill this section up with trivial information.  But if you need to explain bad grades (did you move from town to town?) or excessive absences (did you have to take care of an ailing parent?) or a lack of activities (were you required to babysit younger siblings so your parents could work?), use this space to explain what might look like a serious negative on your application.

9.  The arts supplement will be hosted off-site, and the athletic supplement will be discontinued.

10.  You will be able to edit your application (but not the essay) after your first submission.  So, if you notice you made a mistake after you submit one application, you can correct it before the next application.  HOORAY!  The inability to correct a mistake has always been my primary objection to the Common App.  Can I say it again?  HOORAY!!

There are other minor changes, but these are the big changes that were announced recently.

If you need help on the applications or essays over the summer or in the fall, you know where to find me!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

December 10, 2012

Is SAT Tutoring Worth It?

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

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

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

What type of prep are you considering?

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

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

What kind of help do you need?

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

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

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

How much time do you have before the test?

  • days
  • weeks
  • months
  • years

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

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

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

Don’t spend more than an hour or two a week.  Surprised, right? Well, this is only a test.   Actually, it’s a test to see how well you can take this test.  The SATs won’t determine where you go to college.  They won’t tell you if you’ll have a satisfying job, an attractive spouse, healthy children.  The SATs don’t determine much of anything — and I make my living from the SATs.  But colleges do look at scores.  And employers, especially those employing graduates right out of college, can and do ask for SAT scores.  So you want to do as well as you can without going crazy.

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

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

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

I look forward to your thoughts!

Wendy Segal

June 28, 2012

What You Should Be Doing This Summer – Grades 8 through 11

Do you want to go to college some day?  Every year, I have students who are seniors who tell me they wish they had used their summers more productively.  So don’t wait – follow my advice now and getting into a great college will be so much easier later.

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 andNewsweek 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.

Don’t stop when you finish your summer reading.  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.

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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 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

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May 7, 2012

Advice for High School Seniors Heading Off to College

Filed under: Advice for high school seniors — highschool2college @ 7:17 pm
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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

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