Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Advice for avoiding freshman jitters

As an adult it has always been difficult for me to understand why perfectly smart young people who are admitted to the very best colleges and universities fear their first experiences on campus. These students talk intelligently, scored off the board on admissions tests and are ranked at the top of their high school classes.

Why then, do they freak out at being on their own for the first time?

Here is one way to avoid the freshman jitters and have fun doing it. I take as my guide the helpful experiences of a perfectly normal freshman at Harvard who wrote about her experience in an alumni newsletter. Let’s call her Carol.

Carol’s first weeks at Harvard were packed full of activities. Placement tests, proctor meetings, dorm socials, losing her cell phone and finding it, she says, picking classes and feeling lost, overwhelmed and homesick. These comments pretty much summarize the experiences that most freshmen have during their first weeks on campus.

To add to Carol’s stress, she ran around frantically auditioning for a number of different singing groups. She was accepted by several and then faced the “agonizing” decision of which one to choose. As fate and good fortune would have it something happened that made her selection obvious and easy. It was called a “sing-in.”

As Carol told it, one Sunday night, two students knocked on her door, blindfolded her and guided her down four flights of stairs and outside, where they removed her blindfold. In front of her were 60 students holding candles and singing Claude Goudimel’s “O Combien est Plaisant.” They then walked to a reception for more singing. Carol returned to her dorm that night knowing she would join the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum.

The “sing-in” was only the beginning. She met a wonderful group of friends and decided to live with some of them her sophomore year. She became involved with the Collegium Executive Committee and later auditioned for and joined the Chamber Singers, a 12-person subset of Collegium.

The point is that it is easy to get lost in the whirlwind of first-week college activities and intimidating, brilliant colleagues not to mention the universal difficulty of making a transition to college life.

To any incoming freshman Carol has this sound advice: “find something you love doing and can wholeheartedly devote yourself to.” Immersing herself so completely in Collegium provided relief from the stress of academic work, insights into the field of music administration and a possible career path. Most of all she met a wonderful group of friends and found her place at Harvard.

College application timeline for high schoolers - CNBC

NEW YORK - Getting into college is a full-time job for many high schoolers, especially those receiving little help from guidance counselors and without the money to hire private consultants.

From resume building and campus tours to test prep and essay writing, there's a lot for kids to contend with, and a lot for parents who may not have gone through the process themselves.

College admissions officials and paid helpers urge families to stretch the application process over all four years of high school to make it less of a mad dash and more of a marathon. Try this timeline to break down the to-do list:


Enroll in rigorous classes, said Jim Montoya, a former admissions dean at Stanford and Vassar and a vice president of the College Board. The board, CollegeBoard.org, administers SAT, Advanced Placement testing and SAT Subject Tests.

"Often I hear parents say, 'If only I would have known, I would have had my son or daughter take a science course in the ninth grade,'" Montoya said.

If you have a specific college in mind this early, check its academic requirements online and find the school on Facebook for up-to-date chatter and official announcements.

Generally, colleges prefer four years of English, as well as history, math, science and a foreign language, Montoya said. Explore SAT Subject Tests in your strongest classes and expect to take them while the material is fresh. Some colleges require subject tests. Either way, it wouldn't hurt to throw them into the mix.

Visit a college informally when school is in session, especially if you've never stepped foot on a campus. Formal touring can wait. The idea is to provide a glimpse into college life.

Make a long-term commitment to an extracurricular activity and community service. Don't pile on the extras. Choose things you truly love and work toward making a significant contribution over four years.

If financial aid is in your future, get literate on how to find it and how to apply for it. Have a heart-to-heart with your parents on money matters. Begin looking into how scholarships work and what the FAFSA is (it's the Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

"It's never too early to begin to understand financial aid," said Rick Dalton, who heads College for Every Student, a nonprofit that helps low-income public school students move toward higher education. "It's important to understand the concept, that there's money out there. Not understanding that is a huge impediment in getting interested in college to begin with."

Read More -- College application timeline for high schoolers - CNBC

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

High grads, Ivy Leaguers, share insight to success

Jenny Le and Shawn Du know what it takes to get admitted to an Ivy League university.

Le just completed her freshman year at Harvard University, and Du has finished his first year at Princeton University.

Now the 19-year-old Clear Lake residents, both summa cum laude graduates of Clear Lake High School, are reaching out to high school students in their community with similar goals.

Le and Du created an Ivy Exam Club that has allowed students to take free proctored SAT exams Fridays at the Freeman Branch Library, 16616 Diana Lane, Clear Lake. The final session is July 22.

"We really believe test prep is key (for successfully applying to college), and it's not fair if students can't afford it," Le said.

"The SAT is one of the easiest ways to improve your application," said Du, who said he's been enjoying the opportunity to help high school students this summer and offer them advice. "It feels great, personally."

Le said she remembers her own efforts to make herself a competitive applicant.

"It helped having someone I could talk to, so I could understand the process," she said.

"Because most of the high school students who take the course are from the Clear Lake area, too, we can talk and share stories. We're able to connect to the students and give them one-on-one attention."

In her case, it was her older sister, Ngoc Le, who encouraged Le to work on grades, take challenging courses and prepare for the SAT.

At her sister's urging, Le worked with her on the vocabulary portion in sixth grade. Middle school may have been a bit early, Le said, but she would encourage students to start preparing no later than the ninth grade.

"Test preparation is a gradual process," said Le, who is considering a career in business or in law.

Du urges students to practice for the SAT as frequently as possible.

It also helps, he said, to get involved in extracurricular activities.

"As long as you have a few, as long as you're passionate about them, colleges like that," he said.

By their senior year of high school, students can do little to dramatically change their grade point average, he continued, but they can improve their applications by devoting effort to their essay questions.

"Everything else is just numbers," Du said.

"The essay is what sets an applicant apart.

"The most important thing is to be sincere and personal."

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

SAT or ACT? Try Both

Dear Mr. Bradshaw:—

I am confused about whether to take the SAT or the ACT. I have friends who have taken both tests and some say the ACT is easier.

I’m thinking about taking the Oct. 1 SAT, then taking it again Nov. 5. Under Score Choice, I believe I have the option to take it as many times as I wish and only report the highest scores.

I have read that most top colleges, like MIT or Princeton, favor the SAT, but most of my friends are planning to take only the ACT and do not seem to think it makes any difference. I’m only a sophomore, so I have plenty of time to decide. Can you help?

—High school sophomore

Dear Sophomore —

Planning ahead for college is one of the most important things you can do, and I applaud your early efforts.

Students who anticipate taking either the SAT or the ACT generally score better when they have prepared for the tests. Which test is best for you to take is another issue.

Both tests are accepted by most colleges and universities in the United States. The SAT is the most popular test if measured strictly by the numbers, but the ACT is not far behind, so it shouldn’t be ignored.

I always recommend that students take both tests and use the best scores on their college applications.

I contacted a former high school student who took both tests and had a perfect score on each: a 2,400 on the SAT and 36 on the ACT. I was eager to know how he would answer your question, since he was one of the top high school students in the country. He told me that most of his friends favored the ACT, because the test was based more on “innate ability” than “memorized tricks.”

This young man prepared 21/2 years for the SAT and only a week for the ACT. He said the SAT seemed more difficult, especially the critical reading section.

Regardless of the differences, the SAT definitely carries more of a prestige factor. Whether that is because it differentiates more (a total score of 2,400 vs. 36) or is more nationally recognized is an open question.

You are right that Score Choice lets you take the SAT as many times as you wish. You can be sure that students are preparing for the test like never before, given the fact they are allowed to report their best results from any given test date. Be careful not to confuse that to mean any combination of scores from different dates. The ACT has the same policy.

Also make sure that your high school does not report all your test scores on your transcripts, which will defeat the purpose of Score Choice.

Most highly ranked colleges recognize both tests, as do top state schools. On the other hand, some very good schools are dropping mandatory testing and going test optional. More than 800 colleges are test-optional institutions.

This is an avenue that students may want to explore if they do not test well, but have top grades and want to attend a top-tier college.

College Admissions Consulting Articles - SAT or ACT? Try Both