College Applications: Letters of Recommendation

Welcome to Applying to College with Trish!

My name is Trish Portnoy and I am here to help you apply to college.  Luckily, I am an expert.  I have helped over 1,000 high school students go through this process, and you, too,  will be totally prepared to pick the right college for you…with a little help from your friends…you parents and guidance counselor!

So, through these blog posts, I am going to go introduce you to the same exercises and tasks …so you can make the same great decisions.

Now, it is vitally important that you SUBSCRIBE to Applying to College with Trish and…if you care about your friends, you should SHARE this information with them, as well.  This is perfect timing for you seniors, but really anyone in high school will benefit from it.

Take a look at my website…here we are at www.TrishPortnoy.com and that’s me!

Let’s take a look at the objectives to be covered in this blog:

  1. Purpose of Letters of Recommendations

  2. Whom to ask?

  3. What to provide?

  4. Using Naviance or Common App to Request a Letter

The letter of recommendation holds the opportunity for an educator to give a first-hand account of a student’s performance in the classroom.  Your performance can include grades earned, participation in class discussions, high achievements, and honors.  It also includes effort put forth such as attending extra help sessions, overcoming an obstacle, attendance records and punctuality.  And, it can also highlight special interest in a particular topic, pursuit of additional extension activities, acknowledgement of passion in the subject, and identifying career path opportunities and more.

So, whom should you ask to write your letters?  Preferably two teachers who can and will put forth great effort to describe you in the previously mentioned ways.  Many recommend selecting a teacher in the core academic subjects of English, Math, Sciences, Social Studies and World Languages.  In addition, You may also ask an educator who teaches a specialized area, such as business, art, computer technology, media arts, music and so on.

So, how do you go about this…your first step is to ask your teacher, politely, if they would please be willing to write you a letter of recommendation.  Hopefully, you will receive a resounding “of course!”.  However, I have witnessed some teacher decline the honor because they don’t have time to write letters or for personal reasons.

Also, I have witnessed students asking teachers who are great wizards in the classroom but who are not great-letter writers, leaving students with a lost opportunity…which may

Realize this…you may never see the letter that a teacher writes for you.  At some point in the application process, you will be required to sign a FERPA waiver which may require you to give up rights to see application documents.

So, choose wisely..Remember, you need to ask the two teachers who are capable of writing a great letter for you and who are capable of writing a great letter…period.

After your teachers agrees to write you a letter, you should provide them with some supporting documentation which will allow them to write an amazing letter.

First, you should provide them with a draft copy of your activity sheet, resume or listing of your extra-curricular activities, in case they would like to include items or refer to it during their letter writing process.  However, your English teacher should not really be writing about your season on the Varsity Soccer team.  Your English teacher should be writing about your performance in his class, your work ethic, your passion for creative writing, etc. etc.

See http://www.trishportnoy.com/userfiles/file/companion%20files/RefD.pdf

Second, you should provide a summary of details that will support your teacher in writing the best letter possible.  For example, include the name of the course or courses that you took with the teacher, the length of time you have known him or her.  Remind the teacher about your grades earned, homework and assignment history, grades and honors earned, level of class participation, attendance at extra-help sessions and extension activities.  It is also a great idea to inform your teacher about your career aspirations and life-plan.

Believe me, the more concrete information you provide to your teacher, the more detailed the letter will be, and the more useful the letter will be to the admissions committee and to you.  All this information can be shared via email and document attachment after you ask your teachers in person.

Finally, you may need to “invite” your teachers to upload their beautifully written letters by using Naviance’s Family Connection, Common App or a college’s website.  Less high-tech high schools, may have teachers submit their letters in paper copy directly to the guidance counselor so it can be included in the student’s file.

The letters of recommendation are a great item to get done and cross off your list.  Once the letter are written, uploaded and filed, they can be shared with all the schools you apply to.

And, a Thank You note is always the right answer.  Just sayin’.

If you or your parents would like additional reading on the topic, please refer to pages 90-94 in College Apps: Selecting Applying to, and Paying for the Right College for You which you can get at your local public library or at Amazon.com by following the link from my website.

Trish Portnoy is a YouTuber, blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacherwho helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

College Applications: SAT & ACT Exams

Welcome to Applying to College with Trish!

My name is Trish Portnoy and I am here to help you apply to college.  Luckily, I am an expert.  I have helped over 1,000 high school students go through this process, and you, too,  will be totally prepared to pick the right college for you…with a little help from your friends…you parents and guidance counselor!

So, through these blog posts, I am going to go introduce you to the same exercises and tasks …so you can make the same great decisions.

Now, it is vitally important that you SUBSCRIBE to Applying to College with Trish and…if you care about your friends, you should SHARE this information with them, as well.  This is perfect timing for you seniors, but really anyone in high school will benefit from it.

Take a look at my website…here we are at www.TrishPortnoy.com and that’s me!

OK…so let’s get started. Let’s take a look at the topics to be covered:
1. Are you familiar with College Entrance Exams: SAT and ACT
2. Do you know how to register for SAT & ACTs
3. Can you commit to studying and practicing?
4. Do You Need a Review Course or Tutor?

1.The SAT and ACT exams are a method that college admissions staff use to compare and rate students across the U.S. Consider this….the grading and competition in your high school can be really tough, so your 88 average or GPA might really reflect the same learning and achievement as another student’s who earned a 94 GPA in another part of the country. The SAT or ACT score should theoretically show how smart, capable and successful each of you would be according to the same national test.

Now, some colleges are using a test-optional philosophy where you are not required to submit your SAT or ACT scores as part of your college application. This is a great opportunity for students who are hard-workers and high-achievers but are not great test- takers. You can find an updated list of test-optional schools by going to https://www.fairtest.org

There are differences in the SAT and ACT exams…the length of the exams, the number of sections and the topics covered. For example, the ACT has a basic science section which some students really enjoy a break from English and Math while excelling.

Even though the tests are becoming more similar, the grading scale couldn’t be more different. The SAT scores their Critical Reading and Math Sections out of 800, so a 1600 is a perfect score. The ACT has 4 areas of testing in English, Math, Reading and Science Reasoning…with a 36 as its perfect score or composite.  Both tests have optional writing sections that may or may not be required as part of your college applications…each school has its own requirements…so it may be smart to take it, just in case.

2. Registering for the exams are pretty straight forward. You navigate to the official websites, create an account. Select an exam date, upload a recent photo, then register and pay the fee. You will need to bring photo id on the date of the exam. You can also speak to your guidance counselor to obtain waivers for students who meet lower income criteria.
You can take the exams as many times as you’d like…and many colleges will use superscore, which allows you to combine your best section scores from all the tests you have taken.  See http://www.ACTSTUDENT.ORG and http://www.COLLEGEBOARD.ORG/SAT

3. The most challenging part of this process is actually studying and preparing for the exams. They’re not IQ tests that assess your natural abilities or “smartness”. They’re tests that assess your ability to study and master areas of learning and then correctly answer questions based on your practice. That’s it.
So, this is where you need to do what you need to do. Your school may have a subscription to an online test prep software…such as Method Test Prep in Naviance or Castle Learning. There are books available in your public library, courses available at your high school or through various learning centers like Kaplan and Huntington, and ultimately, your counseling office will have information about tutors who will meet with you one on one for customized instruction.

Let’s take a look at the SUNY Admission Statistics Website so we can get an idea of the GPA and College Entrance Exam requirements. For New York Students, similarly in other states too, in 9th grade, students should be given this sheet so they will have a goal in mind as they complete their coursework and studies throughout high school.

https://www.suny.edu/media/suny/content-assets/documents/summary-sheets/Admissions_qf_stateop.pdf

For example, if a student has SUNY Geneseo as a dream school, then they need to accept that their overall GPA should be 90-96 with a minimum of 1140 SAT and 26 ACT…theses are median requirements for acceptance. And, if a student has SUNY Plattsburgh as their first choice school, they need to focus on keeping a GPA of 85-91 and scoring a minimum of 990 on SATs and 21 ACT Composite.

No matter which state you live in or which schools you are interested in…this same information is available on the individual schools’ websites, https://www.CollegeNavigator.gov or College Board’s Big Future website.

Looking at your to-do list you will see that you need to make a plan to score well on these college entrance exams…it’s best to get this done early so you don’t miss the registration deadlines. Reminder: Traditionally, high school juniors take these exams in April and May and high school seniors take it again in October and November. However, some students choose to take additional attempts to obtain a higher score.

So this is what you need to do.
1. Create an account at http://www.CollegeBoard.org/sat.
2. Create an account at http://www.ACTStudent.org.

Don’t forget to record your usernames and passwords in your Password Organizer worksheet in your binder

3. Discuss with parents and guidance counselor which tests you will register for and on which dates
4. Hash out a plan of study that may include a review course, online practice software through Naviance’s Family Connection or Castle Learning, and a tutor.
5. Register for the designated exams.

In keeping these video segments short and sweet, I am going to give you the opportunity talk to your parents and counselor. Don’t forget that you can always send your counselor a quick email rather than waiting to meet them in person. Decide which exams to take and when, then talk about your study plan including online resources, texts, courses and tutors and stick to it. Have a goal score in mind…for example, with the SATs shoot for breaking 1000, 1100, 1200, 1300 or higher based on your abilities and GPA.

If you or your parents would like additional reading on the topics, please refer to pages 69-78 in College Apps: Selecting Applying to, and Paying for the Right College for You which you can get at your local public library or at Amazon.com by following the link from my website. But one point before you start, the SAT has just gone through a transformation to make it more like the ACT, so make sure you are referencing the most up-to-date information.

Trish Portnoy is a YouTuber, blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

Congratulations, Arne Duncan! But Before You Go, Can You Please Answer My Question?

Congratulations, Arne Duncan, on your upcoming resignation as US Secretary of Education!  We’re happy to hear that you plan to continue your professional journey as a change-agent for education in your hometown of Chicago.   But please pardon my persistence, Arne, you still haven’t responded to my question and suggestions about programs to help high school seniors mindfully navigate the college research, application and selection processes. #AskArne

Excerpted from Trish Portnoy’s blog, College Push: Room 106:

askarne

 https://collegepushroom106.wordpress.com/

The question comes up again in my Twitter feed…because educators and college planning professionals realize that many families are overwhelmed by and struggling with this process.  Parents don’t know whom to trust, which websites to use, in what order to complete the tasks, or even what exactly needs to be done to apply to college.  If parents aren’t comfortable with the process, how can they confidently approach it with thought to select the “right-fit” school that won’t strap their child with enormous amounts of student loan debt?

suggestions

https://twitter.com/trishportnoy

And thanks to @CollegeForAll we now get to continue this conversation!  Parents need guidance and answers to the following questions, but not in a two-hour presentation where the whole college-thing is glossed over by experts who do it every day.  I support weekly parent/child workshops where they can work together to complete tasks for “homework,” ready to come back next week, over the course of a month or two, with the information, knowledge and building blocks necessary to make mindful decisions.

 1.  How does college work?

Most teens and many parents aren’t familiar with the terms and vocabulary used in higher education…consider Early Action vs Early Decision, Undergraduate vs Graduate, Associates vs Bachelors, Registrar vs Bursar, Credits vs Courses, or Subsidized vs Unsubsidized.  How can we convey the meanings of these terms beyond distributing a piece of paper with definitions?

2.  How does a 17-year old know which major to pursue in college?

Students and their families are committing time and money to this endeavor, and they don’t want to waste either or do it twice!  It’s a very early age to be making this commitment, but there are indicators and assessments available to guide each student to a course of study that should appear and feel like a natural fit.  Let’s create programs to identify and explain free and available resources that will provide information to teens while they learn more about career opportunities available in the Information Age and within the global economy.

3.  How do we find great schools for that major?

A great school or even a good school will have the reputation for properly educating and training future employees in the field.  A savvy employer wants to quickly hire employees who can “hit the ground running,” know what to do and how to get the job done.  An investment in a college degree carries the weight of the school’s reputation.  Parents and teens need assistance looking beyond name-brand recognition to find the best opportunities.

4.  What tasks and documents are required to complete a college application?

Some documents and tasks are completed by the guidance counselor, others by the student, one or two by teachers, and a few by parents, but they all come together to complete the college application.  Who should be the project manager for this job and how can he/she get it done in a high-quality, timely, organized manner?

5.  How do we pay for a college education?

Parents and teens should know the limits of their resources, in addition to identifying and taking advantage of opportunities for scholarships, grants, work-study and student loans.  Ultimately, the final decision-making moments of selecting a college may be determined by finances, first.

6.  Which school is the “right-fit” socially, economically and emotionally?

If the list of colleges has been well-crafted, then a high school senior should have at least two or three colleges from which to choose.  Some students prefer to live at home while pursuing their degree, and some families prefer it, as well. Visiting each campus while classes are in-session is the best way for students to “see” themselves as future members of the community.

7.  How do we prepare our 17- or 18-year old to be successful on campus?

Teens and their families must believe that the college student will be successful on campus.  Education on time management, academic integrity, campus-life and safety, commuting, date-rape, hazing, binge drinking, and health and wellness is vital to college students’ achievement.

These self-directing questions may serve as a guide to small-group discussion and workshops because their answers will lead participants to the next step in the process.

We need programs and resources to bring college planning programs to the masses, low-income and middle-class alike, so parents and teens can answer these questions for themselves based on their family-mindset which may include interests, abilities, goals, expectations, limitations and resource allocation.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

 

Thank You POTUS for the #CollegeScorecard…but was it really necessary? Students and families need more guidance, more structure, but no more data, please!

Last week President Obama introduced the College Scorecard,  an online tool for students and parents researching and selecting colleges.  Reviews of the site and its data have been mixed, as discussed in  Jordan Weissmann’s  post “The Government Just Made it Much Easier to Tell Which Colleges Are a Waste of Money”  where he appreciates the information on the earning power of schools’ graduates.  His view directly contrasts with J. Randall O’Brien’s  Huffington Post article “President Obama’s New College Scorecard Receives an “F”  where the university president criticizes salary information as an indicator of a college’s worth as it may discourage liberal arts or service majors by focusing on the lower earning power of these graduates.

Taking the College Scorecard for a Test Drive 

collegescorecard

(www.collegescorecard.ed.gov)

Dear Mr. President, the underlying issue is not a lack of data…there are thousands of websites that already use solid US Government data to provide ratings, rankings and profiles…but rather how students and parents should be using data, along with advice from guidance counselors, admissions officers and well-meaning community members, to make mindful decisions.

As a classroom teacher, I create exercises where students use these tools for college research and planning …basically, we take them for a test drive by compiling specific data in an organized fashion and then attempting to draw conclusions which will assist students in their decision-making process. At West Islip High School on Long Island,  we offer a semester-long course where students have the opportunity to explore and use many of the tools available on the Internet in a structured environment.  Students reflect and share their results with peers, guidance counselors and parents to take command of the college planning process while synthesizing an individualized course of action for higher education.

And, I am sure Mr. Arne Duncan, Secretary of the US Department of Education, knows that there is no tool or website that can take the place of the arduous, stressful and sometimes complicated multi-step process of #ApplyingToCollege.  Students and parents need instruction in how to go about the whole thing…they need more guidance, more structure, but no more data, please.  @ArneDuncan How about a video series, grants for weekly, hands-on workshops for parents and their children or specific funding for college planning courses in high school like we have in West Islip?

To begin the conversation, this type of program should include the following objectives:

  1. Identify the student’s interests, including aptitudes and natural abilities, by using resources available on the Internet and at his/her school.
  2. Match potential college majors and career paths to the student’s interests, aptitudes and abilities.
  3. Begin a List of Colleges to Consider by asking the guidance counselor, professionals in the field, and well-meaning community members for their recommendations.
  4. Conduct research on career path(s), including education and licensing requirements, daily tasks, and expected salary. The student should consider obtaining an internship, part-time position or Job Shadow experience in the intended field to build confidence and confirm interest.
  5. Add more schools to the List of Colleges to Consider by reviewing Rugg’s Recommendations on the Colleges and other valued references and resources, including the newly introduced College Scorecard at https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/.
  6. Use data-heavy tools such as College Navigator at http://www.CollegeNavigator.gov and College Scorecard to compare and contrast factual information about each school on the List of Colleges to Consider.
  7. With the guidance counselor’s assistance, pare down the List of Colleges to Consider to create a List of Colleges to Apply To based on many factors  specific to the individual student and his/her family’s expectations and needs, including admissions requirements, location, cost, etc.

The “mix of schools” on the List of Colleges to Apply To should include local and “away” schools, expensive and sensibly-priced schools, and schools where the student is reasonably assured of acceptance.  Once the acceptance letters are in, the student should ideally have two or three schools to choose between based on “factors of the heart” and cost.

  1. Students and their parents should visit colleges to get a feel for the campus facilities, surrounding area, current students and faculty. It’s VITAL to visit while classes are in session (not during summer!) so that the student connects with the “factors of the heart” which are identifiable when stepping foot on campus, touring dorm rooms and dining halls and interacting with students.

Note: Parents can wait until acceptance letters arrive to visit schools in order to cut down on unnecessary expenses and time off from work.

  1. Complete and submit the required college applications which may include the student’s transcript, SAT or ACT test results, extra-curricular resume, essays, portfolio of creative arts, letters of recommendations, and so on.
  2. Once the college applications are submitted, students and their families can focus on scholarships, financial aid and finishing high school on a high note.

An Exercise Using College Scorecard

As listed in objectives five and six, the College Scorecard is a useful tool when used within the process of #ApplyingToCollege to identify additional schools for consideration and to compare and contrast a limited number of colleges.

Here’s how I would use the College Scorecard in class with my students:

Use the College Scorecard website to identify schools to add to your List of Colleges to Consider by completing the following steps:

  1. Navigate to the College Scorecard website, open the Programs/Degrees tab (+) and select the appropriate Degree and Program from the drop down lists.
  2. Open the Location tab (+) and select the States and/or Regions you are considering. If you are planning to stay close to home, enter your Zip Code and 40-mile radius.
  3. Click the Find Schools button to continue.
  4. Use the Sort By menu to sort the results by % Earning Above HS Grad. View the list of schools and learn more about each by clicking the View More Details link.  Consider adding schools to your List of Colleges to Consider based on the possibility of earning the highest salary after graduation.  Email the listing of schools by clicking the Share button.

resultsscorecared

(www.collegescorecard.ed.gov)

  1. Use the Sort By menu to sort the results by Average Annual Costs. View the list of schools and learn more about each by clicking the View More Details link.  Consider adding schools to your List of Colleges to Consider based on paying the least amount for your education.  Email the listing of schools by clicking the Share button.
  2. Use the Sort By menu to sort the results by Graduation Rate. View the list of schools and learn more about each by clicking the View More Details link.  Consider adding schools to your List of Colleges to Consider based on other students’ ability to successfully graduate from that school.  Email the listing of schools by clicking the Share button.
  3. Select a school and open tabs (+) to view additional information on Costs, Financial Aid & Debt, Graduation & Retention, Earnings After School, Student Body, SAT/ACT Scores and Academic Programs.
  4. Record data on ten (10) schools on the provided worksheet.

 

lehighscorecard

(www.collegescorecard.ed.gov)

College Scorecard in the Toolbox

The College Scorecard is the Obama Administration’s effort to assist students and parents in the college selection process understanding that the fall-out from the Student Loan Crisis could have been prevented by properly educating consumers.  But, selecting a college is quite different than buying a car because there are fewer options to consider with a car, and hundreds of facets to each student’s interests, abilities, goals, expectations, and resources.  The College Scorecard, while trying to meet a need as Edmund’s auto-rating website does, falls short as there is no easy way or short cut, each student and family must put in the hard work to find the right fit college.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

 

6 Relevant Internet Sites for College-Bound Students (and their parents)

  1. Naviance

Naviance is a multi-faceted education planning, application management, web-based platform used by guidance counselors, teachers, students and parents.  To log in you must follow the link from your school district’s website and register with the code provided by your counselor.

The subscription-only portal offers an easy-to-navigate layout which includes three categories of useful features on Colleges, Careers and About Me:

  • SAT/ACT Preparation
  • Personality Assessments
  • Career Planning Tools
  • College Search Tools & Information Database
  • Application Management
  • Common App Interface

Learn more about Naviance at http://www.Naviance.com  

  1. State University of New York (SUNY)

New York State’s system of higher education includes sixty-four campuses in various sizes, locations and specialties, including University Centers and University, Technology and Community Colleges.

Site highlights include the following information and data:

Learn more about SUNY at http://www.suny.edu

  1. City University of New York (CUNY)

New York City, including Manhattan and four more boroughs, is the epicenter of fashion, finance and the arts.  More and more students are including John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Baruch College, Hunter College, Queens College and sixteen more campuses as their top schools.

Important resources available on CUNY’s site include:

Learn more about the CUNY system at www.cuny.edu

  1. FastWeb Scholarship Database

Scholarship and grants are a great way to keep student loan debt to a minimum.  There are tens of thousands of scholarship opportunities available; however, students must apply for them by completing and submitting forms, as well as meeting the requirements set forth by the donating company, organization or person.

Upon registration, you’re required to complete a profile which matches you to possible awards…please be mindful to skip opportunities for unwanted spam and advertisements by sponsors.

FastWeb’s comprehensive database of opportunities will possibly lead you to scholarships offered by:

  • Ford Motor Company
  • Dr. Pepper/7 Up, Inc.
  • DECA
  • The College Jump Start Scholarship Fund

Create Your FastWeb Profile at www.Fastweb.com

  1. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Take note of the URL extension at www.fafsa.ed.gov, the .gov signifies that this is an official US Government website…don’t be fooled by knock-offs!  Another thing, pay attention to the word “free” in the title…you should not pay a fee to complete or submit this application…watch out for scams!

The basics on FAFSA:

  • Begin the application after January 1st because the government needs your current year’s salary and income amounts to determine eligibility.
  • Gather personal financial information beforehand, including bank statements, portfolio statements and payroll stubs for both student and parents.
  • The opportunity for financial aid is “first come, first served” so submit the application by March 1st.

Learn why you need to complete the FAFSA by watching this entertaining video at Five-Minute FAFSA

Learn more about Financial Aid, in general, at the US Department of Education’s Website at www.studentaid.ed.gov

  1. College Apps: Selecting, Applying to, and Paying for the Right College for You

College Apps takes a hands-on, step-by-step approach to researching colleges, completing applications and confident decision-making.  The text includes a glossary of college-related vocabulary, as well as insightful tips and tales from high school students and admissions officers.

College Apps and the author’s website include the following comprehensive resources:

Order College Apps at www.Amazon.com

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

Senior Year: Top 5 Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

  1. Am I really doing enough?

Spend less time watching Netflix, especially during daylight hours, and put more effort into helping others, networking with adults, and engaging in new experiences.  You’ll never know how these outreach activities could enhance your life…by building self-esteem, meeting people who can help you in achieving your goals or getting exposure to a potential career or field of study.  Ask your #BusinessTeacher if there are available opportunities for work-study, internships or community service.

  1. What do I have to give?

Learn enough about yourself to know your strengths and talents.  Each of us comes with natural gifts and the best investment is to develop them to the fullest so you can become an expert in your field.  Use the results of personality tests to discover whether your gifts include deductive reasoning, leadership and interpersonal skills, entrepreneurship, technical aptitudes or creative inspirations.  And, if you don’t know what the heck I am talking about, then it’s time to learn how these terms apply to you in the global economy.   If your school subscribes to Naviance, the Career Interest Profiler will give you the results you need to get started.

  1. Do I respect my Learning Style?

We all receive information and learn through our eyes, ears, and body, but each of us has a preferred style.  Vark-Learn.com offers an online questionnaire which identifies your most efficient method.  No matter which way a teacher or professor teaches, you should always adapt the information to your preferred style of learning.  This will allow you to retain and apply the lesson easier, faster and with better recall and test-taking results.  Complete their assessment, consider the results, and follow the recommended strategies  to achieve success.

vark

(www.vark-learn.com)

  1. Is social media advertising my skeletons in the closet?

Be mindful of photos and texts that you post on the Internet.  The Internet is forever.  We all know a friend, or ten, whose reputation was undone by something stupid (or illegal) that was captured in pixels.  A quick Google search of your name and town can give you an indication of what’s out there, but it will never show what’s already been stored on someone’s (or everyone’s) Camera Roll or hard drive.

  1. Is senior year a cake-walk or am I up for a challenge?

Even though you worked really hard last year, it’s not time to sit back, yet, and it won’t be for a long time…sorry.  I know you feel that you deserve a rest and that you want to reduce your course-load, leave school early and take easy classes, but you can’t.  And, you shouldn’t because colleges look at your senior year course schedule really carefully as an indicator of your desire to learn.  Remember, you are selling yourself (not literally) to the Admissions Committee as a life-long learner with huge potential and taking the easy-way-out senior year may red flag a lack of commitment and maturity.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

Colleges Accept Students Who Are Active Participants In Life, Not Couch Potatoes!

Ideally, this guidance, as well as all other college planning advice, must be given to students before they step foot into high school.  Currently, most of these teaching moments occur during junior year, right before students take SAT or ACT tests, or during the fall of twelfth grade.  Slight problem… by then, some requirements of college applications cannot be changed, except with the wave of a magic wand.

Often times, I will hear high school seniors say in lament, “Oh, I wish I would’ve gotten better grades in 9th grade” or “I don’t really do anything after school, I just hang out with my friends.”

The High School Transcript

Did you know that the high school transcript, the one that colleges base their admission decisions on, lists coursework and grades from ninth through eleventh grade…and for some students, it even includes eighth grade math and science.

We, as parents and educators, are missing the boat by not having the “college planning” talk earlier.  By 9th grade, students should be aware of what colleges are requiring for admission.  For instance, according to State University of New York’s Admission Information Summary, Binghamton University’s requirements for admission are a GPA of 91-97 with SAT scores of 1240-1380 or ACT scores of 27-31.

Binghampton admit

(www.suny.edu)

Athletes have better outcomes when they are able to successfully visual their goals…and the same is true for high school students.  When 14-year old students enter high school knowing that their dream college has expectations of high achievement, with a target GPA, then each test and assignment becomes a building block to receiving that acceptance letter.

Extra-Curricular Activities

A college resume or activity sheet summarizes and describes the activities a student has participated in throughout high school, and even longer.  You see, colleges and universities accept students who are active participants in life, not couch potatoes.  Their outlook is that if students are athletes, club members, activists, volunteers, student government representatives, performers or employed that they will continue those same passions throughout college.  A school earns its reputation through student achievements, and if these amazing students remain active and receive a stellar education, they will go on to dazzle their future employers and do great things to change the world for the better.

From early on, students and their parents should work cooperatively to keep detailed notes, including dates and descriptions, of all school and travel sports, volunteer experiences, club meetings, and music and arts programs.  And don’t forget to add all those church activities, summer jobs, and private programs, like Karate, equestrian lessons and so on…taking special care to highlight any leadership roles or special recognition received.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people

The College Essay in 650 Words or Less

You should be jumping with joy for this opportunity to differentiate yourself, articulate your own personal style, and bring life to a college application full of grades, scores and facts.  Instead, most students deliberately procrastinate and resent that they have to write a personal essay which, in reality, is less than three pages typed, double-spaced!

The secret to producing a great college essay is selecting the “right” topic or life-experience. 

Many students haven’t had such monumental growth experiences beyond making Varsity in tenth grade or scoring the winning point in that crucial game, which can be a stumbling block to a remarkable essay.  In addition to generic sports themes, contributor to College Apps, former Assistant Director of Admissions at Sacred Heart University, Michael G. Tarantino, suggests staying away from the 3 D’s which are divorce, disaster and death…the most common (but depressing) life-changing, growth-inspiring circumstances affecting teens.

If you really have no clue what to write… use Google.com to search “100 college essay topics” which leads you to a listing of essay prompts previously utilized by colleges and universities through the years.  Note:  You may not be able to use any of these exact topics for your essay, but one may remind or inspire you to recall something relevant which can motivate you to start typing!

Don’t make your essay a play-by-play description of some event or circumstance.

For instance, Matt, one of my students, wrote his essay on an experience he had as a rear-seat passenger during a major car accident.  He went on to describe the road conditions, the speed of the vehicle, the moment of impact, and his mother’s frantic response in the aftermath…a true play-by-play of the event.  The essay was fine… grammatically correct and properly formatted, but it said nothing about Matt!

After a brief discussion, Matt revealed how his friend, who was also riding in the back seat, reached for him before impact to protect and draw him away from the impending impact of the car hitting the guardrail.  That was it!  The “golden nugget” of the story…how another 17-year old kid had the capacity to recognize and react to protect him during such a split-second, frightening and dangerous moment.  Once Matt incorporated his deep respect and awareness of this amazing feat into his essay, the play-by-play details of the accident were left out for more important, almost tear-inducing, insight and speculation.

Expect to write an essay or two to fulfill the requirements listed in your supplemental college applications.

Hopefully, one well-written essay will fit the majority of prompts, perhaps with a different opening thought, comparison, or conclusion.  The Common App at www.commonapp.org is the gold standard for streamlining the process of applying to college because it allows students to provide the same data to many member colleges and universities through one Internet portal account.

The Common App provides the following five essay prompts to guide students in writing their essay in 650 words or less:

Common App's Essay Prompts

(https://appsupport.commonapp.org)

Have you noticed that these prompts are open-ended? The trick is to stay true to an event or inspiration you’re passionate about and relate it back to the prompt you selected.  And if you do, the actual typing of the essay will take less than an hour or two.  The feedback and proofreading efforts, however, should take weeks with the help of others.

  • One of your most respected English teachers will do justice to the grammar, format and syntax of your essay;
  • Your guidance counselor will be a soundboard to the propriety of your topic, including age-appropriate subject matter and purpose; and
  • Your parents and other supportive adults in your life will weigh in on your skill in writing with a true, authentic voice.

I apologize, but my software tells me I am approaching my word-count limit…and I need to be mindful of my requirements.  As you’ve read, 650 words can go quickly if you believe in what you write!

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

How did Georgetown expect her to pay $67k a year?

Kacie Candela chooses the “Right Fit” college instead of being awestruck by name-brand college recognition and publicized rankings.  Selecting the right college should be a methodical approach where you consider factual data, independent sources, self-imposed student loan limits, and personal preferences.

Kacie is a “smart cookie” because she chose the best college for her major that agreed with her bottom-line.  Student loan debt, debt-restructuring and loan-forgiveness plans are all over the news these days with politicians attempting to correct the overwhelming burden facing today’s youth.  But Kacie’s plan is the best of them all…select a school that you can actually afford to attend!

Read more about Kacie at Newsday

Consider this…there are high performance automobiles for sale for more than $200k…does the average teenager even dream of getting that car for high school graduation?  I don’t think so.  Has it ever happened?   It sure has…there are a lot of people out there in the world who can easily purchase one or more of these high-priced vehicles without a second thought.

In the same vein, plenty of families are able to write a check for $67,000 a year to send their child to a highly-ranked, private university without remortgaging their house or sacrificing their retirement funds.  And, to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with it because these families are wealthy enough to afford it and they obviously see value in earning a degree from such a prestigious university.

What is wrong is when a student ignores budgetary constraints, against all mathematics, advice and warnings, and signs on the dotted-line for over $150k in loans to attend her dream school.

Kacie’s commentary should be required reading for every high school student and parent.  It is not failure to make a prudent decision.  It takes strength and courage to walk away from a dream conceived in naivete, and toward a future with financial integrity.

Kudos to Kacie, she is an inspiration to us all!  Thank you for sharing your experience which allows us to begin this conversation.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

Learning More About Colleges: Painting a Picture with Data

College Navigator is one of my favorite websites (as you already know) for accessing college-related data.  The information is collected directly from the colleges by the National Center for Education Statistics at www.collegenavigator.gov (note the .gov URL extension which we mentioned in last week’s article!) and there are no advertisements or frilly distractions.

Let’s go through an exercise so you can see how this information can be used to kick-start your college planning experience.

Here’s our starting point…You and your parents have compiled a list schools that you’d like to learn more about, considering your plan to major in Accounting.

To condense our analysis, we will generate profiles on two schools using selected data available on the College Navigator website at www.collegenavigator.gov.

The search box in the top left corner allows us to locate each college’s profile to access statistical and factual information about the school. collegenavigator.gov

(www.collegenavigator.gov)

Use the following chart to compare and contrast your research and ultimately “paint a picture” of the two schools.  You can create your own chart on paper or word processing or spreadsheet software, whichever you choose.

College A College B
Campus Setting City: Small Suburb: Large
Number of Undergraduate Students 5,062 4,315

Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses

Total Expenses: On Campus $ 58,835 $ 22,173
Total Expenses:  Off Campus with Family $ 46,955 $ 12,823

Admissions

SAT Critical Reading 590-670 450-530
SAT Math 640-740 460-550
ACT Composite 28-32 20-23

Retention and Graduation Rates

Retention Rate 96% 84%
Graduation Rate 87% 37%

Programs/Majors

Accounting-Bachelors 48 106
The centered chart headings reflect the tabs where the information is located.  You can expand each tab by clicking the plus sign (+) next to each heading.

CollegeNavigator.gov

(www.collegenavigator.gov)

Now, let’s begin to paint a picture of these colleges using the data recorded above:

The campus setting and size of each school is very similar…the amount of undergraduate students differs by only 800 students and there may not be a noticeable difference between a large suburb and a small city.

The costs of these colleges are on opposite ends of the scale…a bachelor’s degree at College A could cost over $200,000, while living at home and attending College B would only cost about $50,000.

The admissions criteria reflect that College A is a very competitive, highly selective college.  You can assume by the average SAT and ACT scores that most students attending College A have outstanding high school GPAs, intense extra-curricular activities, and great college essays.   Likewise, the students attending College B should be proud of their consistent, college-ready work completed during high school.

Retention and graduation rates tell a compelling story about the experiences of first-year students, the school’s culture of learning, and the return on investment on tuition dollars.

The retention rate reflects the satisfaction of freshmen students by calculating the percentage who choose to return for sophomore year.  Both schools have acceptable rates of retention, but College A’s rate shows that more than 9 out of 10 students (if that’s even humanly possible) believe it’s a worthwhile commitment.

The graduation rate of College B should be a major red flag for every student and parent and we all should be asking why only 37% of students graduate with a degree.  There may be many reasons for this low number and you must find out what they are. College B may still be a fine choice for you, as long as you’re aware of the potential pitfalls and hazards that prevent the school’s students from achieving success.  On the other hand, College A’s percentage reflects a solid return on investment with just about 9 out of 10 students graduating with a Bachelor’s degree within a specific period of time.

The amount of student Accounting majors graduating in a specific year reflects the size of this particular program at each school.  By looking at the popularity of related majors, you can draw conclusions about the specialties of each school.  For the record, College A is highly recognized for the preparation and achievement of their accounting graduates even though the quantity of participants is significantly lower.

This exercise in data analysis is the perfect place to begin your college planning journey…well before you visit any schools, purchase any branded sweatshirts or fall in love with the beautiful campus square.

However, you shouldn’t discount a college until you consider all factors…especially the acceptance letter!  You need to apply to 8 – 10 colleges, including a mix of public and private institutions, some where you will live on campus and others at home, a couple that are “dream schools” and many that you have a great chance of being accepted to. And don’t forget your bottom-line…the rule of self-imposed student loan limits:  Advise yourself not to take out more than $10,000 per year in student loans!

Don’t get too comfortable or too overwhelmed, we are just beginning this journey which will continue right up through Thanksgiving…we still need to consider your college major, personal preferences, and many other factors.

To be continued…

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.